The Romance of Coffee and The Reverence for Craft

In this post, I try to understand and consequently illuminate what makes specialty coffee so interesting and romantic. 

I think the interest in specialty coffee stems from the frustration customers have with the current capitalist set-up. Businesses that are set-up and thrive in the modern day are not very concerned with making the best product they can. Instead, they are concerned with the bottom line. In general, many modern businesses examine and monitor market trends and consumer behaviors, create a product of “acceptable” quality, spend lots of money and resources marketing these products, build brand equity through endorsements, and over time, optimize their product offerings by minimizing costs so as to maximize profits. In the end, they create merely mediocre products that are not of great value. 

Take a look at the products you can find in most retail stores in a shopping mall and closely examine them. They are meant to fit or be used by as many people as possible. They are machine made. They are standardized. They are lacking charm, sophistication, and soul. Why? There is no craftsman behind the product. When a craftsmen makes a product, they take a look at it and ask the question “How do I make this better?” This simple manner of thought is so rare and valuable in today’s world of fast moving goods, fast fashion, and fast everything. This is the root of the customer’s frustration. They have been buying into the ideas, goods, and services created by modern businesses for all their life. They are given choices, sure, but these choices are provided by businesses that operate in the same industrialist mindset. I think it is the frustration and boredom with this kind of thinking that has paved the way for the rise of specialty coffee (and many other craft related industries).

Let us go back to the craftsman and see why it is so exciting to be supporting her craft. The craftsman is not alienated in their preoccupation. They are making full use of their knowledge, creativity, and skill when they make their products. The fact that many craftsman dedicate their entire lives in the pursuit of perfection is something truly remarkable and admirable. In contrast to the generic products offered by many modern businesses, products that a master craftsman create are the result of hours of creative labor and years of dedicated study and practice to perfect. A craftman's product, and consequently his business, is definitely more interesting as their products are full of human history, emotion, and soul. The life of a master craftsman is encapsulated in a quote of Nietzsche, from an unpublished note dated in 1873, he states “I know of no better life purpose than to perish in attempting the great and the impossible.”

You may find examples of this in many coffee brands such as Tim Wendelboe, April Coffee, ONA, and many, many more. In a nutshell, what do these people do exactly? These brands / roasters are run by craftsmen and they partner up with farmer craftsmen who share the same values when it comes to creating a quality product. What does this mean for consumers of specialty coffee? It means that this hobby is truly fascinating as the story of each coffee is incredibly layered and complex. Each origin is special and unique as it can weave a fascinating narrative: there is the story of the farmer, the story of the roaster, and finally the brewer. Coffee passes the hands of multiple craftsmen and each tell a unique story. This is what makes specialty coffee truly unique, exciting, and dare I say, romantic.