So often in our niche specialty coffee circles, we talk about the experience of coffee. We wonder whether we are providing our customers with the best, most authentic specialty coffee experience. We muse on the benefits or drawbacks of certain cafe layouts, and how each will improve or detract from the consumer’s experience, or how these choices will affect the barista’s workflow.
We talk about how different roasting styles impact various flavor characteristics, and about the experience of roasting coffee—what it means to work in front of a roasting machine. We study the sensory science behind our product, utilizing structured quality control methods for sourcing coffee, to ensure we are achieving a consistent experience when it comes to grading and evaluation.
The specialty coffee conversation is spoken in the language of quality–and not just coffee quality alone, but quality in the coffee experience, at every stage. But are we really talking about the specialty coffee experience when it comes to those on the producing side of the supply chain? Are we paying attention to the human experience of owning or working on a coffee farm and the realities of supporting a family on this (often unreliable) source of income?
We talk a lot about producer issues. We talk about producer issues as if these are issues impacting only the coffee producer. These “issues” are really just one issue though: An uncertain future for specialty coffee. The challenges facing people who grow coffee are the same challenges for anyone who touches coffee along its supply chain, and ultimately the person who enjoys the final coffee beverage.
And this isn’t just any person either. This is a person who has chosen specialty coffee. They have communicated—through their purchase—a preference for quality coffee and a willingness to pay for that experience…but have we effectively conveyed to them how much it really costs? I don’t just mean how much the coffee costs or should cost, but also the human costs of maintaining the current state of things. Have we effectively communicated, or even realized ourselves, the importance of talking about the “producer experience” and not just “producer issues”?
In this issue, we’ll tell the stories of coffee people from all walks of the industry, through the eyes of those who are invested in taking a serious look at the producer experience, at what it means to be a coffee farmer. We’ll take a look at these shared challenges, the issues that are uncomfortable to talk about but that must be explored and brought to the forefront of the conversation about the specialty coffee experience. If we can’t work collectively to address our issues, we will all be facing a very bleak future for those who are passionate about specialty coffee. We can’t solve these issues today, but we can start to work together towards a brighter future for specialty coffee.