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No roots

April 4, 2012

A big focus of my thoughts recently has been coffee education and training. That’s been fueled by conversations with Mike Haggerton and others, and particularly the Tamper Tantrum Live presentation by Ellie Matuszak.

One of the big concerns for me is that we (meaning the quality focused coffee obsessives) are starting to talk a lot about professional development, but not a lot about educating the public. Whilst I agree on the value of more skilled baristas/roasters/trainers/etc. I am dubious as to the value of formal education and certification in achieving this. However, what worries me most is that this distracts us from an easily achievable, extremely beneficial and worthwhile pursuit – communicating about coffee to the larger population.

I suspect a large portion of us are burying our heads in the sand about the reality of most people’s coffee knowledge. I believe most people in the UK have only experienced instant coffee and the highstreet espresso based beverages. The portion of people who have ever had freshly roasted coffee is much smaller again. Most people have no idea that coffee is part of a fruit, that it can have any non-roasty flavours, that different coffees taste different without adding artificial flavourings… And so on. And I would guess I’m being optimistic.

Don’t see this as a negative however. As with much of life, this challenge presents an opportunity. Good coffee tastes a lot better than bad coffee, and even people who don’t mind bad coffee tend to prefer good coffee. Good coffee isn’t expensive in comparison to bad coffee – well at least not by much. There is therefore lots of scope for good coffee to grow and expand it’s public awareness. That is achieved by good shops both in delivering great coffee and a great experience to customers and by running home brewing classes – but we must not sit back and become complacent just because some people are doing a great job. There needs to be more of this happening. We need to be finding new venues and ways to communicate how easy great coffee at home can be. We have the chance to build roots to the coffee community, to engage more people in the wider population, to expand public awareness.

I think there are challenges about how we do this and I hope we start having more discussions on this soon – now is the right time to establish common ground and consensus on how we, as a speciality coffee community, relate and connect with the wider world.

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