The Fellowship of the Bean [Fellow Guest Blog Post]
What makes specialty coffee so special? At first, it may seem like a relatively simple question with a straightforward answer. Specialty coffee is special compared to ‘regular’ coffee because it is more expensive to buy, it’s grown at higher elevations in more nutrient rich soils, it’s processed better and it has an elevated flavor profile. All of these answers are valid, but they are only a few of the primary colors on a much larger canvas. For it is with these colors, and thousands more, that coffee visionaries, scientists, farmers, humanitarians and marketers are able to blend ideas together to create a world of infinite possibilities for specialty coffee.
That said, life has taught me so far that before you paint anything beautiful, you must start with a blank canvas. And as is most often the case, something old must die or be erased in order for something new to grow. Ideas need space. A canvas needs color. For my S&D sponsored Re:co Symposium coffee fellowship, this blank canvas was my open mind. So how did I clear my mind? I did this by making a conscious decision on my flight south to try my best to clear any assumptions regarding coffee that I had made up to this point in my life. As in any experiment, I didn’t want my own hypotheses, biases or perceptions to dictate what I did and didn’t want to learn or do. From my perspective, this decision set the stage for one of the best experiences of my life. For it was through the fellowship experience, and with this blank canvas that I was able to connect with coffee and people in a new, imaginative way.
Over seven caffeine-fuelled days, I was amazed by all the colors that revealed themselves, and I collaborated with other imaginative people about what this painting about coffee might look like tomorrow or even 10 years from now. And as time passed, all these different colors started to fill in my mind’s canvas with beautiful coffee paintings. My imagination started to brew new ideas that I could paint back in Canada.
Some of the Re:co Symposium speakers, sessions and attendees that helped me grow include:
- Peter Giuliano’s passionate opening remarks and the entire session about cold brew. I’m now actively exploring bringing cold brew to new or underserved markets.
- John Buckner’s insightful analysis based on market research about coffee-drinking millennials and the huge potential that exists to make specialty coffee a big part of their consumption habits.
- The coffee labor crisis that is happening at origin, slavery in Brazil and creating sustainable coffee supply chains that pay everyone a living wage so we can all continue to enjoy well-processed specialty coffee.
- Christopher Hendon’s lecture on the physics of coffee. I left the room having learned more about physics and chemistry in one hour of his dynamic and enlightening presentation than in my senior year physics or chemistry classes. And he made science fun, and simple to understand, which is no easy feat for a crowd of coffee people.
My conversations with attendees such as Poul Mark of Transcend Coffee about the successes and learning experiences of running a roastery/retail coffee company. Or chatting with Matt Slater, International Re:co Symposium Director about African green coffee trading. Or jumping in adult bouncy castles at the Roaster’s Guild party with Taylor Minor, Chief Science Officer of Telemetry Coffee. Or meeting Ric Rhinehart, Executive Director of the SCAA right before ducking into a Costa Rican cupping session with the farmers that grew the coffee.
I could go on and on and on, however I think it should be crystal clear by now that I had an awesome time.
Coming back full circle to my original question post-fellowship, “What makes specialty coffee so special?” I’d have to say that my answer could only really be…everything and everybody.
Keep brewing great ideas!
Chief Imagination Officer
Coffee Table Times