Is Craft Coffee a Bloody Triangle or a Balanced Square?

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craft coffeSpecialty Coffee is a Journey.

A long, arduous journey of seeming contradictions, nonsensical actions and a keen focus on the triple bottom line. This is not a Specialty Coffee only value by any stretch, but it is intrinsically interwoven into the very fabric of what Specialty Coffee means.

When we are asked to define Specialty Coffee or Craft Coffee we invariably espouse the benefits of each of the three pillars of profit. Some focus primarily on two of the three, some strive to balance the three, but the vast majority of us societal misfits stick doggedly by our conviction that not only CAN we achieve a balanced triple bottom line but that we SHOULD achieve it. That it is in fact the very purpose of what we believe the business of coffee is based on.

In my view the three pillars of Craft Coffee are a balanced focus on:

  1. Delicious, quality coffee
  2. Honoring craftspeople
  3. Getting more people to support both

In my view the three pillars of the BUSINESS of Craft Coffee are:

  1. People Empowerment
  2. Ecological Benefit
  3. Financial Profit

Put in more marketing style alteration I decided on these:

  1. People
  2. Planet
  3. Profit

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Done correctly, these three are mutually supportive, triply beneficial and highly achievable. Triangles are widely considered the most stable platform upon which to build a lasting structure. They provide stability on even the most varied and unstable ground. They are far stronger than a square and can withstand exponentially greater shear and weight. I like triangles. Triangles are sexy.

Done correctly, and in balance, the triple struts of true Craft Coffee form a powerful foundation for any business.

I have long held that the number one highest purpose of any business is it’s employees. Not it’s shareholders. Not even it’s customers.

Of course any business needs and wants great customers to buy it’s products and services.

But to what gain? WHY do you want them to exchange their money for your product or service? Most conventional business wisdom would say that the only purpose of a business is to generate profits and create shareholder value. In other words: The purpose of a business is to generate capital. This belief structure is often called Capitalism. Capitalism is the majority religion of the western world.

Henry Ford famously said:

“A business that  makes nothing but money is a very poor kind of business.”

Capital-ism is the the belief structure focused on capital. Capital-ism is the philosophy of belief that states that the purpose of life and business is to generate more capital. Money is an effective tool; a really great tool. It’s not evil in any way, but worship of it is evil and causes a massive level of pain and suffering on our planet every day. Money gives you the power to do a great number of things more easily and effectively. As a tool it can leverage your efforts, for good or ill, and make it easier to accomplish your goals.

Money also makes you stupid. 

Henry Ford also said:

“The highest use of capital is NOT to make more money, but to make money do more for the betterment of life.”

Abso-freaking-lutely profit (money) is a necessary goal in any business and most modern lives. Without profit in your coffee business you will almost certainly not be able to accomplish much lasting forward momentum in the other two bottom lines.

But again, back to the question of WHY you are seeking to enlarge your capital. To what greater use will you put the tool called capital?

You can fundamentally only use it to improve one of the other P’s, Either People or the Planet. That’s what a tool does. Makes other work easier and more efficient. Money is a tool. Nothing else. it isn’t evil, nice, stingy, rare, truculent, dirty, power, good or even real. It’s a tool to trade for plus in the other two columns.

You can absolutely run a coffee business, or any other business, solely to make a money profit. Most of the truly, freakishly rich people I know and know of, do exactly that. I don’t know if they are happy doing that. What I do know is that has never drawn my passions or energy and will never satisfy me. I don’t know why I can’t just shut up and take the money; but I can’t.

To quote my amazing wife Nanelle:

“It’s not a principle until it costs you something.”

Up until then it’s an ideal or a wish. Principles will always cost you something. You will have to give up something precious and dear and endure some level of pain if you are willing to hold strong to your principles. The reason so many of us misfits, punks and freaks in Specialty Coffee look so battle scared is that the vast majority of us have held onto our principles and paid dearly for them.

What others see as weaknesses and failures, we know to be strengths and hard won battle scars.

I am here to say that if you want to build your life on a triple foundation that you are automatically going to have to compromise a little in each area. Balanced weight on all three areas means you are creating a sharp point at each corner. And those sharp corners cut.

The journey of Specialty Coffee is going to cut you and make you bleed.


It’s up to you to make that blood-letting count. And to make the scars make you stronger.

I prefer to think of them as life tattoos rather than battle scars. But then again I’m a unrelentingly idealistic dreamer who absolutely refuses to not make the world a better place than I found it.

That’s why I am a Coffee Lifer.

By Andy Newbom

My name is Andy Newbom. At this time there are less than 10 Newboms in the world. Not sure if thats good or bad.