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Coffee Hall of Fame: A Song For the Siren


Coffee Hall of Fame: A Song For the Siren

Paul Haworth

A Series of Posts Contemplating the People, Ideas, and Ingenuity that Brought Us to Coffee Today.

"Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness"
–Anonymous, Attributed to Many.

Stop Cursing the Darkness

In any industry, folks try to connect with each other through negativity and, of course, this happens in the coffee industry. We sometimes gather around grievances as if they are campfires where we might find cheap camaraderie for a few minutes. Indeed, the friction of our diatribes might be a heat source, but let us consider—what can produce not only heat, but light as well? Let's find a common perspective and see the value in being unified by our passions and not our frustrations.

Light a Candle

This post is the first of several contemplations on elements from our collective coffee past, some of which have been shrouded in shadow, undeservedly ignored, or even hastily condemned. We are focusing on these topics because of their contributions toward the full potential of coffee. We are kicking this series off with a very obvious example.

Respect for Starbucks

Starbucks Coffee did the impossible. At a time when America had little to no reference for coffee as an object of craft, they were able to stir the imaginations of countless coffee lovers and future professionals. The majority of movers and shakers in the industry today got their start behind a green apron. It might be difficult to see through the polished corporate persona, but originally this company was the ultimate model of disruption in the coffee industry.

During the final 15 years of last century, the question was, "Four dollars for a cup of coffee?" How could it have been justified anywhere but a handful of coastal American metropolises or somewhere in Ginza, Japan or Milan, Italy? The answer was simple—make the local coffee shop a respectable craft community. Then, epitomize the customer's personalization of the product.

Starbucks championed the brilliant phrase 'the third place' to express the community they provided, meaning that it was neither home (the first place) nor work (the second). They combined this with their notorious and unyielding 'just say yes' policy, making them the gold standard in customer experience for many years.

Coffee Careers in America

Before the corporate coffee model exploded on the scene, the concept of having a valid career in coffee might have only existed in a couple of places in Europe or on the other end of the spectrum in large scale production and importing/exporting. From the beginning, Starbucks boasted an unheard of benefits package for even part time employees, as well as stock options and a corporate ladder to climb.

This aggressive tactic made them attractive to many types of people. Coffee lovers were enticed by the prospect of doing what they loved and it being qualified as a 'real' job while business minded people saw the inertia and were inspired to jump in as well.

The Value to Coffee Bureau

We are now witnessing the dawning of a new coffee craft movement which refreshes the value of great coffee experiences in the 'first' and 'second' places (home and office). It is not an overstatement to say that many of the roads we now travel in our exploration of coffee were trails blazed by Starbucks. The legacy of coffee career possibility and the stirring of the imagination toward the full potential of this wondrous beverage have all been in large part due to this enterprise.

Some of their decisions were short-sighted and many of their qualitative stances are now laughable, but we ought to keep the past in context. We must respect and appreciate their contributions and do our best to learn from both their successes and mistakes.

Just something to ponder over a cup of coffee.

"Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go."
–James Balwin, Author.