Nimbler US coffee roasters return to Colombia, sidestep damaged CentAm crops
By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK Oct 1 (Reuters) - For the first time in three years, Daniel Streetman is buying coffee beans in bulk from Colombia, exploiting low comparative prices and reflecting new flexibility by U.S. roasters who had become over reliant on a single country for premium arabica.
Streetman, the buyer for New York City-based specialty roaster and retailer Irving Farm Coffee Roasters, stopped ordering from the South American country in 2011 as disease devastated crops, supplies became erratic and prices soared. Instead he bought more from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Now, leaf rust fungus, known as roya, is threatening Central America's crops, lifting the cost for many of those grades above Colombia's for the first time in more than eight years, according to Reuters data on physical coffee prices, which are expressed as differentials above or below New York futures.
To be sure, the relative attractiveness of Colombian beans does not mean that American consumers will soon pay less for lattes, since benchmark arabica coffee prices on ICE Futures U.S. have surged more than 70 percent - or nearly $1 per pound - this year due to roya and drought in top-coffee-producer Brazil.
But cheaper Colombian beans are changing roasters' sourcing choices. After scaling way back, Streetman is again buying significant volumes from the country, which used to make up one-fifth of Irving Farm's purchases. This pleases customers who have pestered him to offer more Colombian beans, widely prized for their high quality and smooth flavor.
He made a token purchase of 100 bags in 2012 after visiting farms in Colombia that he liked. That compared 275 bags before 2011 and 375-425 bags prior to 2009, he said. The bags held from 152 to 154 lbs.
"We needed to fill a void," Streetman told Reuters last week as he brewed a coffee in the company's comfortably furnished tasting room in Manhattan's Flatiron district.