why speciality coffee isn’t that special

ok it is, speciality coffee tastes amazing

but… the challenges in presenting speciality coffee to customers, in pitching a different style to the usually offered and expected, aren’t so unique we can’t learn from other people in different but related niches

close to my heart, craft bakers selling sourdough leavened loaves are selling something that is at once comparable and completely incomparable to the bread most people are buying and selling – they’re confronted with the challenge of communicating their differences, overcoming the barrier of what’s ‘normal’ and of differing flavour goals (including acidity)

there is also the challenge of customers receiving many messages of why the product is ‘better’ – better ingredient, artisan craftsmanship, slow food, and hard labour, independant business and being local all being reasons that a customer might choose to buy without considering the rest

craft style breweries sell a different product from more commercial breweries, both nice and nasty commercial ones, but using the same names – IPA neither means the same things to brewers nor to all beer drinkers even though it has a fairly rigid criteria – they often have their products sold side by side with something marked similarly but from a completely different understanding of what those markings mean

food comparisons are lazy too – every industry that sells things has layers of stratification, of quality, of geekery – specialist bookshops focussing on rare books aren’t the norm, but they exist in most cities satisfying a mixed tribe of collectors, historians, readers

in a less specialised industry – geekery and nichedom abounds on both sides of the counter – visiting a garden centre you’ll find highly complicated PH testing equipment sat next to the trowels and a hundred varieties of apple tree in multiple genders, requiring assistance from informed, passionate staff who really care that their customers learn from, enjoy and understand what’s on offer

we can learn so much from other industries if we focus on what makes the conversations we’re having challenging rather than laying all those challenges at the foot of our chosen products ‘unique’ position

aristotle on coffee

I consider the following a basis of my belief in speciality coffee’s appeal
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Good coffee tastes nice
People like things that taste nice
People like good coffee
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This is term or Aristotelian logic, a set of statements that lead to a conclusion, as true or false as the original statements are
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I can be called naive for thinking this, that it’s a vast simplification of a complex product, industry, society and therefore, a bit stupid…
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I disagree – I think this is complexity expressed in a focussed way, that possibly allows us to consider a key truth of what we do
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Lets look more closely at the terms
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Good coffee tastes nice
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Good coffee – communicates that coffee is varied, there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – I could use the term ‘speciality’ but I feel that has a variable definition, seperate from this statement, and therefore confusing
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Tastes nice – defines the difference, and the measure of quality (goodness)
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Nice – arguably subjective but we can define this as positive flavour response (allowing wide interpretation, but definite acknowledgement) – we could use ‘non-offensive’ but that could be interpreted  as neutrality which does not equal nice
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good coffee tastes nice – this is a basic proposition of the speciality industry – sometimes we change it to ‘different’, or ‘interesting’ or ‘challenging’ – these are the results of either adding more context, or assuming a pre-conception of the taster – assuming sometimes makes an ass of you and me – i think few in the coffee industry would argue that ‘good coffee tastes bad’
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People like things that taste nice
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People – we could sub-define this as ‘some people’ but then we would have to make a differentiation between two groups, based on class, wealth, gender, that I don’t believe is true – working class females like tasty things as much as male peers of the realm
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we could argue that ‘tasting nice’ is determined by the majority assent of the people – that it’s a fashion – i think this is fair, and culturally relative, – if ‘insert nationality’ prefer less fruity flavours their ‘good coffee’ industry may highlight different good coffees than anothers, but I believe both would celebrate examples with less offensive traits (bitterness, defects, dirtiness) – i don’t believe it’s product specific – quality belgian, US and british beers share many positive traits whilst differing in style and character both nationally and regionally
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people like good coffee
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I think this is true, and a good thing, tell me why I’m wrong