thoughts

Enough already

Everyone has an opinion. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Lately it seems the opinions of individuals with a rather cantankerous disposition to speciality coffee in the US have been gaining prominent positions in well read “online magazines”. I thought this trend had waned, but yesterday a new article on Salon.com emerged, bringing this class of comment once more to the fore.

It isn’t that these people hold these opinions that is unusual, many many people hold similar opinions, rather the issue seems to be that these apparently reputable (I use the term loosely) publications seem so eager to give voice to these opinions, that they seem so eager to throw barbs at the speciality coffee community.

What the are you doing to piss off all these publications?

Would anyone care if Todd Carmichael was ranting off on his own personal blog, or if Giorgio Milos was being patronising on some coffee forum? The opinions expressed are not unusual. Many many people hold those same opinions. It is beyond tedious to try to rebuke these criticisms, because they have already been discussed ad infinatum – 5 or more years ago. We may as well go back now and debate whether we should give women the vote.

The key difference here is, Esquire.com, Salon.com and The Atlantic Monthly are read by an ass load of people (well, I’m not sure about the last one – I’m assuming). They are forums that I’m sure a lot of truly knowledgeable, leading light kind of coffee people, of which the US has no shortage, would be all too happy to have available to them.

According to his mini bio on the Atlantic monthly Giorgio Milos “is traveling the US through 2010, hosting illy Master Barista Series events at leading cafes and gourmet retailers”. In other words he’s spending 2010 selling illy in the US. So his articles on The Atlantic amount to little more than advertorial content. One of the ways he is selling, or at least trying to sell more illy. Would you expect him to go around praising the competition?

Similarly Todd Carmichael, develops a brand identity for himself as the anathema of the stereotypical hipster douchebag barista culture. He has much to gain. His company website is linked at the bottom of every post. You can’t buy that kind of advertising. When the speciality community got up in arms about it, it only created a hit frenzy on the Esquire site, cementing, for now at least, Todd’s position as someone who can draw hits. [notice no links in here]

I guess he also fits into Esquire’s editorial style. Loud machismo with no substance.

Are these types of magazines usually so eager to give voice to thinly veiled advertisements? Typically they require to be paid for such content. My only other conclusions can be (a) they don’t like you or (b) they get a sufficient plethora of hits from the article to justify it (hits which the speciality coffee community have provided in the ensuing discussions). Perhaps a combination of both.

Which brings me back to my earlier questions – what are you doing to piss off all these publications?

Perhaps the lesson to learn from this, is not about balance of taste, as Mark Prince suggested, not about the merits and evolution of tradition as James Hoffmann suggested, rather about perception. A negative perception seems to exist in some quarters (in the US) towards “speciality coffee”, towards those emerging trends, and evolutions in which we would hold great pride. I don’t know why this is the case, but I think it is a fair conclusion.

This antipathy is giving large forums to otherwise pretty anonymous individuals to garner personal gain from casting aspersions at the community.

In turn we have fanned the flames with over the top reactions to frankly, hackneyed, tired, boring criticisms.

Enough already.

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3 thoughts on “Enough already

  1. People are angry at the idea of speciality coffee because so often what has been delivered is not what was promised. People are naturally resentful.

    Those who might resent the above statement the most are probably not the ones guilty of it – but well marketed, poor quality coffee is still easier to get than well marketed good quality coffee.

    As for being angry with Mr Milos: I didn’t link to the article for the same reason, though I am grateful to him for helping some thoughts crystalise into a little blog post. It wasn’t really a direct response, just something I was thinking about.

    What worries me most of all – I read a load of articles originally published by publications like The Atlantic (via instapaper ususally) and they are great. Seeing all the issues with articles like these starts to devalue and sow seeds of doubt about the veracity of everything else they publish – which is a shame.

  2. A while back, in the midst of reading the respective series of articles written by Messrs. Charmichael and Milos, I began to feel as though I was listening to the whiny, illogical taunting of a pair of children. Unfortunately, we live in a day and age where the surest path to loads and loads of attention — in the form of links and website hits — seems to be to whine and taunt illogically. (That, or have a spiritual experience with double rainbows.)

    I will say that I don’t view Mr. Milos in the same light as I do Mr. Charmichael; the former, unlike the latter, has clearly displayed competence and, if I remember correctly, at least some degree of openness to learning, even if he still strikes me as lacking. I do think that Mr. Milos’ critiques could have been expressed with a touch more tact and, perhaps, an interaction with the baristas who so horribly failed his palate. I’ve often told friends of mine that if their coffee experience isn’t worth the money they’ve spent that they should kindly and tactfully express their sentiments to the barista; any barista who truly cares about his or her craft genuinely wants feedback, even the negative. Such interaction is one way the chasm between customer and barista is bridged.

    What saddens me is that they both seem to have brought quite a bit of attention to the specialty coffee culture — whatever that actually is — without actually helping the general populace to understand and, more importantly, grow in the enjoyment of delicious coffees. The one conviction I’m taking away from all of this hubris is to strive at being even more energized to help others do just that… even if it never gets published

  3. A rant from David at last, I love these and your as always bang on the money, idiots that have a louder mouthpiece than the folks who could use it better annoy me greatly, and we can hope that they hang around these and other blogs instead of the “media” that seem to have a one track mind when it comes to coffee and it promotion. nice post pal

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