A New App Aims to Trace Your Coffee's Origin Right Down to the Farmer

"Thank My Farmer" uses IBM Blockchain technology so you can see where your Folgers beans come from.

A generation ago, simply slapping "100-percent Arabica" on your packaging was the only quality assurance many coffee drinkers were looking for (even if they didn't know their Arabica beans from their Robusta ones). But coffee's "third wave" introduced burgeoning connoisseurs to the idea of "single origin" beans—and today, most high-end roasters offer a bounty of information about their products, sometimes pinpointing individual farms and including paragraphs of backstory. Now, a new app backed by IBM wants to bring this kind of detailed information to the masses, teaming with some of the biggest names in coffee in the process.

The "Thank My Farmer" app—announced during the ongoing Consumer Electronics Show—promises to "allow coffee drinkers to trace their coffee to understand its quality and origin, and even support the farmer who grew the beans." The app is courtesy of Farmer Connect, a traceability platform powered by IBM Blockchain, and is launching with the support of over a half-dozen companies in the coffee industry, including J.M. Smucker, owner of America's best-selling ground coffee brand, Folgers.

According to IBM, the hope is that the new app's use of blockchain technology—which "creates a permanent digitized chain of transactions that cannot be altered"—will provide consumers with an intuitive and accurate interactive map that will allow "each product to tell a story in a simple and scalable way."

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"The aim is humanizing each coffee drinker's relationship with their daily cup," David Behrends, founder and president of Farmer Connect, said in the announcement. Think of the app as replacing those paragraphs of backstory, and the use of blockchain as a way of further confirming the beans' origins instead of simply taking the roaster's word for it. And on a deeper level, by validating where these beans come from, Behrends believes, "Consumers now can play an active role in sustainability governance by supporting coffee farmers in developing nations."

Thank My Farmer is set to launch in the U.S. at the beginning of this year, first partnering with Folgers premium 1850 coffee brand which will feature QR codes on their single-origin beans. Admittedly, launching with a massive company like Folgers—whose idea of "single-origin" is 100-percent Colombian and 100-percent Sumatran—might seem to undermine the app's concept of supporting individual farmers. But frankly, it's the largest brands where traceability is the most oblique, so, in theory, this app makes the most sense for a brand like 1850 because, for smaller roasters, you probably can simply take their word for it.

And as the app expands throughout the year, IBM states that "large and small companies will be invited to join"—though just how many will actually join is to be determined. "[Blockchain] is used today to transform how people can build trust in the goods they consume," stated Raj Rao, general manager at IBM Food Trust. "[It] is more than aspirational business tech." Whether that latter statement is true or not is yet to be seen, but at the very least, Thank My Farmer's underlying idea is worth aspiring to, even if it doesn't revolutionize the coffee industry as we know it.

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