Specialty Coffee - A Vibrant Industry, Or The Future Of Coffee At Crossroads Of Change?
By Alun Evans
Seattle; the home of Boeing, software giants, grunge music and...specialty coffee. While most people have never heard of him, Peet is widely recognised as being the father of modern "specialty coffee" in the industry. It was at Berkeley where he founded his roastery in 1966 and Peet's Coffee was born.
Alfred Peet was passionate about coffee. Many others in the industry in America today also passed through the Peet's Coffee experience. In fact when Howard Schulz purchased Starbucks, Bowker and Baldwin moved across and purchased Peets Coffee- Alfred Peet retiring to a role of Coffee Mentor for the Industry as a whole.
Today most coffee drinkers, from Surabaya to San Francisco, recognise Starbucks and its logo, but the name "Alfred Peet" often draws draws blank looks.
Specialty Coffee today is at a crossroad- an important junction in deciding which direction coffee will be heading over the next decade. Traditionally the specialty coffee industry has been built on the strong foundation of sharing knowledge and experience- with the supposition that by helping each other the industry will be strongly quality focused. Globally Coffee is in a position where consumption is beginning to slow down and opportunities to grow coffee are becoming more difficult to find in the traditional coffee consuming markets- Europe, USA, South America and Oceania. The traditional, lower quality coffee products such as instants, are being replaced by roast and ground coffee (drips, plungers etc) and of course Espresso Based Drinks (cappuccino, latte, espresso etc).
Fresh roasted coffee has many advantages over the instant coffee. The role the specialty coffee industry plays in all this is very important. Retail shops that source and supply only the best coffee help to sustain the industry both upstream and downstream. This means the farmers and workers will be rewarded and the consumers will have access to quality coffee, hopefully growing the business further.
To achieve this they either buy poor quality coffee, as cheap as possible or average quality coffee...likewise as cheaply as possible. Cheap coffee equates to, at the best, very average finished product. This in turn means generally a poor perception of the place selling the coffee. This would perhaps be OK if there were not so many cafes now selling poor quality coffee. As it is it means that poor quality coffee is often accepted a being the norm- hence having the result of putting people off drinking coffee.
In many ways the industry can be seen as having come almost full circle back to where it was in the early 1970's when instant coffee and coffee sitting on hotplates for 10 hours were seen and accepted as being normal coffee. For coffee to evolve and grow further there needs to be education of the retailer and the customer. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) and the SCAE (Specialty Coffee Association of Europe) are two such organisations. Buying quality coffee, hiring quality staff and imparting quality knowledge to customers buying their morning coffee has proven very successful for these companies. To take this one step further, they do not just visit and spend a few nights- taking photos of a grower's coffee trees, they maintain regular contact with those growing the coffee. This approach must be seen as the future for coffee in competitive, quality driven markets. It is true relationship coffee where the roaster becomes by default part of the farmers extended family.
It is a very important, yet lagging piece of the future of coffee globally. A successful café founded on the principles of sustainability and true coffee culture has nothing to fear from education. A café selling poor quality coffee is unlikely, or perhaps unable, to want to educate clients about quality.