A Statement in Every SipGimme Coffee takes an anti-fracking stand with blend
By Dan Leif
In coffee and tea, the names bestowed upon individual blends and roasts typically reference flavors or producers. But Ithaca, N.Y.-based Gimme Coffee recently rolled out a coffee with a moniker that instead plays up politics—and the company’s environmentalist position. The offering is the Fractivist Blend, and Gimme CEO Kevin Cuddeback says it was launched with the goal of raising consumer awareness of the push energy companies are currently making to open up sections of New York state to hydraulic fracturing (a process in which drilling operations use water, chemicals and pressure to extract natural gas from shale rock far underground).
The Fractivist Blend is currently being served in Gimme’s six retail locations (three in New York City, three around Ithaca), and $2 from the sale of bags of the beans is being donated to groups opposing the fracking movement in New York. Fracking has been banned in the state since 2008, but New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is currently considering allowing it again in certain areas. That has caused an uproar among some groups who feel fracking may contaminate drinking water and other resources.
Fresh Cup recently talked with Cuddeback about why he decided to make a clear political statement through his coffee.
Q: What’s your goal with the Fractivist endeavor?
A: Coffee is our livelihood, and coffee is 98 percent water, so if we don’t have access to good water, that’s a problem. But beyond coffee we’re human beings, and if companies are nonchalant about pollution, there’s going to be a shortage of potable water. It just seems like there’s way too much at stake to go running into allowing fracking because a few people have dollar signs in their eyes—the potential cost is everyone else who’s dependant on the natural resources that we have. This is our way of thinking globally and acting locally. The issue is worthy of us as an organization doing what we can to promote awareness of it in the general population.
Q: What’s the reaction to the concept been like among consumers?
A: It’s still getting out there, but the anecdotal evidence is that … people are by and large sympathetic to the issue. A lot of our customers I think oppose fracking in New York. The numbers on how much of the coffee we’ve gone through seem to demonstrate that there is support and that we’re on the same page as our customer base in terms of ideology.
Q: In the past, have there been other instances where you clearly demonstrated your politics through the company?
A: We were pretty anti-war in terms of Iraq when Bush II was making that push. I think that we’ve been less active politically lately in terms of being outspoken advocates of a particular cause or multiple causes. But we really view our enterprise as a vehicle toward sustainability. That goes down to composting all our grounds and cups, minimizing our waste stream, doing direct sourcing and paying more for high-quality coffee. My sense is in the next 10 or 20 years, businesses are going to have to have a longer vision for the things we believe in—working for the planet and the people of the planet and not simply for the quickest dollars we can find, especially when they’re lying a mile beneath the crust of
Q: As a coffee roaster you must use lots of natural gas to power your machinery. So fracking would actually likely lower your expenses because it would create more supply. What’s your reaction to that?
A: I’d be content to pay twice as much as we’re paying now for gas in order to ensure that future generations and populations have access to clean water. I tend to view water as the next resource that is going to be commodified. Look at water in bottles: It’s already selling for more than gas, and it’s more critical to our existence. Even if fracking is translating into lower energy costs for me and a bigger bottom line for me, it’s just not the way to go.
Q: Do you worry that by being overtly political you take away from your brand, which is defined by the quality of coffee you sell?
A: The consumption of coffee is about awareness—it raises awareness. Coffee is known to facilitate the debate. It quickens the brain and gets people engaged. It’s like the opposite of the strip mall culture—we actually sit down and discuss things. There’s something analogous between what coffee does in promoting awareness and what we as a coffee company are doing with this particular blend.