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.
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?
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.