Local Communities, Global Collaboration

SprudgeBy Carl Sara, MTC New Zealand

Everyone thinks New Zealand is isolated, almost as far away as Mars. That we have to take a long-haul flight to do our grocery shopping. That hobbits populate the lower realms of our country. And it’s all true. While those facts may remain, we still feel like we are at the very center of the world’s specialty coffee movement.

My own coffee career began in a franchise cafe in a shopping mall in 1999. What I knew about coffee was largely born from what I experienced standing behind my machine, or occasionally, read. Streaming a latte art video on YouTube was a week-long endurance test of pixilation, and “cutting edge” was a VHS tape that someone’s uncle had brought back from a “famous coffee guy in Seattle.” Baristas didn’t actually talk to each other, largely because so few people actually claimed to be baristas. Even overseas, not every New Zealander living in London was a barista or roaster—hard to imagine!

But today, like many coffee folk in New Zealand, I speak and email with coffee professionals around the world. My newsfeeds on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other online sources are filled with information: from a weather report in Cerrado, to brew parameters being used in a cafe in Vancouver, through to announcements about the SCAA Symposium, where I know I’ll find everyone else who has a hunger for knowledge.

I find these changes truly exciting. Knowledge and relationships are becoming truly global. I am seeing a new surge of personalities emerge from our industry who, rather than being defined by their origins, are creating new cultures of coffee nurtured by global collaboration. This effect is permeating every level of our specialty coffee world, from origin, to roasters, to baristas, and even to consumers. As an example: when I started in coffee competitions (they were still in black and white at the time) there were several dosing techniques that were becoming well recognized. All of them were identified by the country in which they’d historically been used, for example “The Stockfleth,” or “The Australian Dose.”

Now, newer techniques find their way onto the international stage through competitions like the World Barista Cup and its social media exposure. Techniques and information are released via so many forms of instant and live feed that they do not become ingrained in a home culture first, they are simply claimed by the world. A new dosing technique recently publicized in the southern hemisphere now has more people using it (going by social media) in Europe and the U.S. than in its own country. This applies not just to knowledge advances, but also to the people we relate to as leaders. For example, many baristas now follow the work and advances of baristas on the other side of the globe, who they have not met in person, as closely as they would someone who lives and works two kilometers away.

I do not see this as a loss of individual cultural identities in our industry; more as an exciting emergence of a new one. We are rapidly losing the boundaries that have traditionally restrained our pace of advancement. This does raise plenty of issues and challenges, because history teaches us that for a community to survive, it needs somewhere or something it can identify as “home,” even if that is not a singular place.

It is critical to ensure these new collective platforms of community engage effectively, so that the ideas and progress we share can be the most positive. I believe the answer is through our coffee associations, their events like the World Barista Championships and Re:co Symposium, and guilds with local communities. Symposia used to be places where challenging ideas were presented. Now that idea exchange happens effectively online, events like symposia will evolve into places where ideas are collaboratively put into action. Associations will become vehicles to see advances in knowledge disseminated through effective education and community. They will transition from being a platform for people to meet and engage, to effecting global change—locally. The coffee associations of the world will enable the real-life engagement of online global citizenship.

Carl’s career in coffee began in a Café Franchise in 1999. Since then Carl has owned several cafes and is now the owner of Crafted Coffee Company, a Wholesale Roaster with some of its own Cafés in Christchurch, New Zealand. Carl also owns MTC New Zealand, a green importing business. Carl has represented New Zealand at the World Barista Championship four times, and at the World Latte Art Championships. He currently sits on the Advisory Board for World Coffee Events where he has served a term as Chair. He also serves on the board of the New Zealand Specialty Coffee Association and is the Immediate Past-President.