We are pleased to announce today that we have joined the World Coffee Research “Chekhov” program and will contribute a half-cent per pound on all our purchases to WCR to support its growing research agenda.
Our support for WCR is nothing new. Intelligentsia has been actively engaged with WCR since before it was born. One of my colleagues, Geoff Watts, was part of the “genesis group” of specialty leaders who helped the organization take flight in the days when it was still known as GCQRI, the Global Coffee Quality Research Initiative. Another colleague, James McLaughlin, currently serves on the WCR Board of Directors. And we have made regular contributions to WCR since its inception. But until today, we have not been eligible to participate in the WCR check-off program — implemented by importers — since we imported our own coffee. We continue to source nearly all the coffee we buy directly (I am writing this post during a sourcing trip to Mexico to visit our Direct Trade partners there), but in 2017 will move to bring this coffee in through importers participating in the program.
What difference does it make how we support WCR? A lot, and the Chekhov pun helps to explain why.
The author’s writing isn’t the only source of his enduring influence — his literary theories still inform young writers today. One of those theories, known as “Chekhov’s gun,” helps writers to strip their narratives only to their most essential elements. Chekhov tells them not to hang a gun on the wall of a character’s house in the first act unless that gun will go off in the second or third acts. If it doesn’t, Chekhov argues, it has no business being on the wall in the first place.
Usually when a company writes a check to a cause it supports, the decision on whether or how much to give is influenced by how that company is performing. Perhaps it gives a little more in a good year, a little less in an off year. Under the check-off program, companies don’t deliberate about how much they can afford to give, they check the box because they believe they can’t afford not to give. They understand that these decisions shouldn’t trail annual profit calculations because the work WCR does is helps to drive profits, and not just ours — anyone in the specialty coffee sector who is growing or buying coffee is benefitting from WCR’s work. Its Sensory Lexicon, International Multi-Location Varietal Trial, On-Farm Technology Trials, variety catalog, genetic testing and nursery verification, and most of all its breeding program are all helping secure the future of the specialty coffee sector and the futures of the farms and firms that trade in that sector. Contributing shouldn’t be optional. Our participation in the check-off program makes our contribution part of the cost of doing business. Essential, as Chekhov might have liked.
Our amazing in-house artist didn’t include a gun in this Chekhov portrait, but not because this script doesn’t have a gun — because the gun went off long before this script started. It was the starter’s gun in a race between climate change and coffee breeding. In lane one is climate change, seeming to accelerate as the race wears on, driving up temperatures, distorting weather patterns and threatening the entire specialty enterprise as it picks up speed. WCR is in lane two, working to develop coffee varieties that marry cup quality with increased resilience production threats before it is too late.