A very trendy statement in the third wave is "we can't add value, we can only take it away." It would seem this statement is rooted in an attempt to regain humility and communicate a more complete narrative for the customer (regarding the journey of the bean). But, we at Coffee Bureau think it might be time to embrace a new type of humility. Instead of focusing on quality as some sort of volatile chemical property in a coffee bean, let's ponder an even more complete perspective.
If we think of the industry in terms of narrative, we have to acknowledge the part we play. The story is one that involves quality and value, but it also defines those elements. Every cup of coffee you make and drink will add a new line of dialogue, so to speak. We're learning new words, and we're defining them as we go. So, to minimize anyone's involvement by saying we can only "take away" quality is to miss the entire point. It might be true that nothing is "added" in a chemical sense but much is uncovered, revealed, and even more beautifully arranged by quality craft and consumption.
Let's stop thinking of coffee as a substance story and try thinking of it as a timeless human narrative. We can see slices of this story on any coffee bag as the information offered (i.e., altitude, variety, processing) provides the details that describe where we are now on the timeline. However, we would do well to understand that the bigger picture spans many centuries of trial, error, craft, consumption, and relationship.
It might be unclear to some exactly whom we are addressing here. Are we talking to those in the industry? Are we talking to the end user? The answer is that we are talking to anyone who loves coffee, wherever he may be. This will include many that are not part of the established coffee industry and exclude many who are.
So, coffee lover, reject the notion that you cannot add value! You are the value. You are among the most important characters in the story of coffee at this time, and your ability to contribute with how you purchase, how you craft, and how you consume will shape the industry. Furthermore, the narrative is absolutely incomplete without you. It is your responsibility to enjoy coffee and contribute to the narrative. Embracing this responsibility will not only bring you joy, but will also help complete the joy of those who share your passion. It is through awareness of relationship and responsibility that we will progress to whatever might be next.
So how is this a humble perspective? Is it not the elevation of the craftsperson or the consumer that is anything but humble? It is humble. It's an honest assessment of all constituents and not just those who have kept all knowledge and craft in their tight grip within the last few decades. It is a humility that allows for a great democracy that is timeless and without distinction of class or privilege. The only requirement is to love coffee and desire accessibility of all that makes it valuable.