Why writing here is getting harder

When I stopped posting stuff online it felt like it was easy to bottle up ideas and write things worth writing. The flurry of posts in January soon tapered off to very occasional, short stuff.

Part of this is because I am trying to finish a much longer piece and that is soaking up a lot of the things I’m thinking about. I’m also trying to create talks I’m proud of for events like SCAA’s upcoming symposium.

I’m always hesitant to write a blog post about writing blog posts. They’re not quite as infuriating to read as posts about not having written blog posts in a while, butI can’t deny that I’ve reached a point with this website where I have to make a decision about its direction. I’ve reached this point before, blogged about it, and the fact that I am back here once again says that I failed to make a clear decision.

It isn’t like I have stopped learning, but I feel like a lot of what I am learning is hard to write up and to share. It gets harder to write when a lot of learning is based on mistakes, and while many of these mistakes are my own – some are not. I think good writing about business is writing about people’s mistakes. I don’t want to write about those, it would feel invasive and abusive. I do think we need to talk about our mistakes more, to accept their inevitability – especially if we are taking risks and trying new things. Innovation involves being wrong a lot of the time.

What doesn’t help all this is that the coffee industry often feels like it is full of false secrets. These are things we keep secret unnecessarily – either on purpose, or to save face, or simply because everyone else does. Classic examples of this would be keeping the components of a blend secret. There really is no point in this, there is no commercial advantage to this but it still happens.

Another classic secret would be roasting techniques. The commercial roasting community is loathe to talk about roasting techniques and ideas in public. However, if you’ve discovered something genuinely innovative in roasting – it is going to be very hard to keep hold of. The idea is going to spread, you can’t patent it or control it. Unless the discoverer is the only person to ever roast coffee at a company (which, let’s be honest) isn’t hugely scalable – then that idea is going to leak out.

It is easier to get information on roasting theory browsing home barista and home roasting forums. Even then, the sum knowledge available is pretty thin on the ground leaving me with the conclusion that as an industry – we don’t really know what we’re doing. Another clue: no company in the world is able to execute roasting with absolute consistency in achieving best possible/desired results. This isn’t a slight on anyone’s business – coffee roasting is ridiculously hard, and often makes very little sense. Most roasters have gotten to where they are through a mixture of a little theory and a great deal of trial and error. There generally is not, at the heart of these practices, a genuine understanding. There is no book I can recommend to get someone started with roasting, to give a basic introduction to key ideas and concepts.

I don’t want to take this too far down the topic of roasting, or down the topic of secrets. When it comes to talking about mistakes (in our roasting or anything else) – I know it isn’t really going to happen. We may all agree that we’re all pretty forgiving of mistakes, but that still doesn’t mean talking about them in detail in public feels ok. In terms of this blog – I think I’d rather find another avenue to publish my mistakes, when I’ve had a bit more time to think about them.

I worry sometimes that I’ve artificially trapped myself in a certain sort of writing on this blog. Writing about macro-issues in the industry, trying to take a more detached perspective in the hunt for ever-elusive insight. This can be challenging, this can be incredibly enjoyable but on occasion in can take the fun out of things. So I plan to have a little fun again. I’m going to stop trying to make every post a fully fleshed out idea, and go back to a simpler form of sharing. I’ve got some travel to the US coming up – NYC, Washington, Chicago then to Portland and then down to LA. I’m going to try to post more photos, more bits and pieces. I doubt it will get to the 5 posts a day every day, “isn’t this what twitter is for?”-style posting, but I will probably be a little less precious for a while about what ends up on here.

In other news – there will be another group of podcasts coming, but more about those another time.