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Good going, boat.

By Tim Nelson
March 29, 2021
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Whether you're an international shipping magnate or just a regular consumer of news, you're probably aware that a massive cargo ship got stuck in the Suez Canal on March 23.

While the juxtaposition of the skyscraper-sized freighter beside a seemingly tiny bulldozer has inevitably spawned memes, the situation's no laughing matter when it comes to the international supply chain. As it turns out, the situation could be bad news for your coffee habits as well. 

The primary issue is that the Suez Canal, which facilitates sea passage between the Red and Mediterraneans Seas, is a major passageway for the transportation of robusta coffee, a species of bean native to Asia and East Africa that's often used for instant coffees and espresso. With the obstruction causing big shipping backups, that means coffee from pretty much anywhere besides Brazil or the Ivory Coast can't get from its source to key destinations in Europe. 

While that might be bad news for Nescafe drinkers or espresso fiends in the EU, experts expect these shipping woes to reverberate globally. Coffee futures are already trading upward, and that price effect will inevitably be passed on to consumers the world over. As is the case with other food shortages, the Suez situation means there are fewer free shipping containers to go around, and all the ships waiting to get through the canal will likely jam up other key ports in Belgium and the Netherlands. In short, one broken link in the supply chain like this will cause a whole host of problems further down the line. 

Suez Canal Remains Blocked By Grounded Container Ship
Credit: AFP PHOTO / HO / Suez Canal

That's bad news at a time when roasters are already burning down their supply and don't know what to do about it. According to Bloomberg, Vietnam's coffee crop already wasn't in great shape before logistical complications forced roasters to seek out African beans. Now, both of those robusta exports are stuck in the same spot.

While Brazil had a bumper crop of robusta production in 2020, that glut of supply from a Suez-free source isn't the boon you might think. It seems that coffee makers are hesitant to simply swap in those South American beans as they might end up affecting the taste and quality of the finished product. 

So if it costs more next time you buy a bag of grounds or instant coffee, you can probably blame a very big boat that managed to screw it up for everybody. And while you might not want anyone to talk to you until you've had your coffee, have them direct their energy towards yelling at that boat until it moves.