Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A Question of Direction

It's often said that actions speak louder than words, and in this case it's the lack of direction that's speaking volumes. And what it clearly illustrates is the poor messaging put forth by coffee industry leaders -- in this case the WBC and it's "subsidies" around the world.

While this may seem like a minor decision, a blip on the Specialty Coffee radar, it's not. What I want to clearly point out is that the fault does not lie with a barista, the fault lies with the lack of leadership at the top of the industry and how apparent it's become that there needs to be unified and clear messaging from within in order for Specialty Coffee, the WBC, and the like, to move forward.

There has been much hullabaloo in the past couple of days regarding the advertisements that Italian Barista Champion Francesco Sanapo has made for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters promoting the K-cups (Keurig). The first to weigh in was Brian W. Jones, a graphic designer, former barista, and current coffee enthusiast who strongly questioned Francesco's involvement on a blog piece, "Molto Triste! Barista Prima K-Cups" on his blog, "Dear Coffee, I Love You" located HERE, where he writes, "... for a coffee culture that is continually discussed regarding their relevancy in the emerging progressive coffee scene, it’s sad to see the Italian Barista Champion being used in this way."

A short while later, Sprudge, the coffee news website, confusingly stood in support of Francesco's decision, with the following line being the central theme of their post, "...So many, many facets of specialty coffee are funded on the back of compromise..."

Now these could go by without much concern, however, Andrew Hetzel, one of the most respected consultants in the industry comments, and totally misses the boat. He writes, "By choosing Francesco or any genuinely skilled barista to head its campaign, the company has elevated the barista profession to a new height of public awareness and made the position of national champion even more desirable for competitors." and later, the following, "The specialty coffee industry is at a crossroads: will we go back down into the basement and play with our Chemex as we have done in the past or is it time to organize, commercialize and push for the public visibility, awareness and ultimately the appreciation from mainstream consumers that we need in order to revolutionize global coffee quality. There cannot be widespread change without widespread support."

What Andrew, Jordan from Sprudge, and to some extent, Brian, have missed is the consequences of this messaging. And again, in this case, the fault clearly lies at the lack of understanding within the WBC. When a Barista champion, (whether it be regional, national, or world) is crowned they are representing the both the industry and the craft as a whole by accepting the award. It is the job of the PR departments to have a unified message to create awareness of the vast difference between a commodity approach to coffee and espresso and a more artisan, Specialty approach towards coffee and espresso.

Linking someone like Francesco to this type of product is telling the public that there is no difference between K-Cup espresso and espresso produced by a Champion barista. But hey, they're potentially reaching millions, so it's ok!

Advertisements, commecials, product placement, etc. These are all messages, and these messages have consequences. For all the hours of hard work the various coffee associations put in regarding internal improvements through training and education, they need a little training of their own. A continual and methodical unified industry-wide message will have a far greater, and far more positive impact on educating the average consumer than the quick-fix mentality of "Let's let everyone know about us, then we'll worry about how to go from there."

As an industry, we do need to be concerned about educating consumers where we're going, but more importantly, how are we getting there?