Tuesday 23 July 2024
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Nurturing sustainable coffee excellence: the Coffee Science Foundation’s 2024-2025 Research Agenda

The new 2024–2025 research agenda reflects the organization’s dedication to advancing the SCA’s sustainable coffee agenda by addressing key issues in quality, value creation, and sustainability impact

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The Coffee Science Foundation (CSF), a support organization of the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), stands at the forefront of coffee research as a nonprofit institution committed to unravelling the mysteries of coffee through rigorous scientific exploration. Mary Basco, SCA Research and Knowledge Development Programs Manager, outlines the Coffee Science Foundation’s 2024-2025 Research Agenda and explains which research projects are on the horizon. Below, we share her considerations publicated on the magazine 25 by Specialty Coffee Association.

Investigating coffee quality attributes

by Mary Basco

MILAN – In its pursuit of knowledge, the CSF plays a crucial role in supporting both academic and applied research across various disciplines, including but not limited to chemistry, economics, and sensory science.

At the heart of the Coffee Science Foundation’s mission lies a resolute commitment: “to advance the understanding of coffee and secure its future through research, knowledge building, and outreach.” As research projects often span multiple years, the CSF sets two- to three-year research agendas related to the SCA’s five-year strategy. This serves as the backbone of progress, offering a structured pathway for scientific exploration, and helps prioritize which projects to fund.

The new 2024–2025 research agenda reflects the organization’s dedication to advancing the SCA’s sustainable coffee agenda[1] by addressing key issues in quality, value creation, and sustainability impact.

In this way, it plays a vital role in guiding the CSF’s research endeavors by helping inform project selection and structure. By delineating key areas of focus, an agenda ensures that the foundation directs its efforts towards the most pressing issues affecting the coffee industry today and for the foreseeable future.

Whether investigating the impact of farmer prosperity interventions, delving into novel packaging perception, or unraveling the intricacies of roast on flavor development, the research agenda acts as a compass, facilitating a systematic and comprehensive approach to building knowledge. Furthermore, the structured research agenda not only contributes to advancing academic understanding but also enhances the foundation’s outreach capabilities. Armed with insights gained through systematic inquiry, the CSF can effectively educate a diverse range of stakeholders, from producers to consumers, fostering a broader appreciation for the complexities inherent in coffee production.

In essence, the Coffee Science Foundation’s research agenda becomes a linchpin for advancing knowledge, ensuring the sustainability of coffee, and fulfilling the foundation’s unwavering commitment to securing the future of the specialty coffee community.

To this end, the 2024–2025 CSF research agenda identifies three key areas of focus: investigating coffee quality attributes with an aim of improving tools for the industry; discovering how value is created in coffee (and how it can be maximized); and modeling high-quality sustainability impact research.

One of the primary goals outlined in the CSF research agenda is to delve into the intricacies of coffee quality attributes.

The Coffee Value Assessment (CVA), introduced in 2023, serves as a cornerstone in this pursuit. This initiative, grounded in new sensory and consumer research, aims to enhance the tools available to the industry. Planned projects include exploring the impact of physical defects on perceived quality and deciphering global expert coffee preferences, both aligned with the SCA’s standards development and sustainability agendas.

The pursuit of understanding how quality attributes influence consumer perception is critical for fostering a culture of excellence within the industry. By identifying and quantifying these attributes, the CSF will enable the coffee industry to refine its processes and ultimately improve the quality of the final product.

Maximizing value creation in coffee

Another significant facet of this research agenda is the exploration of how value is created in coffee and how it can be maximized: in the specialty coffee sector, many producers struggle to secure fair prices for their products.

To address this challenge, the CSF aims to unravel the factors contributing to value creation, whether intrinsic (sensory attributes) or extrinsic (informational attributes). This interdisciplinary approach involves economics, market research, sensory analysis, and consumer research.

The planned project, “Toward a Deeper Understanding of Value Creation and Distribution,” seeks to shed light on the complexities of the coffee market and help actors within the industry navigate the intricate web of factors influencing value. By deciphering these dynamics, the CSF strives to empower stakeholders to make informed decisions that contribute to the sustainability of the entire coffee value chain.

Modeling High-Quality Sustainability Impact Research

To bridge a gap in high-quality impact research within the realm of coffee, the foundation aspires to model exemplary impact studies, employing rigorous experimental design and peer-reviewed methodologies. The focus here lies in agricultural economics, development economics, sociology, and ecology, all of which play crucial roles in shaping the sustainable coffee landscape.

The planned project involves launching a model impact study using the SCA definition of specialty coffee. This endeavor aligns with the broader SCA sustainability strategy, aiming to provide actionable knowledge that can drive positive change in the coffee sector. By demonstrating the importance of robust research methodologies, the CSF sets a precedent for future studies, fostering a culture of evidence-based decision-making within the coffee research community.

Looking ahead

The CSF’s 2024–2025 research agenda deepens a line of inquiry that the foundation has been engaged in these past three years around understanding the myriad attributes and variables of coffee in all its forms to more explicitly focusing on the value these attributes generate, and how this may further the sustainability of the specialty coffee industry.

Although the new projects shared here are still years in the making, the CSF’s research outputs since its inception are freely available to all, with academic papers and reports available through the Coffee Science Foundation, and plain language/applied versions of the research findings available through the SCA’s events and publications. As CSF embarks on these new, ambitious research projects, we eagerly anticipate the transformative impact these endeavors will have on the industry as a whole.


[1] Crafted in response to the global growth of the specialty coffee industry and the challenges posed by the coffee price crisis of 2019, the SCA’s Sustainable Coffee Agenda focuses on creating and distributing value in a manner that is equitable for all actors in the coffee value chain. This operates on a theory of change, asserting that shaping mindsets and business behaviors, and generating actionable knowledge, can lead to a thriving and sustainable coffee industry.

This framework emphasizes the importance of equitable value distribution, recognizing the efforts, risks, and costs borne by each actor in the value chain. Read more here.

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