Over the last couple of years I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with the ways that we have typically sold and tried to differentiate speciality coffee. My thoughts on this have certainly been clarified by the book, and by talking to people about it. I wanted to write up how I feel now, as part of this blog’s purpose is to document the way I think about things, though I expect this to continue to change and evolve over time.
The main problem is talking about what we do being “better”. It is defined as “better” because those who work in coffee, and taste a lot of it, generally agree that it is. (I’m sure we can argue that sentence for a long time, but that pretty much sums it up for me.) The problem with selling what we have as “better” is that it requires the consumer accepting that what they are currently buying, drinking and enjoying is an inferior product. People don’t really like this idea: On just about every coffee article with comments you see the pushback, people defensive about what they drink, how they brew it, bristling with self-righteousness, feeling that their preferences have been insulted by the article or whoever is quoted therein.
“I like my pre-ground Italian coffee, brewed in an unwashed moka pot, just fine thank you very much!”
The real joy of speciality coffee is its diversity, this is what makes it the antithesis of commoditized coffee. Whatever you drink right now, with a little bit of effort (and perhaps guided exploration) you’re likely to find something that you will enjoy even more than what you do now.
What you think is better might be totally different to what I think is better. I’m not right, and neither are you – because there is no right. There is no moral high ground of flavour. You don’t have to love crisp, super bright and juicy coffees from Kiambu, or explosively floral coffees from Yirgacheffe. Nor do you have to love the earthy, heavy, tobacco filled darker roasts of coffees from Indonesia. However, if you do like one of those things chances are there is a something out there that you’ll love even more.
A person’s preference is a place to start. To be acknowledged, accepted and considered. Even if their preference is the last thing on earth you’d want to drink yourself.
I’m aware this goes against some people’s ideals of speciality. There are definitions of speciality that cover green coffee, and there are people who believe that their definition of quality is the only true one. In some ways I don’t mind this. I also believe that no business can cover the entire spectrum, so we should focus on the bits that we’re particularly passionate about. What those of us in speciality coffee offer isn’t necessarily unilaterally better coffee, but amongst our offerings are lots of coffee someone will probably enjoy more than what they’re drinking now.
A great response from Tim Williams over here at his tumblr. I shall write up a response to this very soon.
- My part starts around 1hr 33m into it – just after the Otis track ↩︎