Ofer Eitan Report: Business Uses for the SCA Coffee Systems Map - Jonathan Cartu - Advertisement & Marketing Agency.
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Ofer Eitan Report: Business Uses for the SCA Coffee Systems Map


Ofer Eitan Report: Business Uses for the SCA Coffee Systems Map

The recently released Specialty Coffee Association Coffee Systems Map, which is currently available through the SCA store. SCA photo.

When I saw the SCA Coffee Systems Map (published in June 2020), I immediately thought it could be a useful tool for business and human resources of any coffee-related company anywhere in the world. Especially with the industry challenges created by coronavirus disease COVID-19, the map could help with restructuring, learning and development initiatives.

But that’s not its intended use. In 2018 the SCA set up a Price Crisis Response Initiative to produce a report of recommendations on actions the industry could take to mitigate the crisis. The SCA’s sustainability practitioners needed a comprehensive understanding of stakeholders to work on their goals to address the pricing crisis, which has not abated in the time since they began the system analysis.


All photos courtesy of Ally Coffee

The map delineates the relationships between key actors and activities in the specialty coffee industry. The central column of the diagram names the core activities of the specialty coffee industry. The outer ring of the diagram names additional participants who engage in some aspect of coffee’s development, enhancement, or movement throughout the system.

Now that they have this map, the sustainability committee and the price crisis thinkers will use it as a tool to help them continue their strategizing. They have shown us how daunting their job is.

Adding to the vulnerability produced by the price crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has rocked every stakeholder on the map, and tragically many companies have closed their doors (20% of small businesses in general in the United States have closed). This virus juggernaut batters both the finances and human resources of much of our industry’s organizations. What can we do to stay viable? For those companies that still have the ability to maneuver, perhaps this map could be a tool for analyzing, planning, and taking action to navigate the months ahead.

In this post, I’ve imagined a couple of SWOT-type exercises (defined later) using the map. If you are feeling powerless or overwhelmed, having a structured way to examine your industry connections might help you make decisions on how to withstand the current situation until things stabilize.

Scribbling on the Map

The map was not created for business analysis, so before we begin there are a few structural questions we will have to overlook. I cannot find a narrative or guide explaining the reasoning or ambiguities of the map, but there is a legend at the bottom with definitions.

We coffee people are great at adapting and doing our own thing, so when you find incongruities while you work with the map, go ahead and make changes that match your business interactions. Feel free to add lines, edit players, and make this tool useful for your internal company purposes. In the end you’ll have your own systems map. Just like many of us have adapted the cupping form for internal QC purposes, why not do the same with this map?


The map’s central column of activities corresponds to primary actors who do the verbs listed. These actor-verbs interact with one or more other actor-verbs within the central column, but there are no direct lines between them — you have to connect them via a player on the outer ring. Likewise, outer ring players can only connect with each other via an actor-verb in the central column. For example, the outer ring “Skilled Laborers” is one category that connects all the central column actor-verbs. Thus, a roaster-roasting connects to an importer-importing via a skilled laborer (or via a government agency or via waste, etc.). I look forward to an SCA manual to help understand why they made this design choice.

There are a few other head-scratchers, too. For example:

  • Farming translates to “farmer” as an actor, but there are “Producers” on the outer ring who “transform land and sunlight into coffee (e.g., farmers, washing station owners)”. We often interchange usage of “farmers” and “producers” in discussions — what really is the difference between them? Also, many producers interact with importers, which is a line that was missed in this version.
  • Not on map: Technology Support (website development, database admin, e-commerce, shipping tracking, etc.). Is it so ubiquitous that it is understood? Isn’t “waste” also inescapable for every actor (it’s on the map, though)? And if there are “skilled laborers” are “unskilled laborers” considered part of everything like technology?

Keep in mind, the map is for the Price Crisis Response Initiative’s use, and we are using it differently. If the lines become hypnotic or confusing, it helps to just look at the legend and work off of that or erase the lines. Despite the issues, there still are gems in the map that we can work with.

Mining the Map

Here are some questions to get you familiar with the map and your organization:

  • Which activities and players are part of your company? Which employees play more than one part?
  • Which employees interact with which of the actors on the map?
  • Are there actors that nobody at your company deals with, but those actors impact the organization (like the ICE, Research Institutions, or Futures Traders)?
  • Which ones are the major partners? How have their struggles been affecting your work these days?
  • Which secondary players affect your company by impacting your major partners?
  • Which actors (and central column activities) have the most financial impact on the business?

CASE STUDY: You are a wholesale roaster (1000 bags/mo.) in a neighborhood in a small city. You buy coffee both on spot and with forward contracts using just one importer who is a good and trusted partner. You also supply allied products and do training for wholesale accounts (coffee shops and businesses that are your main source of income). 


Your answers to the above questions might…

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