A generation ago, a small cadre of coffee enthusiasts in the United States began a journey in search of the world’s finest quality coffee. The objectives were more personal than financial. As the quality of coffee improved, their numbers grew. Not only was the specialty coffee trade born then, shortly thereafter, the course of an entire nation had changed.
Once well known as the most ignorant coffee consuming nation on the globe, in one generation the United States raced to the top of the world in terms of coffee quality. Organic coffee, which had been viewed, first as organic and last, last, last for its quality, soared ahead to run neck and neck with the world’s finest quality coffee. Fair trade coffee used to be sold by those often referred to as radical, rabble-rousing communists. Today, fair trade coffee is sold by Smucker’s, the same corporation that owns Folgers. Yet, even more impressive than uplifting the coffee trade’s broad base faster than a speeding bullet, is how hard the brakes have been slammed on to create Slow Pour.
In the beginning, price was the first variable to give way to quality. Given that nothing has led the coffee world away from its poor quality roots more effectively than that small cadre recognizing the value of quality over price, other variables, such as volume and time, may also be vulnerable to the quest for quality. Slow Pour points directly into the prevailing winds that demand speed and volume, and asks the consumer to stop and smell the coffee.
Could there be another cadre of coffee enthusiasts out there?
While the race to the top has been led by the unrelenting pursuit of quality in the cup, it has been closely followed by consumer concerns for improved social and environmental conditions at origin. Marketing departments have latched on to these very hot consumer concerns and answered with widespread Cause Related Marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, consumers have precious little time in the supermarket aisles or in the café cue, to get a clear picture of the complexities at origin. So, marketing departments have consolidated the complex issues into sound bites and certification seals. But, sound bites and certification seals simply cannot explain the complexities at origin, and consumers are left to their own interpretation. Consumers really want to know more. But, clever marketing phrases have led them to oversimplify, and their interpretations have fallen well short of reality.
Slow Pour slows down the entire coffee experience, and offers consumers a pause from the rush and an opportunity to consider what life is like behind the mystery in the cup. The care and attention to each brew may be more than the latest step in delivering the highest quality coffee to the consumer. It may also be the first step in providing the time and space for consumers and servers to acknowledge and respect the complexities hidden behind every cup. Let alone the time and space to fully enjoy the sensory experience, and acknowledge, respect and truly be in awe of all those complexities, both behind and within every cup.
Let’s face it. Explaining the sensory experience pales in comparison to the experience. Nor, is explaining sustainability any easier. Slow Pour offers the specialty coffee trade the opportunity to invite consumers in to the mysterious world within every cup and beyond the sound bites to begin untangling the complexities, loosening them into more manageable, understandable pieces. Over a slow, pensive cup there is room for a healthy dialogue, and a free flow of ideas and questions that would otherwise be impossible in the hustle bustle of the coffee rush.
Customer: “May I have a small cup of that Caracolito Peaberry, from Injerto in Guatemala, please”?
Barista: “Sure. This is an extraordinary coffee from Huehuetenango. It has a delicate body, creamy texture, it’s mildly acidic with citrus accents and sweet touches of peach. It’s a particularly balanced cup, clean, silky with good structure. I particularly like brewing this coffee in a Chemex. It will be ready in a minute.”
Customer: “Oh, I’m going to like this. Does this coffee come from anywhere near the earthquake that stuck Guatemala a short while ago”?
Barista: “Yes, it does. The earthquake wasn’t that far from Huehuetenango and Injerto farms. It made the news for a few days, but with elections, and the mid east crisis it just disappeared.”
Customer: “Do you know anything about what happened?”
Barista: “It was devastating. Homes were lost. Roads were blocked. And, what made matters worse, the government didn’t respond at all in the beginning. So, it was up to local NGOs to provide food, shelter, and take care of those who were hurt.”
Customer: “What’s it like now?”
Barista: “Well, the government has finally responded and is providing relief to those who have been hurt the most. Now, the NGOs are trying to rebuild. Homes, businesses, entire communities have been destroyed. It’s not like the US where FEMA comes in to rebuild and offer funding for economic relief. It’s still pretty bad.”
Customer: “Can I do anything to help”?
Barista: “In one sense, you already are. Injerto supports education, health, and nutrition for all its workers. So, keep buying their coffee. And, here is a list of organizations supporting rebuilding efforts in the region. I’m sure they could use whatever help you could afford. Here’s your coffee. I hope you enjoy it.”
Customer: Oh! This is good!
Next Customer: “May I have a cup of coffee from Café Capucas in Western Honduras”?
Barista: “Sure. Did you know that in Western Honduras,…….”
No. This is not about getting them in and out. Slow Pour offers coffee businesses the opportunity to share their knowledge about issues at origin with customers who want to know more, and at the same pace of brewing each exquisite cup.
There will be those who will say, “Do you really expect me to earn a living selling coffee at that pace?” Of course, I remember what it was like when I was starting out in specialty coffee. My friends would come in to my store and ask me, “Do you really expect to earn a living by just selling coffee?”
Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last
Just kickin’ down the cobble-stones, lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy
Simon and Garfunkel (1966)
By Bill Fishbein, founder of Coffee Kids and The Coffee Trust. Bill is currently working at origin in the Ixil region of Guatemala and in the Western Highlands of Honduras promoting comprehensive, integrated, grassroots development for small-scale coffee farmers. www.thecoffeetrust.org