One of the early adopters of the idea to view “Specialty Coffee” as a separate segment of the coffee industry was Ted Lingle. It could be argued that he was one of the most influential people in driving the industry forward. He has created a legacy of changing the coffee industry for the better. Ted is retiring and it seems appropriate to examine his legacy and how he has influenced all of us that still have a few years before our own retirement.
Coffee is rich in history. Since its discovery in Africa, it has appealed to us on many levels. To some it is just a morning fix, necessary to start the day. To others it is a moving experience with roots in exotic lands that creates a link to our own lives. Hundreds of years of cultivation, research and consumption variations make it an important part of almost every culture.
Specialty coffee is new. It has been just a few decades since Erna Knutsen coined the term ‘Specialty Coffee’ and a small group of folks started to change our focus on the product. They told us that coffee does not have to be just a consumption product. It can also be a quality product. In just a few short years, an industry was born and we operate in that world now. It is an industry view that has a firm belief that if you improve the quality of a product there will be a market prepared to pay more for it. If the market pays more, then the entire supply chain will benefit.
Ted’s path to quality coffee started in the family business. Lingle Brothers, started by his grandfather in 1920, saw Ted working in it for 20 years. His prominence in the industry carried him to senior levels of industry organizations. This made him a natural choice to be the founding co-chair of the SCAA. In his role at SCAA, he drove technical research to help quantify and identify quality in coffee. He wrote ‘The Coffee Cuppers Handbook’ and followed it with ‘The Coffee Brewing Handbook’. He drove innovations in evaluation science all in pursuit of enhancing the supply chain from grower to roaster to retailer.
The body of research required addition resources to move forward including staff, volunteers and grant money. Coffee Quality Institute was formed under his watch as Executive Director at SCAA. Ted would later leave his post at SCAA to become the Executive Director of CQI. Many that know Ted thought this was a terrific move for him as he truly enjoys the nuts and bolts of coffee science and he saw a potential to really start changing the coffee world.
At CQI Ted created the Q coffee system whereby well trained and calibrated cuppers could accurately identify, and quantify, the attributes of coffee. By training cuppers from farms to retail stores a common language of quality arose. This lessened the ambiguity and frustration of discussions in the supply chain. A formal system of calibrating cuppers was developed. A person could be taught this system and if they passed a series of 22 tests became a certified Q-Grader.
The set of services offered by CQI were all designed to increase quality in the supply chain and be able to quantify that improvement objectively. Over and over it has been proven now that quality improves sales prices for each member of the supply chain. Much of the improvements were taught by CQI and verified by Q-Graders in the cup. The number of Q-Graders in the market now numbers over 2000!
The Q-program was so successful that it is being given a makeover for Robusta coffee. Sales of Robusta tend to be a bulk blend of coffee where quality is more of an accident than on purpose. Some farmers however choose to patio dry their coffee and hold them as small lots. Some of this coffee is quite wonderful and deserves more study. It has already been proven at specialty coffee auctions that quality in Robusta garners a super-premium. Ted has been putting a ton of energy into this and it will keep him busy in his retirement continuing to improve this new offering.
The latest step to improve the Q program at CQI is by creating version 4.0 of the course. This is another project that has Ted working in his retirement to finish the remaining details. It is a vastly improved rewrite of the Q-Grader certification class in that it focuses on teaching students critical control points of quality and how to improve them. This version should be out in April before the SCAA Conference in Boston. It really pushes the training to the next level by utilizing best practices created by Q-Instructors in the field. The training modules are getting more sophisticated and the tests are being revamped to better reflect the skills needed in the marketplace.
Ted was asked, “When you look back at your career in coffee, is there one thing that stands out as being the thing you were most proud of?” His answer was, “I think it would have to be the creation of the coffee flavor wheel.” He explained that the body of work that went into that poster that most of us have hanging in our businesses somewhere set the development stage for a great deal of the Q-Grader program. It analyzes tastes, aromas, and defects and puts them into categories that help discover their origins. It is even color coded to show how aromas, tastes, and defects intersect each other and gives names to them. Many people have seen it but few have any ability to articulate its significance. It is good to see that SCAA is creating a class specific to the wheel so us mere coffee mortals can understand its complexity. When you are done with this article, go look at that poster on the wall and see if you can find deeper meaning. (Then go take the class!)
Ted will be remembered for a vast number of contributions to the industry including some he is still working on completing. He has left a mark on the world and has indeed changed the lives of those in the coffee industry for the better.
So, what are you going to do today, this year, and the rest of your career until you retire to improve the coffee world? Like Ted, you should not be doing it to become famous, but by following your passion you may become infamous. Strive today to become a great coffee citizen and make your mark.
Ted, we raise our glass to you! We owe you a full container load of 90+ gratitude. May you have great coffee wherever retirement leads you! Cheers!
Rocky can be reached at rocky@INTLcoffeeConsulting.com