There is a never-ending debate raging deep within the Specialty Coffee world that is battling over the very foundation of what Specialty Coffee is and it’s place in our world. It is deeply embedded. So deep in fact that few people talk about it on any kind of regular basis. It is a foundational core belief and action structure that builds the warp and weave of the fabric of Specialty Coffee.
On one hand there is the glorious dream of slapping a rustic rucksack over your shoulder, hopping on a rickety bush plane and swooping Indianan Jones style into a remote coffee jungle on the side of a volcano. The intrepid explorer arrives with grit and glory, ready to dispense the largess of their Only 88.6+ Coffee Sourcing Program like a benevolent Pope. With eagle-eyed clarity, luck based intuition, scarcely noticed white privilege and a finely-honed, cupping-calibrated-tongue insured for millions, the great mythical coffee hunter crashes like a fierce wave on the distant shore of coffee mediocrity. Crushing common coffee and coffee commoners like a 10 ton Moby Dick hell-bent on intimidation. The Great and mighty Mythical Coffee Hunter swashbuckles, crusades and swoops, scoring the golden unicorn coffees of which legend tells. The coffee never stood a chance. The Coffee Hunter has arrived. All your coffees belong to us. (well, actually sorry, uh, we only actually want to buy these 322 lbs right here… BUT we will pay a premium!)
After the glorious Coffee Hunter blazes away in their color coordinated, pre-ruggedized, post consumer content rucksack and safari vest, a sort of raucous silence depends on the mountain side. The coffee farmer chuckles a little and smiles a smile of infinite patience. They resume their heated discussion with the person who is still there after the Hunters have swept off to the next hot coffee unicorn. They argue and debate about how many roots per hectare will produce the best balance of yield and quality while requiring the least input costs long-term. They cup all 37 of the farmers day harvests and carefully work to diagnose the problems and the successes and figure out ways to have more successes and fewer problems. Together they create both blends and micro-lots based on flavors, quality, attributes, farmer and buyer needs and work hand in hand in the dirty, messy business of Coffee Farming. It’s fantastically glorious and curiously glory less. It tends to take a lot of 82-83 point coffees and works hard to produce a great and wonderful quantity of 84-86 point coffees and continues to develop better and better coffees over the long haul. This is the Dirty Coffee Farmer.
Of course I’m being simplistic and overly broad. Yes I have painted one side in a less favorable light. Yes there are people who do both remarkably well.
But I maintain that the greatest benefit to our industry, our world and our dreams in Specialty Coffee is to honor, recognize and encourage a hell of a lot more of our people to be more like the Coffee Farmer in coffee sourcing and buying and far less like the great white Coffee Hunter of lore.