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So what the heck is wrong... by Mark Prince
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alsterling
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Posted Sat Mar 25, 2006, 8:32am
Subject: Re: So what the heck is wrong... by Mark Prince
 

Mark......im in brasil now and last week visited various fazendas in south minas. our family is from this region and we have friends and family in the coffee biz here. you may know me from your cg forum, etc. the answer to your article is for business venturists as myself, to invest in products wrapped around an educational message. on my return i have meetings lined up with a few roasters and such. hopefully by next year our business model will be ready for implementation.

best, al sterling.......(btw, the shift key in brasil is a bit uncomfortable to use, sorry for the lack or limit of upper case!)

 
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whfite
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Posted Sun May 21, 2006, 10:21am
Subject: Re: So what the heck is wrong... by Mark Prince
 

This is an enormously interesting thread; enough so that I've read all 180 of the replies.  I'm a lifelong food-and-wine person who has been into coffee for only the last five years or so.  Here are a few observations from an outsider.

  1.  Wine producers and distributors and retailers are one helluva lot less dismissive of lower-end products than are you coffee people.  They understand that consumers aren't born knowing good from bad, but also that this ability is within the grasp of most intelligent and perceptive people, if they aren't turned off by being told that they are neanderthals born without taste buds.  Excluding the poor bastards who drink Thunderbird to escape life, many wine drinkers, given just a little bit of encouragement, will gradually work their way up from jug wines to better stuff.  And along the way they won't be dismissed as idiots or know-nothings, as so many of you professionals are wont to do to consumers.

  2.  When you tell newbies that unless they go right out and buy a Mazzer Mini, or a Sylvia, or a you-fill-in, they are never going to experience good coffee, you discourage them from even trying.  That is, unless they are yuppoids who buy the stuff because it is the fad du jour in their circle.  If you folks would say, "Look, go buy some decent coffee from a roaster or a retail shop in your area and brew it up in your Mr. Coffee" then they might try it and realize that there really is more to life than MaxHell House.  After that, it is a slow but pleasurable process upward as far as they care to go.

  3.  Stop making a fetish or a religion out of coffee making.  Stop talking about baristi as if they were demigods let down from heaven instead of hard working women and men who have mastered a practical skill and perform it well.  In other words, if you want to pursue that last one tenth of one percent in coffee quality, go right ahead, but stop trying to tell the world that anything less is sewer water.  It just ain't so, brothers and sisters, no matter how dearly you want to believe it.

  4.  The same thing applies to home roasting.  Damned few wine drinkers are interested in planting their own grapes, crushing, fermenting, bottling, etc.  Home roasting is a niche for a few highly motivated people.  Stop overselling it.  Stop making the climb to good coffee appear so steep, the tools so expensive, the skills so esoteric.  You simply discourage people and they go on buying from Star*uck's.

  5.  Get realistic about how good is good.  One thing pretty obviously missing from coffee judging is careful, double-blind methodology.  Sitting around a cupping table sniffing, tasting, and then "calibrating" is hardly an objective approach to the assessment of quality.  One wonders just how elevated some of the slurp-and-spit palates would prove to be if tasting were done with scientific rigor.  Be sure the emperor is wearing clothes, guys and gals.

  6.  Try being approachable.  Some of the businesses out there are pretty consumer friendly but most are, exactly as Mark described, about as eager to host consumers as Miss Muffet was to share her snack with the spider.  I've visited wineries all over the world and quaffed gallons of wine, one small glass at a time, listening and learning and sharing ideas.  Of all the dozens (hundreds, probably) of coffee houses that I have entered, precisely two have offered me tastings:  Barnies and Starbucks.  There is something to be learned there....

I thank God for you folks in the business because you have made it possible for homies like me to drink really fine, fine coffee, in our living rooms and in your shops.  But, honest-to-that-same-God, you people have one helluva lot to learn about developing your consumer base.

Will
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SL28ave
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Posted Sun May 21, 2006, 11:49am
Subject: Re: So what the heck is wrong... by Mark Prince
 

Seriously, thanks for the comprehensive exposition. Just a couple points I want to grapple with.

whfite Said:

Wine producers and distributors and retailers are one helluva lot less dismissive of lower-end products than are you coffee people.  They understand that consumers aren't born knowing good from bad, but also that this ability is within the grasp of most intelligent and perceptive people, if they aren't turned off by being told that they are neanderthals born without taste buds.  Excluding the poor bastards who drink Thunderbird to escape life, many wine drinkers, given just a little bit of encouragement, will gradually work their way up from jug wines to better stuff.  And along the way they won't be dismissed as idiots or know-nothings, as so many of you professionals are wont to do to consumers.

Posted May 21, 2006 link

I think few people here are snobbish or condescending. I think that's rather impressive given the extreme passion and obstacles specialty coffee pros face.


whfite Said:

When you tell newbies that unless they go right out and buy a Mazzer Mini, or a Sylvia, or a you-fill-in, they are never going to experience good coffee, you discourage them from even trying.  That is, unless they are yuppoids who buy the stuff because it is the fad du jour in their circle.  If you folks would say, "Look, go buy some decent coffee from a roaster or a retail shop in your area and brew it up in your Mr. Coffee" then they might try it and realize that there really is more to life than MaxHell House.  After that, it is a slow but pleasurable process upward as far as they care to go.

Posted May 21, 2006 link

I often say, slightly tongue-in-cheek, that great coffee can be had with great beans, a mortar and pestle. On the other hand there is some equipment out there that just will not do coffee justice, which should tactfully be pointed out. Blowing smoke is blowing smoke, which I try to avoid.



whfite Said:

Stop making a fetish or a religion out of coffee making.  Stop talking about baristi as if they were demigods let down from heaven instead of hard working women and men who have mastered a practical skill and perform it well.  In other words, if you want to pursue that last one tenth of one percent in coffee quality, go right ahead, but stop trying to tell the world that anything less is sewer water.  It just ain't so, brothers and sisters, no matter how dearly you want to believe it.

Posted May 21, 2006 link

We're roughly 51.2% short of that "one tenth of one percent in coffee quality". ;) Seriously though, specialty coffee is in its infancy. The best coffees are grown by farmers that are getting screwed, and there is barely any acceptable tradition yet of what good coffee even is. It's where the wine industry was hundreds of years ago. I am extremely passionate about this, as are others who are facing this dynamic on a daily basis, but don't think that I go around saying this to every customer that walks in the door.

Have you tried a fresh Kenyan coffee that did well at the Kenya auction, roasted and brewed extremely well? Most haven't, even though it's a fairly inexpensive coffee. Try it..... if I were stuck on an island and could have only one cup.....

And point taken on "religion".


whfite Said:

Get realistic about how good is good.  One thing pretty obviously missing from coffee judging is careful, double-blind methodology.  Sitting around a cupping table sniffing, tasting, and then "calibrating" is hardly an objective approach to the assessment of quality.  One wonders just how elevated some of the slurp-and-spit palates would prove to be if tasting were done with scientific rigor.  Be sure the emperor is wearing clothes, guys and gals.

Posted May 21, 2006 link

It often isn't done carefully enough.

What do you think about this protocol where the coffees are screened and blindly cupped a number of times by an international jury:
Click Here (cupofexcellence.org)

Or this protocol: http://coffeegeek.com/guides/beginnercupping

And then there are the roasters who get into deep detail of every coffee and learn how each coffee brews in the real world.

I think I read somewhere that Robert Parker often doesn't taste blind, and he still has extreme confidence in his results. If true, isn't that worrisome?


whfite Said:

Try being approachable.  Some of the businesses out there are pretty consumer friendly but most are, exactly as Mark described, about as eager to host consumers as Miss Muffet was to share her snack with the spider.  I've visited wineries all over the world and quaffed gallons of wine, one small glass at a time, listening and learning and sharing ideas.  Of all the dozens (hundreds, probably) of coffee houses that I have entered, precisely two have offered me tastings:  Barnies and Starbucks.  There is something to be learned there....

Posted May 21, 2006 link

True. But I think this is changing. Maybe not very widespread yet, but there is definitely a wonderful consensus of message that will be pushed in the next few years. This is a concept not to be taken lightly either, because the image the public forms of us is so damn powerful. I love spending my time with customers too; if only I weren't isolated to rural Massachusetts!


whfite Said:

I thank God for you folks in the business because you have made it possible for homies like me to drink really fine, fine coffee, in our living rooms and in your shops.  But, honest-to-that-same-God, you people have one helluva lot to learn about developing your consumer base.

Posted May 21, 2006 link

It's can be a tough job, given the vision.

Anyways, let's mutually keep exploring and enjoying coffee! :)
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Yirga
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Posted Mon May 22, 2006, 9:07am
Subject: Re: So what the heck is wrong... by Mark Prince
 

whfite Said:

This is an enormously interesting thread; enough so that I've read all 180 of the replies.  I'm a lifelong food-and-wine person who has been into coffee for only the last five years or so.  Here are a few observations from an outsider.

. . .

Will

Posted May 21, 2006 link

You should do a professional personality study about forums.  I think the problems arise in the evolution of them where the only emphasis of decorum other than enforcement of the rules, is aimed at throttling only those who a slight percentage who don't like someone for some reason complain to the Sergeants At Arms!  Little or no attention is paid to the "senior member" voices who have strong prejudices and/or who perpetuate inappropriate bias or intolerance for the views of noobs or those who aren't rabid disciples of the "in-crowd" on a forum.  This group is usually a few among a vast,  "silent majority"  who won't step in to comment on matters of courtesy.

Much is made about "Everyone is entitled to his opinion." but little effort is made to keep opinion in perspective and to assure noobs all matters of courtesy in regard to their opinions when they go up against the establishment's opinions.  Maybe a "Noobs' Forum" is needed on all forums and a qualifier stated that special courtesy should be extended for those new to the main emphasis of the site and that "Senior Members" should make an effort to educate rather than belittle the opinions or ideas of noobs.

A statement from site administration like,  "The site belongs to all who participate on it and they all have an obligation to get along, except for forum rules violations to be enforced by the administration."  has a First Amendment ring to it, but there are usually going to be those who have little value for "equal opinion access" and they should be openly challenged by administration and asked politely to be more tolerant towards those who aren't, "One Percenters."

Even a, "?Best Practices?" list could be kept up to date for noobs which could be identified as a HIGHLY SUBJECTIVE listing of a suggested consensus of opinions by a designated savvy site volunteer(s) and contain  brief entries for opinions for such things as (in the case of CG forums), brewing methods, essential equipments, equipment modifications, methods of use, coffee single origins,  coffee blending, source selections, roasting selections, grinding, etc.  Provision for differences of opinions to items of, "?Best Practices?" would be advisable.

And, maybe even categories of,  "All serious -- no kidding" and "Serious -- but with kidding, sarcasm, stupid outbursts, etc." sub-forums would help those who are,  "laugh challenged" and seriously believe that light-hearted commentary has no place for something so serious as a forum frequented by a bunch of coffee nuts continuously climbing the walls and high on caffeine!  Decafers, to the contrary!

And, I resent coffeehaulics being compared to wine-Os!  We've not sunken to that level, yet!  I happen to like twist-top gallon jug wine and anybody not cool enough to have a S1, Mazzer, HotTop, and buy their green beans from SM, needs to WISE-UP!
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whfite
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Posted Mon May 22, 2006, 10:44am
Subject: Re: So what the heck is wrong... by Mark Prince
 

Thanks for your observations, Peter.  By and large I think you are right on target.

As to passion, I doubt that anyone could exceed the passion of some vintners for their work.  Anything worth doing is worth doing passionately, isn't it?

I really think that a lot of the problem with consumers being willing to drink such bilge water as most restaurants produce or the whatever-it-is-that-they-burned that Star*uck's sells is simply that they don't know any better.  And, alas, much of the ambience of the coffee culture makes that knowledge difficult to acquire.  I went on too long about my thoughts on some of the reasons for that so I won't bore you with a repetition.

But consider the plight of John and Mary Lunchbucket who decide to rise above their morning cups of percolated MaxHell House.  They can go to Starbies and be greeted by a reasonably cheerful and approachable highschool kid who will offer them choices of many, many sweetened and flavored things.  Almost all of them will taste better than their home brew.  They will feel comfortable, they will drop into the big, cushy chairs and chat, and then they will go about their business convinced that they have joined the coffee literati.

On the other hand, maybe they go to a real deadly-serious coffeehouse.  There they will probably find a bunch of customers who know each other and share the coffee passion speaking a language nearly unintelligible to their naive ears.  Should they dare to order a sweetened or milk-based drink, the barista--if s/he acknowledges their existence at all--is likely to fix them with a basilisk stare and then dismiss them as numbskulls.  And should they decide to buy some coffee, they'll be asked if they want a Mandrogovian Swigtheet blend or a high-grown Mesopotamian Ripsnickle varietal.  Nothing easy like, "Tell me what kind of coffee you like and I'll help you pick something to try."

Are there exceptions?  Of course.  Many, many of them, and thank God for you guys and gals who work hard to make good coffee accessible.  But too many are of the sort I've lampooned above.  And PROUD OF IT, that's the really incomprehensible part.

You can walk into a wineshop and buy a six buck bottle of red stuff right along side a two hundred dollar bottle of a meticulously hand-crafted cab.  OTOH, I've never seen a coffeeshop proffer a pot of real coffee alongside a pot of Folgers and invite the customer to do a little sampling.

You certainly are correct about the plight of small-farm growers.

And, yes, good Kenyan is nearly sacramental, isn't it?  I wish I could get my hands on some of it.

Keep the faith!
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MarkPrince
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Posted Sun Oct 8, 2006, 11:27pm
Subject: Re: So what the heck is wrong... by Mark Prince
 

So this evening, I was revisting this article, and especially this long, 184 reply thread it created... partially because I'm starting to think about doing a followup, but it was just really interesting to read all the replies, the good, the bad, the hurt, the "perceived angry", all of it.

And look at the list of respondents. Not to leave anyone out, but names like Mary Petit (who has only two posts in this entire forum - so where have you gone Mary?!), Peter G. from Counter Culture, Peter from Terroir, Nick, Chris Tacy (when he and I seemed to get along so much better), Trish, lovely Trish, Fortune, Jay... so many others.

Interestingly enough, we did not hear from some people - I hoped that Mike Ferguson would have jumped in, but as we all know now, he had his hands full. It would have been good to hear from Ted Lingle. It would have been good to hear from the likes of Doug Zell, Duane Sorensen, Vince Piccolo, and as one cafe owner pointed out - other cafe owners pushing the envelope.

But one really interesting thing came out of this article and thread. Actually, many things, but one stands out for me. Soon after publishing the article, Karen Foley called me and said "just wait boy...."

The just wait was for Imbibe Magazine. Which I think is just a godsend for the specialty coffee industry.

Other things too - the mainstream press stood up a bit. I got calls from authors, from tv networks even about possibilities. They haven't gone anywhere yet, but at the very least it got people, important people thinking about things.

Now we have events like the NY Times writing heavily about the importance of grinders, and about high end true specialty coffee places in NYC. We have the current issue of Wine Spectator featuring a short article by Mark Pendergrast taking about the sad state of restaurant coffee. We have more and more shows, movies, short series on quality coffee (Black Gold, Black Coffee, Living Coffee, etc).

What's sad, while still be understandable, is that we still don't see the SCAA involved in these things - at least not publicly - they may in deed be driving some media attention behind the scenes. That said, we do see a BGA that is finally stepping up and running interesting jams and more involved barista competitions.

But on the SCAA itself, I've heard rumours (and that's all we have, because official communication seems almost a vacuum) that at the fall meetings in Long Beach, Rob Stevens stepped up and challenged the SCAA to be more regional, more year round than it currently is. To feature more regional training and educational events. To have events every month in different parts of the country. If it happens, kudos and great stuff. But so far, lip service - I'd love to see the day where the SCAA, in conjunction with companies XYZ hosts consumer awareness programs in different regions each month - tied in however possible with the regional plans for training and professional education.

We've come a long way in about 2 years, I think. Food paired with coffee event in Portland. Barista Jams more officially organized and run. Imbibe Magazine. Mainstream press not treating quality coffee and espresso as a joke so much any longer. Famous authors berating the restaurant industry for delivering shite coffee.

But we've got such a long way to go to...

Mark

 
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Jules_Gobeil
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Posted Mon Oct 9, 2006, 7:15am
Subject: Re: So what the heck is wrong... by Mark Prince
 

Very interesting thread.  Being a wine lover (with a rather good knowledge) and a coffee lover, I would like to comment about the comparison between the two and venture reasons to explain why wine comes out as a winner most of the time:

  1. Maturity and money
    Wine is a very important product in the economy of several rich states like France, Spain, California and has been for years.  These states, and the rich companies that are involved in wine production and distribution, have put a tremendous marketing effort and zillion$ to promote the product.  They also have large research budgets - they even have oenology faculties in their universities that offer degrees in the science.  Coffee is grown in emerging and third world countries and the farmers are still being exploited by the traders - unfortunately most of the coffee profits don't stay in those contries to be invested in marketing and research.

  2. Ease of use
    To enjoy a nice wine experience at home, only 3 factors are needed:  a good bottle of wine (1) at the correct temperature (2) in an appropriate glass (3).  To enjoy a good espresso to CG standards, much more is needed in terms of product, equipment and expertise.  The list of mandatory factors is much longer and the tasting experience will be bad if only one is missing.  The same comparison holds true for serving wine or coffee in a restaurant, a bar or a coffee shop.

  3. Production
    The complete "production" of wine is done by the same "producer", a winery.  Beringer, for example, will grow the grapes, fermentate the juice into wine, blend and age, bottle and distribute.  Coffee has a more complex life:  it is grown by a farmer, is distributed by traders, is blended, roasted and grinded by food producers and brewed by the consumer.  The winery has complete control of the final product while the consumer doesn't really know what is in his cup of coffee.  Granted, us CGers have a bit more control, but not much - we are not sure we are really drinking Kona, we don't know how old the beans are, etc...

As a whole, I think that Mark's article and Whfite's comments near the end of this trend summarize quite well what is wrong.  The good news is that 20 years ago, wineGEEKS were probably saying the same thing...

Jules

 
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