Last night, after skimming through my timeline, I saw two tweets around Todd Carmichael’s Brewers Cup routine, and the “Dragon” brewer he invented. At first glance, it looks like a syphon brewer and an Aeropress had a kid. Looks cool. But, immediately I had this thought, just like the syphon, there’s yet one more brewer that the baristas will go crazy over, make it look sexy and awesome, and the average consumer will either be too intimidated by or not get because it’s too hard.
The tweet: “I’m glad has created another complex brewing device for coffee, cause there was a big shortage of those for consumers.”
The syphon is one of the coolest looking brewing devices out there, looks like a science project. I have one, a Yama, and it sits atop my fridge for show. I’ve used it a total of three times, because every time I used it I thought, “Dang, that’s a lot of work for coffee, when I can jump on a V60 or Clever in a fraction of the time and brew just as good (if not better) cup of coffee.” So, on my counter at home, I have the Bonavita scale/pourover stand, and a Clever. And it brews amazing coffee each day. As a matter of fact, my wife Clever brews me a cup of coffee each morning. And that’s the point. My wife isn’t a coffee professional. Sure, she was alongside me for most of the 16 years I was in coffee, sure, she sat in every class I taught on brewing, but she is no coffee professional, and yet every morning she is able to brew me a delicious cup of coffee on the Clever.
And that was my intention with my tweet around Todd’s “Dragon” brewing device. Too often, these crazy brewers don’t trickle down to the point at which it makes coffee brewing easier or better for the average consumer, and left to their devices, they’ll choose devices like the K-Cup or Nescafe capsule machines. While yes, it’s cool that these things get shown at SCAA, and it’s cool that it wets the pants of uber-interested baristas, it won’t mean much to me until it trickles down to the consumer.
Why do I care? Well, to be honest, there are times when I wish I didn’t, but the fact is, I still do, it’s still something I’m passionate about. But my paycheck no longer comes from that world, it comes from corporate America, and yet you’d be surprised at how much work I still do for the specialty coffee industry on a daily basis that I don’t get paid for. I’m in the middle of helping two folks open coffee shops, I get emails or messages everyday asking where to buy specialty coffee in the town they’re visiting, what grinder to buy for their home, and how to troubleshoot their morning cup. Every day lately I’ve been inviting folks to my office to share a cup of fresh roasted specialty coffee and conversation. Inevitably I end up talking about the coffee, where they can buy it and how they can brew it. I did the same thing when I was at my former agency, where, upon my initiative, we brewed fresh PT’s Coffee each day for our office of 150+.
And in these conversations, several things keep coming up: One- average consumers think it’s too difficult to brew coffee like they see in their coffee shop, and Two- they need something that’s easy for them to do in their home each morning, something that doesn’t require an iPhone app. Usually, these things are followed with, “That’s why I have a Keurig. It’s just easier.” And I cringe. Because I know specialty coffee can be easy to do. I’ve taught it. I know specialty coffee is worth the small amount of time it takes to brew each morning, I do it myself both at home and office. And there lies the disconnect between what is happening on the SCAA show floor with machines like the “Dragon” and the BKON (which, in full disclosure, I gave (non-financially compensated) advice and help for early on in the process.)
And there’s a good part of me that geeks out on these devices, because I think coffee should also be cool to make, but if it’s not accessible for average consumers we’re just fostering a hobby. But it’s not a hobby, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry that provides food, clothing, shelter and medications for farmers who desperately rely on it and are counting on coffee professionals to continue to build it’s value to ensure it’s sustainability. Cafe Imports can (and do) an amazing job of sourcing amazing coffees, but if there aren’t consumers willing to pay the prices for it that are required, it’s all for naught. So, if you look for the solution, you have to start with the consumer and how to can make specialty coffee more accessible and valuable to consumers.
You have to (at the same time) educate consumers on the true value and benefits of specialty coffee, and show them how easy it can be for them to make it themselves each day. Because I absolutely believe it can be both. I have said it for years, I preached it as Chair of the Barista Guild, and believe it to this day, that the sustainability of specialty coffee lies in it’s accessibility to the average consumer. There are simply not enough coffee geeks to purchase all the amazing specialty coffee being grown around the world. Accessibility doesn’t mean watering your coffee down, putting it in capsules and admitting defeat to the pod and capsule machines, it means a greater focus on education for both the bean(seed) and process of brewing those beans each day. It means making the process of brewing coffee as simple as possible.
I don’t think I would be wrong to want to see more consumer-oriented devices that make specialty coffee more accessible. Look at the Bunn Trifecta, they made a crazy automatic Aeropress for shop use, and an easy-to-use home unit that makes the process doable in the average home. ABLE Brewing has made a really nice simple pour-over device for the home with the KONE Brewing System. Every time I see something like this, and the education put behind it to make it accessible by people like Rusty Angell or Keith Gehrke, it makes me happy.
So, in many ways I projected my frustration that at SCAA there weren’t more and better ways to make specialty coffee more accessible for consumers, more compelling cases against capsule and pod brewers. And I’m sorry I included Todd in that, it wasn’t meant in malice, I don’t think he took it that way, but still, it was projecting, and I apologize for that. I like to think that folks know my intentions, but that’s an assumption and we know where those take us. I love specialty coffee. I drink it every day. I still support the industry and the folks who make it what it is every day. And that includes people like Todd, (despite being critical of his show, which I believe to be an over-dramatic characterization.) If Todd is using his higher-profile and work with La Columbe to push forth specialty coffee and make it more sustainable, those efforts are to be lauded. Perhaps I just wish he’d put forth the time he put into creating the “Dragon”, into something that would be a legitimate option against Keurigs and Nescafes.
So, to close, I’m sorry that was directed at Todd, he’s worked hard in the past year to overcome assumptions and characterizations of him personally, and his wins in the Brewers Cup speak to his passion and willingness to work hard to show he’s more than the show persona. Also, I need to remember this isn’t my career anymore, and let those in it take it on. There are tons of great people passionate about specialty coffee, and they are perfectly capable of pushing it forward. Also, there are a lot of thoughts in here that seem fractured and disjointed, so I hope you can see past my A.D.D. to piece it together to understand the point.
If you have comments or thoughts, add them below in the comments section, not on FB and Twitter so we can keep them all together and thoughts can be longer than 140 characters.
(Image source: http://bit.ly/R2S0h6)