Specialty Coffee’s Focus Problem

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Specialty Coffee is awesome. I am a Coffee Lifer and no matter what I do coffee will always be in my blood.

What I love the most about Specialty Coffee is the people. Well actually what I love the most is Coffee People. Not just people who drink coffee, Coffee people who have dedicated their lives to making the world better through coffee. It’s a brutally painful, financially punishing way to make your way in the world, but the satisfaction, joy and the coffee makes the sacrifices more bearable.

But Specialty Coffee has a focus problem. We can’t decide what are our focus should be. Focus is a highly polarizing word and concept in coffee and beer. Whenever I talk about deciding what you and your business should focus on the majority of coffee people grab their pitchforks and insist that we can and should equally focus on everything. That no one thing is more important nor takes higher priority. The argument is that we should serve two or three masters equally. I am not convinced that individuals nor businesses can, nor should, serve multiple masters equally. Everything in business is hierarchical in some fashion. It’s the nature of business and life that at some point there will be a time when you have to make a choice. Not a choice to do multiple things perfectly, but when faced with the ability to only do one thing, which do you choose and why.

Choices are like that.

Specialty Coffee has been battling with focus for decades. We seem to have a great deal of trouble making up our minds. On one hand we desperately want to be seen as super-quality-cool-hip-progressive-wavey-sustainable-best-rare-sexy. But we also want to make huge, overflowing bushels of cash. We want to save the poor brown people. But we also want to please the rich landed gentry customers.

We trash and flail and cast about.

We bemoan how much poorer poor coffee farmers are getting, even as they simultaneously drastically improve their coffee quality to meet our published standards and demands. We also whine about how fancy and expensive coffee is. We wonder why poor coffee farmers can’t survive even selling their top grade specialty coffee. While fetishizing those few wealthy land-owning rich coffee farmers who speak English and can afford to travel.  We insist that if customers only knew how gloriously decadent truly great coffee was they would throw all their money at us, regardless of the price of coffee and we would all be driven around in limousines. While simultaneously insisting that we can’t charge even $.05 more for a cup of coffee because our customers can’t afford it.

We can’t decide if its cool to only serve $8 hand-poured works of coffee art. Or if it’s cooler to serve $1 cups of diner coffee to go.

We hope we can have it both ways. We eagerly wish to have our cake and eat it too.

 

Luckily for us, much of it is built upon the backs of global poverty.  If they are starving, let them eat brioche. It pairs wonderfully well with a 24.45 gram in/335ml out pour over of fine Panama Jasmine Gesha Natural.

Or we could partially solve it by treating coffee producers like valued business partners instead of either charities or super heroes.

Thoughts and Counter Thoughts?