I have the distinct honor to represent the Specialty Coffee Association of America as its president, and the joy -and responsibility- of that office is to help lead the American specialty coffee community into the future. Except, one thing that becomes immediately clear when looking at our membership is that it expands far beyond the borders of the United States of America. In 2015, nearly 40% of the attendees at the SCAA Event in Seattle were from overseas. Our member rolls include coffee professionals and companies from over 80 countries, only one of which is the United States. While America can be proud to be one of the birthplaces of the Specialty Coffee movement, it has now become a thriving international community of people dedicated to coffee quality in all its beauty and complexity.
This moment has been coming for a while: even though Specialty Coffee is intrinsically international (after all, Alfred Peet, generally thought of as the father of Specialty Coffee was Dutch, but built his company in San Francisco), our community has become even more enthusiastically global in the past few years. Baristas perform their craft on Japanese brewing equipment, Italian espresso machines, American brewers, and German grinders. They effortlessly embrace Scandinavian roasting styles, Australian presentation, and the American influence of craft beer culture. Our roasting community is international too – this year, the Roasters Guild planned its first origin trip to Ethiopia – the true birthplace of coffee. The trip included participants from Saudi Arabia, Portugal, Colombia, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. Our networks in coffee extend throughout the world. I can easily chat with my colleagues in Europe and Asia, and I do.
So, when I think of the future of coffee in the coming year, it’s all about taking that all-important step towards building a truly international Specialty Coffee Movement. All the pieces are coming together: the SCAA’s education curriculum has synchronized with the SCAE’s courses, and our successful Symposium has metamorphosed into Re:co Symposium, a global network of events. Inspired by our successful collaborations, the SCAA board began exploring the potential of formally uniting with the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe to form a truly global Specialty Coffee organization. It’s really happening – we have in our sights the opportunity for a specialty coffee network that truly exists on the world stage.
It couldn’t come at a better time. The challenges that face our industry are global, and it will take an international effort to grapple with them. Climate change and water scarcity affect the entire chain from producers in the tropics to consumers in the global north. New international trade agreements erase barriers to building markets overseas, but require a new set of skills for business leaders to develop. We desperately need a way to build strong connections between coffee professionals everywhere, and our associations are critical network-building tools. We are being called to put our voices and our efforts together.
As our branches spread, however, it’s critical that our roots grow deeper. Moving onto the international stage is impossible without the essential local networks and events that our community treasures. Though trans-oceanic communication is easier than ever, our industry is built on taste, and you can’t perceive flavor on the internet. In the coming year, as we become more international, we will simultaneously become more local – touching specialty coffee professionals in their cities, in their neighborhoods, and in their businesses.
I feel lucky to be a part of the community at this very moment. It feels big and exciting, but also comfortable – it’s just that our family is growing into something bigger, and more capable, and more valuable for all coffee people.