Brewing troubles from coffee fungus



Posted on May 18, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Updated Monday, May 19 at 5:20 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. government is stepping up efforts to help Central American farmers fight a devastating coffee disease -- and hold down the price of your morning cup. The issue stemming from Central America hits home in Spokane.

A fungus called coffee rust has caused more than $1 billion in damage across Latin America. The fungus is especially deadly to Arabica coffee -- that is the bean that makes up most high-end, specialty coffees.

It is already affecting the price of some of those coffees in the United States.

The owner of Cravens Coffee in Spokane, Simon Thompson, said his main organic coffee source in Guatemala was hit hard by coffee rust.

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"This particular farm was devastated,” said Thompson.

Thompson said he had not been forced to raise his prices. As a supplier for stores, cafes and restaurants, Thompson said his biggest cost was the time he spent making sure everything tasted the way it should.

“Because of this leaf rust. The quality of coffee available has declined,” said Thompson.

Thompson said if the coffee you have comes from an infected crop then it could taste like watered down coffee.

The owner of Thomas Hammer Coffee Roasters said you could see a five to ten cent increase per cup of coffee.

"It's a big issue for us, we're definitely watching because it's a lot of raw material that we need,” said Thomas Hammer.

Hammer said about 40% of his coffee came from Central America. He said he was paying 15% more in 2014 than 2013. Hammer said he might have to raise his prices or buy coffee elsewhere if the trend continued.

Hammer hoped a small spike in cost would not hide a bigger issue.

"More of the issue is thousands of people being out of work for a year or two,” said Hammer.

The U.S. Agency for International Development is concerned about the economic security of small coffee farms abroad.

On Monday, agency head Raj Shah plans to announce a $5 million partnership with Texas A&M University's World Coffee Research center to try to eliminate the fungus.