When I was at a Specialty Coffee of America (SCAA) Leadership Summit a couple of years ago a discussion was breathed out…and quickly inhaled back in (“Whew, we didn’t want to go there, did we?…”): Should ‘the specialty kids’ allow ‘the riffraff’ into the club? In other words, at what point do the rich kids, I mean the specialty coffee industry, lose their “specialness” and become just another club that lets anyone in the door? The discussion was based on who the SCAA should admit, or maybe better stated “encourage to join” as members? Should we allow the large chains? What about office coffee supply companies? What about national brands and “grocery store” coffee?
This is an age-old argument. As old as the world itself. Different situation, different circumstances, same discussion. Who do we let into our club? At the SCAA event the discussion, or rather lack of discussion, was about membership. Let’s take a look at this.
I tend to be balanced – see both sides of a story. Some call that wisdom, others weakness. I understand that being special is important, but what about the “riffraff” who really want to be special? Or at least they want to join the special kid’s club. Should they have to change to join the club? Should we lend them a helping hand? Do we even want “their kind” in our club? If we accept them, won’t we be less special? If we don’t accept them, we’re just keeping our standards high, our principles strong and remaining…special. Right?
-Recently the “Robusta riffraff” have made a statement: They should be able to join our club.
“Its all a bad rap!” says the Robusta crowd. “If we had the advantages of the rich kids, we could be successful too!”
-Club members aren’t convinced.
“What? You’re not special. Look at how poorly you dress“, say the “special kids”. “We’ve told everyone for years you aren’t special and now you want us to just accept you?”
I will be the FIRST to say, I am not nearly as educated as those I am about to quote. And to be honest, my intent is less about making a statement one way or the other, and more about the discussion.
So here goes – a couple of “nents”. One “propo”, one “oppo”, and one in-between. (There is more written about the subject you can research, but these are good summaries from sources I know personally and respect).
Riffraff’s argument: “Thankfully most of the problems associated with Robusta are not the fault of the species at all, but rather are the result of a market-imposed low threshold for quality and its ripple effect at origin that has hindered Robusta from improving…” (see full post here)
Special kid’s argument: “(Robusta) continues to demonstrate the same profiles as Ted Lingle, Dr. Illy, Ken Davids, Dan Cox, and so many others have written – rubbery, woody, harsh, unbalanced bitter, and astringent…” (see full post here)
Innocent bystander’s discourse: “I have long been a proponent that each individual consumer is their own arbiter of quality. Far be it for any expert to claim what is universally good or bad for everybody on the planet. In this context, there are certainly Robusta coffees that will be acceptable and desirable to some consumers.” (see full post here)
So what say you? Should the rich kids remain safe from the riffraff? Or should the riffraff be allowed to join the club?