blog from the ceo & superbarista of phoenix coffee, home of the best baristas in cleveland, ohio

Friday, June 03, 2005

Coffee culture and economic development

There is a link between the level of advancement of a city's coffee culture and the city's economic development. It may not be a causal link, it may just be a coincidental link, but if you are looking for a way to gauge the health and vitality of a city's economy, look at how sophisticated their coffee culture is. Look at Portland. Look at the Raleigh Durham area, where the baristas are getting psyched up for the Southwest Barista Jam, look at Seattle, look at wherever in Canada is published (blog). Chicago. New York. San Francisco. AAAAH! The list goes on. These are examples of economically vibrant cities with phenomenal coffee cultures.

So what is Cleveland going to do about this? What is Phoenix Coffee going to do about this? What is Arabica, another one of Cleveland's homegrown coffee companies, and the company that still professes to be the home of the 4 ounce espresso shot, last time I checked, going to do about this development of coffee culture? (Not that they even think it's important)

How do we become more passionate and more dedicated to the art and craft of coffee and espresso in this town? I feel like I have spent the last four years of my business career just trying to catch up to where the rest of the country is. Not that we're totally there yet, but we are gaining on it rapidly. No small amount of thanks is due to our Espresso Technician and Resident Coffee Curmudgeon, Dennis Skitzki. Dennis helped bring Phoenix out of its shell in a big way and I am eternally appreciative.

So now what? We've see the latte art video, we toss around coffee and espresso terminology, we try to get wholesale customers on board, we do the Golden Cup thing, we get excited. Or maybe I should say I get excited. And sometimes I get customers excited for the occaisional hot minute. And sometimes a Phoenix barista gets excited and asks a good espresso question. But we need the next level. We have to keep pushing. We have to keep asking questions, experimenting and inventing. This process has to become more a part of our daily lives if we are going to grow and develop Cleveland's coffee culture.

Maybe we have to begin with defining what coffee culture is. Or at least inquiring into that question, since hopefully it can never really be defined. That's the mystery of culture after all. It can't be totally defined, since it's part magic.

Coffee culture is at least part geekiness, as in science. It requires participants to be willing to measure, track, taste, measure again, taste again, and keep track of the result or lack of result of their efforts. It requires paying attention. Coffee culture would have to also be part art and beauty and flow. It can't be all science or it wouldn't work. This is coffee we are talking about, not some asceptic substance. Another ingredient would be conversation or communication. Inquiry. Excitement. Dialogue. Fascination and dedication. Coffee is so endlessly interesting. It never stops changing and the amount you learn depends first and foremost on how deeply you want to go into the subject.

Once I looked up the word culture in the dictionary. Culture of course is derived from the verb "cultivate". And the Indo European root of cultivate is the root word "kwel-1". And when I looked up what the essence of this root word means, I found it means "to revolve, move around, sojourn, dwell". I think this is a good line of inquiry for discovering what the essence of culture is. We have arrived at some key information here. After thinking about this quietly over a period of weeks, let's take each part of this essence definition one part at a time:

to revolve...
A culture revolves. It changes, but in a circular pattern, like the seasons, the holidays. There is a rhythm to it. At some point, a Cleveland coffee calendar of events would be necessary, but first the calendar has to have a focal point to revolve around. I think it would have to revolve around the celebration of the unknown and unknowable aspects of coffee. Coffee cultural events should be imbued with the realization that no one has all the answers and it is a beautiful thing to know that you do not know. move around...
A living culture moves around. It exists in more than one location simultaneously. In the case of coffee culture, it would have to exist in more than one coffee shop around Cleveland, of course. It would have to be supported by many partipants all over the city, from customers to shop owners, to roasters and baristas.

This word implies that a true culture has a restful, restorative energy to it. A culture is self-sustaining once it is developed. it moves of its own accord and encourages particpants in it to rest and restore themselves.

Now this is interesting. This is the word that lets us know that we have to "live" in the coffee mind-space if we hope to develop culture. We have to stay there and invest almost constant attention in it. We have to dwell on it.

Wow! Thinking about all those concepts and how they relate to the coffee culture in Cleveland, or the lack of it, is a big job. But it's exciting. Sounds like the perfect job for Superbarista.


Blogger Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Sarah,

A friend once commented to me whenI was making coffee:

"You treat coffee the way we used to treat dope!"

Well, duh!



10:43 AM, June 07, 2005  

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