Exactly Too Big Enough

February 23rd, 2012

Today was one of those days where the scale of the coffee industry seemed beautifully incomprehensible.  The aphorism of “the more you learn, the less you know” is used repeatedly in coffee by people who’ve begun scratching the surface of the industry they’re in.  Its overuse quickly strips it of real meaning, but any time I get to reflect on the scope of the whole thing I find it joyful.

Over the last 3 or 4 years I’ve met a few people who’ve been looking to make documentaries about the London coffee scene. In each case I’ve tried to do my best to suggest that they write a really narrow brief about what they want to film, and then try to stick to it.  If you let coffee lead you down the rabbit hole then chances are you’ll run out of money way before you’ve completed your project.

However, if I consider my working life a project then I find it heartening to know that it will be incomplete, and that I shouldn’t worry too much about that.  I could spend a lifetime in coffee 3 times over and still have failed to have really understand all the complexities of coffee.  Its tendrils reach into just about every aspect of trade, of culture, of commerce and of recent history – leaving behind rich veins of knowledge to mine away at.

Each of us who discovered how big the coffee industry is were surprised by its scale.  We had no idea.  We scratched the surface and came away reeling, but compelled and intrigued.  Our inability to communicate this to our peers, to our customers, to our family and friends is probably the best explanation of exactly how incomprehensible it is.

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