The View

The other day I was at Café Luna, our local café here on the island, and they were working through their rush with one of their steam wands broken on their La Marzocco. The steam valve was stripped.
They were waiting for Pat from Visions, one of the great equipment and smallwares companies here in the Northwest, to come in. Confidence was high and correctly so. Soon they were up and steaming away – business as usual.
I thought of Brian Conroy from EspressoMe that services our machine at the office. He lives in Vancouver, Washington, yet he and his staff service the entire Pacific Northwest. Let’s face it, Vashon Island is not the easiest place to get to and it is about three hours from Vancouver. Still, Brian cheerfully comes barreling up I-5 to make sure that our Franke keeps putting out the espresso. He braves rampaging deer, massive snow in the passes, late night ferries, traffic accidents, and just general road mayhem to make sure that we don’t go a minute longer without the best possible coffee. If this is possible, I believe that Brian is more passionate about coffee than us.
As far as I can tell, Brian and the hundreds of others who keep our café and roaster equipment working at peak efficiency must live in their trucks logging thousands of hours every year.
Marty Curtis, generally considered the best wizard of roasters, travels to all parts of the globe either repairing and installing roasters or instructing Q-Grader certification courses. He rarely is at home. Nine times out of ten, when I call Marty I end up getting him at 3am in some hotel in Indonesia or Ethiopia. Still, “No Problem, what can I do for you, man?”
As an industry, we don’t think much about this part of our world. After all, you usually do not buy a new piece of expensive equipment with the first thought in your head – “Who is going to fix this thing?” (Although you should) The service side of our business is typically invisible and unrecognized.
Still, these men and women go about their business cheerfully and positively, always looking to reassure and comfort their customers. Often misunderstood and blamed for problems, these folks are more psych counselors than tradesmen.
It reminds me of the guy who works on my septic system – when I need him, I REALLY NEED HIM! The first thing out of his mouth better be reassuring or I am going to go right over the edge.
Quite often, the folks on the service side of café and roaster operations are the most knowledgeable people about coffee that we get to talk to frequently. They bring news about innovations and other peoples experiences; they provide staff training on service, preparation, and cleanliness: they bring the most recent gossip; and all this as they quickly get us back on-line serving coffee and keeping the cash register ringing. They are the modern version of the travelling tinker; they show up at your door to ‘fix’ things for the better.
They help us keep our recipes consistent, keep compliance with industry standards, and keep us in calibration. After our customers, they may be one of the most important people in our businesses. Why do they get so little love? I suspect it has more to do with our own desperation and fear.
So here is a thought, if anyone should have a guild it should be the service providers. It truly is a trade group that is engaged in continuing education, technical standards, professional development, and certification. Wouldn’t our industry be well served by professionally certified trades people that add a layer of confidence to our operations?
I am sure that the equipment manufacturers would benefit from a broader access to service groups at events, the industry would benefit from broader training and consistency, and the service providers would benefit from a traditional guild career development system. Besides, they just don’t get as much respect as they deserve.
Just saying.
Kerri & Miles

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