(Warning, not proof read and written in a tired state on the trip home from Bern Switzerland). There will be spelling mistakes and grammar problems sorry).Ok, just on the way back from the SPECIALTY coffee association of Europe conference (although there were times I wondered if it was Specialty). Bern Switzerland is a lovely place, the people are wonderful and so polite and helpful and so multi lingual. My German phrase book is covered in dust as everyone spoke English to me, which was incredibly kind but made me feel like a fool.
My accommodation was top notch, and I’ll post a picture that shows from my hotel room I could see the expo centre perfectly, and all the comings and goings. Big thanks for the local tourist information people for getting me the best gig in town.
For those who don’t know I love the whole podcast culture that’s out there. I like the coffee geek podcast although sometimes it’s aimed a little low at the newbie, but the portafilter podcast is very cool, and they talk to some of the finest in the industry. Nick is the main stay of the podcast and Jay the sidekick. Unfortunately Jay couldn’t make the trip, but Nick was there, recording away. The Mercanta Issue podcast 39, is a party I was at, and talks to some of my friends in coffee. Unfortunately as desperate as I was I failed to get on the podcast, but it was very cool to hear all my friends. I guess Nick wont get to read this but wanted to big him up for the work that he does and thank him for his great MC’ing of the world barista championships, he’s an ambassador for the third wave coffee movement. One last thing is where is the coffee geek podcast Mark I want to hear your take?
Wanted to give a shout out to some guys I meet over the weekend. The espresso warehouse guys were very cool, as were Joey and Lukas and Marcy from tmc (www.toomuchcoffee.com) . Clover guys, (more later) Steve Deidrich from Deidrich coffee roasters, and the list could go on (sorry if I missed anyone) . The guys I know from the cup of excellence were cool and great to meet up with them Kentaro in particular and Jeff Watts my cupping god. There were lots and lots of others but these guys needed a special mention.
OK here come the bad things about this whole experience over the past few days. There are some egos in the industry. This came as a big shock to me as coffee people are generally cool and are not so into themselves. But this week has shown me there are some money making non coffee drinking arrogant people in the world of coffee, and I’m not keen on Has Bean Coffee being part of. There were some machine companies, the so called ethical bodies who really just don’t get it even if you beat them over the head repeatedly with your not as fair as we are, your coffee sucks ours doesn’t and we have relationships you have contracts. I swear if one more of the ethical bunch tell me I’m not fair I’ll scream. As soon as I start talking the figures we pay and the figures they pay they kind of want to stop talking to me. Every argument they threw at me, I had the perfect reply and the answer to finish them. You’ve got to remember they spend their working day coming up with arguments, I spend my every waking moment thinking how we can do this stuff better. The last thing I have to say to them is your wrong were right and in the long term the market will understand it has to be around quality and not around charity.
Now if I say to you Specialty, what does that conjure up in the mind? Special? An end of the market that is differentiated by quality and something a little special. So why do I not see this in the majority of the membership? The SCAE has become this slave to the larger companies who slap each other on the back saying what a great job they are doing. Its all about money and very little to do with the quality of the coffee in the cup. How is a small SPECIALTY roaster, working his butt off to find truly great coffee with ok margins, going to compete with the huge companies with many employee’s, who are making truly great margins with awful coffee to people they don’t want to understand how good coffee can be. How can this small roaster have his voice heard in this noisy forum, and why should I bother.
The SCAE gala dinner was the final one for me. I found out someone has put me forward for a nomination which sounds nice (and was a great ego boost), but I didn’t really get why any one had been put forward. And I also didn’t get who had decided who should win? Now I’m a member shouldn’t I have had some say (in the other categories of course), or shouldn’t it be a elected board of members who explain how they came to there decision? Instead some dinosaurs of the industry decided to pat their friends on the back with wooden plaques and much merriment. The whole thing stank and it left a nasty taste in the mouth. I was so annoyed with it all, I left before the end of the meal, and walked home on my own ( a few miles and decided not to party which isnt me at all), and sulked. When coffee and its quality is everything in your life and what defines you, this crap at the top really annoys me.
I had planned to go to the annual general meeting Sunday morning, but I had no appetite for a public fight and didn’t feel I’d be able to sit on my hands, so thought it best to leave it.
More fun than that was to get and watch the WBC (world barista championships), just because baristas are always (without exception) cool people who really do get the whole quality argument and want true excellence from bean to cup. And this leads me onto another thought that popped into my mind. I don’t think that the WBC will grow being attached to this dinosaur of the SCAE. And it important it continues to grow as it has done over the past years. Before this weekend I had the opinion that the WBC was the family jewels, now I feel it’s a jewel, but it doesn’t belong to the family of the SCAE, but needs to get divorced, its too cool a competition to be held back. But it is important, as without the WBC the show for me would have been a complete flop and I would not attend another without the WBC being on.
Ok enough moaning and whinging and time for some positive show stuff, barista championships rock, the showmanship is way cool and I left the competitions so motivated just to look at espresso with fresh eyes. This year it was blessed with some fantastic competitors and the atmosphere given by the baristas of friendship, professionalism and a working together, I’ve never seen in any area of competition before.
I have been truly blessed with working with the UK champion James Hoffman of La Spaziale in developing And roasting his UK blend and the one he took to these world finals. James is Specialty coffee personified his passion and his desire to show you what can be produced in the cup is fantastic. James has invested a lot of his personal energy in his blend and his skills as a barista. Working with James on this project I hope will be evident in the future as I feel I have grown and developed as a roaster by really taking a step back and working with the barista. The barista is the front line of coffee and he gets all the feedback from the customer that as a roaster we don’t see as much (the internet has helped my customers let me know my thoughts but you get what I mean). The UK has never had a barista in the finals. We were so far behind that we just couldn’t do it. My personal point of view is we have never had the coffee quality or the passion in these competitions, until now. So we have our first finalist, and James finished 5th overall. I believe next year, he will be able to go to the next stage. The level has raised (I kept being told this at the show) for the WBC and that just shows that James has raised the game in the UK and then some more.
I know Jim will read this and I just want to say respect big guy well done I love your passion I love your vision keep doing what your doing world champion in waiting. And for everyone else if you want to know what’s in his blend and his feelings I’m sure he will be posting on his blog at www.jimseven.blogspot.com/
Other good stuff, Clover were exhibiting at the show. Clover is a new brewing machine that’s had lots of press in the coffee world, and I worried a lot of hype. I got to try coffee from this machine and it was awesome, some of my good friends in coffee from stumptown (shout out to Joel and Duane) Bolivian cup of excellence coffee that blew me away. What a machine. But the very cool thing was they were given some of my coffee to run through the machine and it was incredibly well received. I took a photo on the Clover stand with the coffee lined up there from stumptown and inteligensia two of my big hero’s in coffee. Rock and roll. I’m hoping in the autumn to see if we can get one of the machines at the roastery, as I think it has so much to offer in the pursuit of coffee excellence. Believe the hype.
More good stuff was our coffee was on the Mercanta and London school of coffee stand (we haven’t started growing coffee by the way just our roasted coffee ). The coffee went down very very well, and received some great reviews (I was talking to someone who didn’t know who I was who was telling me the best place for an espresso was there stand). It was our standard premium espresso blend that was blowing peoples minds (their words not mine). But London School of coffee was also hosting some workshops. One of these workshops was attended by Tim Wendelboe from Oslo Norway (two times runner up of the WBC and two times winner of the WBC and esteemed cupper) who said my espresso blend was “F***ing good). Of Course this is available on the site to non WBC competitors.
So a mixed show, I’ve enjoyed some parts of it and didn’t others. Some other good news from the show was some of the new wave (not going to use third wave like the US, as I’m not sure if there has ever been a wave here) guys got on the board. Also there is a new UK chair who I respect immensely and wants the same thing as I think I do (I’m sure that’s how the discussion went on Friday morning at 3am). He’s asked me to join the new committee he is setting up for change in the association, and although I’m not sure we can do it he assures me we can change it. We will be doing things not talking about doing it, I’ll of course keep you posted on this stuff, and it would be wrong of me to say that its all wrong and not try and do anything about it. It sounds like I’m on a mission and I must admit I think I am.
Enough from me, mixed show good and bad points.