Feeling Competitive?

There I stood in a giant room. All around me were the trappings of a tradeshow, only this time it wasn’t skis and snowboards and chap sticks, but rather coffee grinders, brewers, and smoothie pretend-to-be drink bases. It’s a totally different world than where I’ve spent my professional years in the past, but this Coffee Expo is delivering all the familiar visions of any trade show across the country. Skis, computers, or coffee…. It’s all kind of the same when you put it on a convention-room floor, with one big exception….the coffee kicks ass here.

Sitting at the machinery booth down isle 4, are the two “new to the work world” 22 year olds dressed in oversized suits that were borrowed from their football star brothers; both looking afraid to speak to anyone. Across the hall are people with warm smiles representing the big hearted non-profits doing extreme good for health, education, and quality of life in coffee growing communities. Sprinkled in between are coffee growers from around the world, gadget inventors, and packaging companies. So much to see and do, and that damn “all you can drink” espresso bar keeps calling my name.

The trip to the show is one that I looked forward to for months…kind of like my son starts looking forward to Christmas in July. Not only was I looking forward to seeing everything the industry offers, but I’d signed up for multiple educational courses to learn more about coffee roasting, coffee brewing, and even steaming milk for the ever elusive perfect Rosetta. There’s always room to learn something new.

Roaster's Choice Coffee of the Year Competition -

During the show, I had the chance to meet some crazy, interesting, and even crazy-interesting people from all over the world. What stood out particularly, was a sort of unexpected tone about the coffee itself. Everyone in the room was striving to achieve that perfect coffee. Growers growing the best, roasters roasting the best, coffee brewers, bags, and cups that are the best. Not to mention the best espresso machines that cost 3x what my car is actually worth, and should I even bring up the topic of baristas who compete here to be named the best in the world?

One of my favorites....

I talked to many roasters and business owners who all shared so much about their businesses. I just asked questions and listened as they talked about how they strive to prepare coffees that will meet the expectation of even the pickiest of Italians. They talked about their accounts, their pounds roasted per week, and their competition with fire and drive.

When talking about my coffee business, I couldn’t help but recognize their reactions to our different approach to selling the “best”….the inclusive approach to our packaging, and the “just enjoy” or “learn if you want” mentality. They didn’t get it, and it was clear that some even thought we were destined to fail miserably. It made me feel kind of competitive, actually. (Let’s not talk about how I get when I start to compete, please. I was starting to taste the temptation to pay money, put a race bib on, and get ready for the takedown on the last turn before the finish line where you might “accidentally” get tangled up in my bike pedals and go down hard…oops).

Whoa there! When I started my coffee biz, the most important thing was to be different than the “perfect” ones, in that I wasn’t a snob about coffee, and my company wasn’t going to be snobby. Yes, we buy amazing coffee, we roast amazing coffee, and yes, 72.6% of the time I even pour amazing latte art. Everything we do is for the sake of bringing the best experience to our customers. Should we start down a new path of uber-perfection and let everyone know it?

It didn’t take me long to come to a conclusion. No way. From the beginning, the most important thing to me was that our coffee business would invite people in. They could ask questions, be included, and never ever feel like they’re being judged (except for those who still insist that their freeze dried coffee is “pretty good”- I will judge you, but it’s really ok because you lost your taste buds in that tricycle accident when you were four).

Coffee is about the experience….the look, the taste, the texture….and the conversation around the table that goes along with it. The whole experience is passionate, joyful, simple…..and well, just life. I have deep respect for everyone in this business that brings passion to their work, as it makes us all better at what we’re doing. I also have amazing respect for those who are willing to share what they’ve learned on their coffee journeys.

I guess what I realized too, as I looked to the triple-nose pierced barista making my 4th coffee of the day, is that it’s totally ok to be different. In fact, in this business, it’s sort of expected. I realized we don’t have to be like everybody else, and that yes, we can go down our own path. It might not make sense to some, but at the end of the day, my customers are the reason we’re here. We want to keep teaching you, keep learning from you, and we want your day to be amazing because you sipped a cup of our coffee, alone or with friends, and it just plain brought a smile to your face.

There’s no prerequisite here to know what “acidity” or “mouth feel” descriptors you’ll use when taking that first sip. If our customers want to know more about why we select special relationship coffees, you can, or if you feel good knowing that we’re committed to an organic certification, great. And yes, if you want to perfect your own cappuccino at home we’ll help you get there. You get to jump in as far as you’d like, but we’re completely happy doing all the hard work in the background, and allowing you the pleasure of one thing: Simply enjoying your coffee because kicks ass here.

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Rainy Day

One of my favorite things to do is to host parties and gatherings. I love the feel of a room full of people talking and laughing. I love giggling until my eyes water and my belly aches in pain and Im gasping for breath. Im a bit spoiled when it comes to being a hostess, I have to admit, because Ive been cast out of the kitchen for years now by my uber-chef husband whos taken over the cooking since our son came along. He figured that someone had to do the cooking, and someone had to deal with the poopy crying thing, so hed take the cooking. Now days, Im knee deep in 3rd grade math while my husband is preparing dinner, trying to explain how one is to count change back when something is purchased. Im a little annoyed that this is even being studied, because, first, the chance that actual bills and coins will still be tendered by the time my kid has his first minimum wage job is unlikely, and secondly, the cash register will tell him how much change the customer is supposed to get. If that doesnt work, use a calculator, or if that doesnt work, use your cell phone to call someone with a calculator, or heck, but then Im sure the customer can walk out the door and the RFID in the exit will automatically bill the entire cart directly to his or her Visa.

Anyway, being more or less kicked out of the culinary action of a dinner party has left me in charge of what I call the three Ds: Thats drinks, decorations, and dessert. Today I got to indulge in drink making to my hearts content, because my coffee roasting shop was filled with a giggling, talkative crowd, gabbing about everything from hair products, to the vice-presidential debate last night. I was on the espresso machine making one cappuccino after another (which I might say had about a 90% good foam success rate, which is not a bad rate for simulteaneous talking and foaming). I informed everyone that if they talked to me while I made their drink that it would take twice as long to get their beverage. I think this may be due to my uncontrollable need to flap my hands around as I talk. Its genetic, Im sure of it. People didnt seem to care much about the speed, though, so I had some wonderful chats with some people Id never met before.

This group happened to know each other pretty well, as they are the local masters swim club that swims together 5 days a week. Many of them regularly spend a few minutes after practice sharing a cup of coffee at the clubhouse. Today, I invited them over here, although Im not myself a swimmer (something about staring at a tiled blue line while going back and forth trying not to suck water into my lungs every time I gasp for air just doesnt work for me. It could also be related to my flapping hands issueIll have to research that). I can see how much fun they have together, though, and loved being in the midst of this joyous crowd who seemed to relish in the simple pleasure of hanging out and sharing laughs.

It must be the slightly rainy day today, or this mornings unexpected phone calls from a couple of missed friends that got me thinking about this, but I find that so many people just dont make the effort to visit, call or make simple connections with others. We get so busy that we delay the phone call or email invitation. People make the lamest excuses, like thinking their home is too messy to have visitors, or they feel weird about inviting someone over who they dont know very well. I think thats crap, honestly. Youre really not that busy, and no one cares if your house is messy, and you dont have to make a Food Network masterpiece. If you have friends who care about the mess in your house, or the quality of your meal, they suck. Find new friends.

I wouldnt be honest if I didnt say I realized today that this is the biggest joy of the business Im in. I love that a simple invitation, with a simple little drink of coffee and milk can bring people together and fill us up more than anything else we may choose to do, this week or any other. Im one lucky girl.

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Just a Tiny Giggle

I have a constant running joke going on in my head as I take in the quirks and comedy around me, even in situations that aren’t quirky or comedic, like, say, the Olympics these last 2 weeks. Impressive athletes, every one of them, but isn’t there something just too funny to ignore about the gymnastic dismount salute, or the fact that the US relay team didn’t hold on to a 1.5″ inch stick, as though they’ve had no practice with objects of that shape? Just saying. Continue reading

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Girls from Idaho mostly arent fantastically savvy big city freeway drivers. I can point my mountain bike straight down a trail and hit speeds that might make some people puke, but theres something about bobbing and weaving between 5 lanes of traffic while going well above the 65 mph speed limit that makes me a little uncomfortable. I was on my big adventure to visit my coffee supplier last week, though, so I sucked it up and became best friends with the voice on my $9 per day GPS. If you dont know where youre going and the digital voice inside a plastic box thats plugged into your cigarette lighter can tell you how to get there, listen. She knowsyou dont. Continue reading

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Two Hands, Stupid

Have you ever fallen off a moving treadmill? I did this once. Not that it was actually falling off, but it was more like an attempt to get on the moving apparatus that caused the situation. Its not often that I find myself jogging at the gym on the treadmill. Its something I save for frigid winter days when theres no option to go outside for a little ski or something. Anyway, there I was about 3 minutes into my jog, completely annoyed that I was watching Gun Dog: Bird Hunters on the TV with an out of range remote control in my hand. Bugged by my inability to control my environment, I stepped off the moving treadmill to walk up to the TV to get the thing to change to something more appropriate, like todays Oprah, for example. Should I have asked the man 2 treadmills over if this was ok? Maybe, and this is probably why karma took control in the next moments. Continue reading

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Most people wont refuse free cookies or free coffee, but thank goodness my highly polite friends, neighbors, and work colleagues were willing to give the garage coffee in the little brown bag a try. Some of the roasting attempts tasted great and some tasted downright boring. The quality of the green coffee beans that can be purchased by home roasters over the internet is as uncertain as Brittany Spears behavior, but none the less entertaining to roast and try. Continue reading

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Science or Art?

Flip red switch to on position, temperature control to high, ensure fire extinguisher is nearby. This is how the instructions for my new in-home coffee roaster read. Great, Im going to burn the house down because Im too lame to buy coffee at the store. I decided to stop there and back up about 20 steps. Now that I had the equipment that could actually turn out a decent roast, I needed to match my coffee roasting skills to it. This wasnt cave-girl and the popcorn popper anymore. Continue reading

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The Good Stuff

Certain things in life are saved for those of us who fit into descriptive categories like “artsy fartsy” and “clog wearing”. It would be reasonable to say that I am not a fit for either of these categories, and may be as far away from them as a person can get since I’m mostly amused by rules, process, boxes and squares.

Without offending those who seem to have a knack for colorful dress, or choosing Dutch-inspired safety footwear, I might suggest that the above two categories fit with types who make their own kitchen gadgets from materials grown in their own gardens, or drink breakfast juices from green plants that would send my allergies so far into outer space that I’d need a moon sized Zyrtec to stop the itch that’s taken the place of my eyeballs, or think it’s a good plan to roast their own coffee beans in a “not intended for that purpose” popcorn popper out in their back yards just so they can have fresh coffee every week. Wait, what? Continue reading

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First Day on the Job

Here it is, first day on the job for real. How did I get here? That’s a good story. Don’t the craziest experiences always make for the best journeys?

About 14 months ago I decided to leave my respectable job in the outdoor industry after being employed in the same company for 14 years. (No comment on the 14.) I’d worked my way up the ladder over the years, and had a great position. It was the kind of job that when people asked about my work, they acted surprised like they didn’t actually think I was that smart. I liked the people at my office and had been lucky to receive tons of professional opportunities along the way. Why in the world would anyone leave a job like that? Honestly, I was ripe for a challenge to land in my lap, but didn’t really know it until the phone rang. Continue reading

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