Straight to the edge

One of my favorite authors is Jonathan Safran Foer. His book “Everything is Illuminated” was a brilliant master piece, and the adaption to screen was expectedly horrible. When Foer released the book “Eating Animals”, I was already a vegetarian, but for years to come I passed on the book as christmas gifts, birthday gifts etc because its message was both essential and brilliant at the same time.

My wife and I had the opportunity to see one of his talks in Stockholm last year, and even though he seemed somewhat reserved and maybe a little bit boring in person, his intellect was razor sharp and entertaining.

It so happens that my wife works for a foundation, The Influence Film Club, that helps highlighting documentaries of essence, on various topics. She got word that there would be an adaption of “Eating Animals” out soon, and I didn’t have very high hopes for it. I got really upset when watching a pre screener at home in bed, simply because it was disturbing footage, but then she did the Q&A at Tempo Film Festival and I decided I wanted to see it again.

After the film, director Christopher Dillon Quinn was present to answer questions. The input he gave to some of the stuff we saw in the film, was equally interesting. For instance, criticism could be raised that it’s an american perspective, but the truth is that they had found out it’s actually a global one. Americas large corporations actually have placed their offices in Europe because the animal laws here are more liberal. Another anecdote that really stuck with me, was one of his film crew got so upset from visiting one of the labeled “organic” farms, that he called his wife and ordered her to through out all dairy they had in the house. Seeing the truth behind animal protein based foods, not as units but as suffering flesh and blood, should be enough for anyone who say they care the least for animals. But also; the turkey farmer Frank in the film, they had meassured the amount of protein in his turkeys compared to the ones in the supermarket. Basically you have to eat six of the commodity farmed ones, to get the same protein content as one of Franks.

I have been a vegetarian for about 17 years now, and found vegetarianism through the Hare Krishna movement. Simply put, if we’re all spiritual animals and we all have our dharma (lot in life), it is in our nature to consume what the animals give (i e milk, eggs etc, though eggs are not to be consumed by Vaisnavs) but not to take their lives, since all life is precious. It is easy to understand why vegetarianism is of importance in India. The cow is of more value alive to a family or even a village, than on a plate. Even meat eaters consider meat a luxury, rather than a staple. And even though I am torn why it would be more merciful to kill a buck at his prime age, just because he’s running free in the forrest, when you can opt to not eat meat, it is more in our nature as hunters and gatherers to consume meat as a luxury and for survival when left out of options, than as a God given right. And if you’re a born again Atheist, you should be very aware of the fact that meat consumption of today stems from a Biblical order where man were made master of all other animals.

Ironically, after spending almost a year begging my wife, who is a true Southerner and thus an avid meat eater, to become vegetarian, she came home after a pre screening of upcoming film “The Game Changers”, a documentary on athletes on plant based diet, realizing she fell for the meat industries old bullshit about protein, and now wanted us to become vegan. Nothing made more sense to me, and it was somewhat a relief to me to have someone to take that final step with.

Because a plant based diet is not just about animal care, it’s about your health and the future of our planet. And to me personally, I don’t care if you eat meat, but I think it’s important to look for a sustainable consumption. In a very short future, Da Matteo owner Matts Johansson will release a sort of manifesto to showcase his ongoing and endless involvement in small scale production and sales. Where the supply and demand chain is benefitting the capitalist structure, making the world a small village online, it is a healthy counter culture to shop vegetables, meat and dairy from local farmers. That awareness should be omnipresent within the speciality coffee community, not just for coffee farmers, but for the future of our planet.

NP: Earth Crisis Slither


Time to pay the rant

The pop scientist Malcolm Gladwell famously popularized the idea of the 10 000 hours it takes to master a craft. It roughly translates to 10 years, but as he examples, extraordinary performers like The Beatles managed to quick up the pace of those hours with circumstance, supply and demand. They spent a year playing every night in Hamburg, every night with enourmously long sets basically forcing themselves into becoming creative not to bore themselves nor their audience.

The same can probably be said about World Barista Champions of the past. Many of the legendary winners of the competition were baristas for a long time, mastering their craft out of many hours of bar routine and most likely (I speculate) from boredom. I remember specifically a barista in Sweden that was really upset he didn’t have the same chances as everyone else, cause he didn’t have a sponsor for travel and accomodation. He’s a lovely guy, don’t get me wrong, I had him staying at my house for accomodation that competition, but an attitude like that don’t win you championships. Personally, losing a close friend, battling a crazy pregnant ex girlfriend, homelessness and my own raging alcoholism got me to the finals but was too much to take me to the top. And I did have a sponsor for travel and accomodation.

A lot of times we see the coffee industry through the looking glass of the competition. But in order to even have the idea of competing, you are most likely a working barista the rest of the 51 weeks of the year. I say 51 cause there are 52 in a year, and even if you get a weeks worth off for competiting in total (if you’re lucky on more than one level), you are most likely not having paid holidays in your contract. For a lot of us, sick leave doesn’t even exist. We are just left with cut hours that week. In order for the industry to make the comps democratic, imho, is to look at the reality of working within the industry.

This year, about now actually, I’ve done my 10 000 hours of being a barista on a professional level. I started off at the hardest school possible. Even though we had our ups and downs, our differences and fall out for a long time (even though now reconciled and patched up), I thought what I experienced at my first real barista job was a norm, though it was extreme. I figured it might be I wasn’t used to the Australian work culture. Maybe my boss was a lunatic. Regardless of how I percieved my work at that time, to this date I haven’t had one single place where I didn’t get screwed over and used somehow. It is the norm in our line of work. But nowhere else did I willingly accept it for so long and at a very high price (I had to leave Australia and return to the hell that is Stockholm due to family reasons). Why?

I got to work with some of the best equipment and beans around. And I’ve never learnt so much from a single person throughout my career. And to this date I can still say it was the most crucial time of my life that shaped me, gave me a career and fed a passion I’ve never thought could exist in a work place.

But, now I’m 43 years old, and equipment and beans don’t pay my bills nor support my family. It’s the only craft I know. It has cost me a lot to be where I am, and yet I am going nowhere. Talor Browne held a very important talk that cannot and should not be ignored, which is an elephant in the room for a lot of us. Mental health might be something you bring with you to any work place, but in my experience the work environment and its conditions are also a key trigger for making it better or worse. As a man, I’m usually treated better than a lot of female staff, due to gender and maybe also age. Most of my co workers have been brilliant girls with a much higher standard of professionalism than myself. The only company I’ve seen rewarding women, and fair work ethics, is Da Matteo, a company I will probably be true to for the rest of my career, though not saying it’s a perfect employer. But close enough.

Your preformance at work stems from many factors; your private life is one of them (that includes the stake holders of your financial situation), inspiration is another (which might or might not include cutting edge machines, beans, produce, great colleagues etc). Encouragement though, might be the key factor that binds it all together. One inevitable encouragement is your salary. Most of us know this industry doesn’t pay well. So the inspiration must be high in order to make up for that. Creating a positive spirit at work is key. More than often though, the lack of inspiration in combination with leadership mostly consisting of petty micro managing, brings staff together negatively against management. Weak leadership then tries to conquer by dividing people, or by fear. That just takes the problem to another level.

When building relations with staff, and customers, it is important to feel you get something, and not lose something. In my recent and on going case, it’s been losing out more and more as I go. In July I got offered a very good deal, a salary and paid holiday leave. In September I’m told the business cannot afford this and need to renegotiate my contract. The employer considered this an oral agreement, when in fact neither hourly wages nor amount of hours has been discussed closly, only in broader terms. When starting my contract, the employer was very well aware of both my financial situation and the fact I was leaving for Las Vegas for a week, stating I should’ve worked up my holiday pay until then. Needless to say, the “new contract” both decreased my hours as well as left me with a week of unpaid leave. This when letting them know I was looking for other jobs not beeing able to afford keeping my position. Several negotiations with other employers fell through leaving me in a limbo where either facing unemployment or struggling with hours.

In the latest events we find out that even though our closing hours are at 7pm and we should serve people up to the last minute, leaving me doing dishes and closing up which will take anything from 25-50 minutes depending on the situation, we still don’t get paid after 7. That means I’ve worked for free approximately at least a full week (getting robbed twice of my Vegas trip if you’d like). Still the employer demands more and more to be done at closing. I’ve had no job where closing shop didn’t include 30 minutes closing time. If it took me an hour for some reason, I’d still get 30 minutes at least. This thing started when the kitchen closed 7 but got paid until 7.30. They didn’t do their dishes and left it to the bar, and went home at 7. So what makes the employer think I want to do their dishes for free?

If you don’t pay your suppliers, there will be no more supply. But what happens when you don’t pay your workers. This is not the first time I’m being screwed over by people simply not caring about the personal finances of their staff. When coming back from parental leave, I agreed to have my hours cut to 80%. All of a sudden they were 40% and paid by hour instead of a monthly salary. When saying this wasn’t sustainable, I got a shit load of inconvenient hours, still with an hourly rate making my finances better but my personal situation was even worse.

Back to the issue of mental health. One of the most important things for people suffering from various issues, is to keep stress down. There are various kinds of stress, and various individual triggers. For me, I don’t mind a heavy work load when I feel in control of my situation. A barista with a long docket might actually find it kind of soothing, experiencing “flow” (the more scientifically studied phenomena, I mean here). It can free you from trouble on your mind, and liberate you for a while taking you into a positive mind set. A kind of active mindfulness if you will. The stress we normally feel is wearing us down, is one we have no control over. Financial issues is a heavy burden, in my case logistics with family matters is another factor. But how is anyone supposed to deal with stress relief, if money is scarce and time is eaten up by just sleeping and reboot yourself to be able to deal with bare necessities, like laundry?

My last employer helped me with therapy, working around the hours for me to be able to go. It ate a huge hole out of my wallet, but at least he tried. And I understand the hardships of running a small business, I had to bring my 3 year old with me for whole workdays when she was sick or noone to look after her. More frequently than I’d like to admit actually. The same is happening again. I work when I’m sick, cause I can’t afford being home, and still I have no money left once the bills are paid. The only excercise I get is walking to work, instead of yoga and meditation, I steal a minute or two having a smoke, and the only kickboxing I do is the ones in my mind fighting off my demons. How the hell am I supposed to deal with life when it has me in chokehold?

I am no status clinger, I don’t need material things to feel happy. But bare essentials, like buying glasses to stop headaches when I watch TV, or going on a holiday once a year with my family, or even buying a pair of new pants, things most people outside our trade can take for granted at my age and circumstance, are a fucking luxury to me.

I am eternally greatful for an extremely supportive wife and children that loves me through the darkest hours. But shouldn’t a culture that talk about the welfare and fairness for coffee farmers start looking around their own fucking café and see how the well being of their employees are effected by their lack of support? I mean, getting paid for what you actually do for them shouldn’t be too much to ask, really….

NP: Youth of Today Break Down The Walls

New Day Rising

“Are you willing to die for what you believe? It might just come to that.

Identity is a strong thing for a person. What you identify as, will shape you into an entity of ideas that you impose onto the world with force, cause you’re right. And if you’re not, not only your ideas, but you personally will suffer the consequenses.

Identity politics are intertwined with the idea of projecting those not only on yourself to shine a little brighter, they’re also essential to keep up an appearance. When being pushed into question your appearance, a psychological mechanism normally tends to harden your identity, instead of questioning the very ideas you project onto yourself and others.

I know this very well, being brought up in minor subcultures that worked as counter cultures; against conformity, against the mainstream. Speciality coffee was the last of subcultures, and the one least hard to incorporate in a normal life. But unlike other contexts I’ve explored through my identity, it very quickly became both mainstream and conform.

I sometimes read a blog for fun, from a young rather pretentious coffee entrepreneur. He wrote something along the lines of “change of habits is important to develop”. At first I giggled, but then I realized that it’s actually a true way to keep an open mind. Even Marx famously wrote: all solid will melt into air. If holding onto ideas too hard, pragmatism is hard and you’ll try to shape the world according to your beliefs, cause it is seemingly easier than shape your self according to the world.

Speciality coffee has a track record of wanting to educate the customer rather than pleasing her. It’s part of our identity. By accepting our craft, our taste in acidic light bodied coffees, instead of full bodied dark roasted coffee that tastes great with milk and a bagel (a guilty pleasure of mine), you are accepting the messenger. And if you don’t – fuck you!

I sacrificed a lot on that altar of integrity. I’ve worked crazy hours, I’ve worked for minimum wage, I lost a life in paradise and in the end a marriage to be in coffee. My children has grown up in an environment where sick days don’t exist and if they’re sick, they have to come with me to work cause there is no other way to deal with it, simply cause there’s not enough staff to fill in for you. And it has never been my business, I’m talking about being employed in the business. In the end, my integrity for the coffee I’m serving has been a beast of burden for someone elses cause to make money (any business has to, regardless what their coffee is like).

The past ten years, I’ve identified with the chimera that is what it takes to “be in coffee”. I’ve always, for as long as I’ve remembered, been an underdog. When I was young, insecure and ugly, I lived by the motto “if they won’t love you, make them fear you”. That is a destructive way to confront the world, and I am to this date very surprised I made it past 25. In the end it consumes you to be at war with the world.

My wife, who grew up in the deep south of the US, an passionate a meat eather as anyone down there, came home after watching the documentary “The Game Changers” and said: “we’re going vegan”. As someone who has almost her begged her to consider going vegetarian, having banned meat in our house, it was one of the most heartwarming things I’ve heard. But it also made me think of my identity. I’ve been a vegetarian for 16 years, having indoctrinated my kids that we don’t eat dead animals. Now I’m pushing myself away from my own identity as someone who would never give up cheese.

When entering coffee, I gave up a lot of my spiritual search. Being a fringe dweller of the Hare Krishna movement for 12 years shaped my personality to never underestimate in a belief in something greater than what your eye can see, but I studied atheist literature hard at the time of commiting myself to coffee, which made me a very secular being. It lead me astray from a positive mind attitude, and let me watch all my ideals through the bottom of a glass for many years, unwilling to identify with anything but someone who had fought and lost. If there’s no greater being, and the cause of which I commited myself to does not provide what I need to survive, what is left of my identity?

So, abolish the rules made of stone. I once stayed sober for seven years by ditching the AA, who told me I was an alcoholic and said I had no choice in the matter. Instead I bailed, and chose to see myself as someone who had chosen to be sober. When I was a kid and my mom wouldn’t let me stay out with the other kids to drink and raise hell, I found the Straight Edge movement to be my counter culture. I told myself I had chosen this, it gave me an identity, an empowerment instead of feeling crippled.

From Monday I will return to a sXe lifestyle. Reconstructing myself, thinking of myself through a positive mind attitude. Honor myself by chosing creativity and not destructiveness. I chose this identity to survive in a world that will always keep pushing you around. Only this time, I’m pushing back!

NP: Gorilla Biscuits Start Today

Brighter Days Ahead

2017 will written down in history as the worst and the best year of my 43 year old life. I’m writing this down while doing the laundry on New Years Eve, my wife is lying down having a migraine fit that usually hits her in times of stress. I can’t really remember the last New Years I’ve celebrated. My old alcoholic self would refer to it as “the night of the amateurs”.

A year ago today, I was in a relationship on the brink of turning into a complete nightmare. Though I didn’t know this at the time (though I should’ve felt it coming from a mile away if I had been in a better state of mind). We had an argument the night before, so I wasn’t sure what New Years would be like. I called my friend Thomas, who was one of the few people I had shared my problems with, who I had gone to AA meetings with, who got me to look up if I might have a diagnosis and get help through that, who I had for several years been trying to get back on feet together with. His struggle was a lot heavier than mine, but he always supported me. We talked about celebrating New Years Eve together, but I also wanted to make things ok with my then girlfriend, and I was also terrified being with him on such a stigmatized night as New Years, which would probably end up with us getting drunk or worse. I didn’t want to fall off the wagon. So I went with my girlfriend to this dinner, where she got mad at one of the guests, and we left the house at around 10.30PM to catch a bus into town. There in the rain, I spoke to Thomas for the second last time I would ever speak to him. He was home, bored and sober, watching TV. I often think of how nothing would have changed if I had spent that night with him, but I would have another memory of us together still. That night ended in a complete disaster for me, spending it most of a time in a park having an endless argument over absolutely nothing for hours and hours. 48 hours later I ended that relationship, and I was flooded with SMS’ that was basically a verbal murder on my person. I knew this person wasn’t well, and I told myself this would pass so I didn’t respond.

Two weeks later she’s at my doorstep telling me she is pregnant. As a father of two, I immediately felt I had to take responsibility. We patched things up and tried to get back to as if nothing had happened that awful New Years night. But the whole thing was an open wound. Soon afterwards, I get a phone call from one of our closest friends, that Thomas had passed away in an overdose, leaving two devastated children behind. Everything turned black. When shortly afterwards meeting up friends of Thomas to grieve, things took an ugly turn and I had to once and for all end that toxic relationship. Now the SMS terror was even uglier, I fell off the wagon, and I started to respond to the terror in equally toxic ways, not really helping any of it. After weeks and weeks of non stop terror, it all turned quiet. She was gone. But silence was even worse, since I had no idea what would happen to that baby that was supposed to be born in September.

In order to try to block this ordeal out, I focused on the Brewers Cup, went to Jönköping for the Swedish Nationals and competed. Made the first round to the finals, but it was held on the Friday, about the same time Thomas was buried, and there I was “playing coffee” when my friend was going into the ground. I couldn’t think straight and I failed miserably in the finals, took my bags and went home.

In order to escape the world of my own thoughts, I dared sticking out my head in the dating world, without any real hope of finding more than a few hours to not having to think of my situation; out of money, out of luck, stuck in a cell like apartment. And there she was; my southern belle. I had not planned on falling in love, but here was the most wonderful, kind, caring, understanding and beautiful person I had ever met, and she felt the same. From our very first date, we were never separated.

My living situation has been a disaster this whole year. I’ve counted to 8 different places I have called home, though some only briefly, the past 18 months. That is a nightmare if you have two kids. There’s this pyramid that needs to be whole if your life should be complete: regardless of what is the foundation or the top end, each side is your relations, your living space and your work/financial income. If one of these three are not fulfilled, your life is stressful. At one point, I had no pyramid at all. Now I had a fulfilling relationship, but no home and my financial situation looked very dire. I thought the solution was close at hand by shifting work, with great promises of a steady salary and benefits.

So I changed jobs, and I moved in with my girlfriend to save us both money, at the cost of one of my kids not being able to live with me at the moment due to the size of the apartment. In less than two months, I had my contract “renegotiated” (without my consent, and basically being stuck without being able to get out, trying to find jobs that didn’t come through) and we got thrown out of the apartment because the owner had to sell. In the midst of this, we had already planned and payed for to get married in Vegas. So life had gone from throwing us lemons to basically stoning us.

As it was, we finally landed a first hand contract for a 4 room apartment, to fit us and both kids. Two sides of the pyramid are fulfilled, and slowly hope is coming back to us. So besides finding the love of my life in 2017, this year has pretty much been shit. Each year I give resolutions what I should do next year with my life, but life has pretty much come in my way this year, and my hopes and dreams have all been put on hold. So here’s my wish list for 2018:

  • find a job that allows me to budget my life out of debt, and that will be easier to solve the logistics of having care of a small child.
  • stop smoking, stay away from alcohol and try to focus on health
  • find strength to do the two things I have set out to do this year: get a band together and get that book going.

Until then, I’ll lead a simple life. Wondering off into the waste land, and learn to live again.

NP: Tragedy No Cemeteries Here

Sin City

A long time ago, I had a blog called Syn City. It was a nod to Las Vegas and to the fact that Perth had the most Synessos in the world per capita at the time. I’ve been to the US a few times, mostly on coffee related travels, but I never thought I’d be writing about coffee from the actual Sin City.

Las Vegas for most people is neon, gamble and drinking on the strip. Restaurants are all part of giant complexes, and even though not super expensive, it still takes a chunk out of your budget. And the coffee experience isn’t great. We encountered one hotel that hosted Stumptown inhouse, and I had a traditional Hairbender experience while using their wifi. Nothing much to talk about, but still a pleasant surprise compared to the other coffees we had so far. Mind you, we had morning bagels at the Einstein Bros every morning, with bottomless cups of Caribou coffee (a guilty pleasure if pouring a dash of milk in it actually), simply cause it was closest to our hotel.

There were standouts though that demands attention. First of all, we don’t drive, so the places we visited needed to be somewhat within reasonable walking distance. Second of all, the cool spots are all scattered out in the outer rims of Vegas, which means that the area around Fremont Village is the somewhat concentration of what you can get within walking distance.

PublicUs was our first stop, and the only one we returned to during our brief visit. Both times we enjoyed a hearty breakfast and some really freshly inhouse baked sweet treats. The Bourbon Banana Cake was to die for. Also, I had my up to this date best smashed avo I’ve ever had. The second time we had a long talk to the head barista, who told us a lot of places to go for our next visit. Great ambience, great food, great service!

Makers & Finders was our second stop. It’s in the Arts District of Las Vegas, and is surrounded by really cool vintage stores. Had the coffee, my wife had a drink, but wish we had more time to come back here for the menu. Food looked delicious!

Our third and final find for Las Vegas coffee was Vesta Coffee Roasters situated just around the corner from M&F. We came late in the afternoon just before closing, but had a coffee just to feel the place. Bought home a bag of their wine barel aged El Salvador, which was really something else.

Downtown Las Vegas was a really cool, up and coming place just waiting to be invaded by hipsters. On our first day there we found this big metal heart where people had attached locks to it. Naturally we got one and placed it there. It’s situated just outside the Container Park and opposite we saw this lovely Indian restaurant where we had our wedding dinner a couple of nights later.

All in all, I expect Las Vegas Downtown to develop rapidly over the next few years. Already cool bars and hangouts, vintage and arts. And I never expected to say this, but Las Vegas actually is a really cool city once you get beyond the d-glow.

NP: Acca Dacca Sin City


Nevada Smith

From that day as a boy when I recieved a postcard from my grandparents visiting Las Vegas, I’ve always been fascinated by the city. Nevada is a desert, and I always pictured myself driving there from the coast in an open car. I didn’t know what gambling meant really, and I still don’t.

Early this year was a real downer for me, I had hit rock bottom, when all of a sudden a Miss Smith came into my life. She was aware of my situation, and during our first date, that lasted for 24 hours, I asked her what she thought about a guy like me. She said her mind said no, but her heart said yes. From that moment I knew I could never ever live without this person in my life.

As promised, she tagged along to Budapest for the World Coffee Events, and the last night, on one of the bridges when carving our initials into its rail, putting a lock on it and throwing away the keys, I asked her to marry me in Las Vegas. She said yes. And so we did.

On the 5th of December we got hitched at the Little White Chapel. I guess some things that happens in Vegas doesn’t stay there.

NP: Dead Kennedys Viva Las Vegas

Van Damn, Amsterdam

I was about to go to Amsterdam a year ago, but life got in the way. So when my girlfriend went for the documentary film festival (IDFA), and got a hotel room, I decided to jump on a plane and join her. Two days, on a smurfs budget, is kind of the most fun way to travel.

My first stop coffee wise was the place I’ve wanted to visit since it opened in 2013, Scandinavian Embassy. Nico is the former Brewers Cup champion of Sweden, and quickly grew a reputation in the European community as the place to go in Amsterdam. Coffee from Nicos former employer, Drop Coffee, and delicious foods. We were served a beautiful pumpkin soup which was actually one of the staffs lunch box. How is that for hospitality? 

Moving on, I met up with long time friend Daniel Schein, former Sthlm based coffee geek turned wine genious. His first venture on his own is merging the two things he loves most, at 48-50 you’ll be served some of the best wines and most interesting coffees to be found in Amsterdam. To be opening before the end of the year hopefully! 

Naturally when in Amsterdam you have to meet up with local friend and SCA rep, Qim Staalman, one of the sharpest and nicest people I know in this industry. We had a coffee at Espressofabriek, situated in a lovely old factory building. Everything is close in Amsterdam, so we also walked over to Toki for another one. 

What really struck me with Amsterdam was how small it was, and how effortless a lot of cool places seemed to have been put together. People are friendly, and with better weather it would be an awesome place to return to. 

We also ended up at a cupping at Stooker, hosted by 32Cup from Antwerp. Some really interesting Brasilian and Colombian coffees. By coincidence, my girlfriend went to the Hague in the very beginning of our relationship, and brought me two bags of coffee, from Stooker. We didn’t realize this until we were on our way leaving the premises. It’s all connected. 

On her way to the airport, my girlfriend picked up my daughters monkey that she had accidently dropped on the way to kindie. So we took it on holiday. Hence the monkey business in some pictures.

NP: Thanatos: Emerging from The Netherworlds

Truly Special

Our part of the industry has always been challenged by the customers, to explain what sets us apart from commodity coffee. Certifications such as Fairtrade, “Organic” etc started out in order to make a difference for the people at the producer end, but eventually has becoma hijacked by corporate behemoths as marketing tools in order for end consumers to feel a little better by adding a few nickles to a product. 

When I was still working for Da Matteo, we initiated a work to find a way to monitor ourselves when purchasing green beans. What was important was to marry the facts that we buy coffee on taste, but that our trading model also is ethical and sustainable. Back then, it was vaguely connected to our slogan around our roaster: clean roast, clean taste. We realized that this would be a lot broader than that, but we didn’t yet realize the amount of work involved. After years of hard work, we still had no idea on how it should work, and we put it on ice. Later, I came across a roasters webpage that simply stated Ecological, and it hurt me deeply that something we had worked so hard to make possible to make a difference in the world of coffee, simply was ignored by others by just doing what the larger companies do, without even have to back it up with documentation. And we could not guarantee that we could do the right thing, so we rather threw all that work away. It felt terrible, that the industry could be so cynical. 

Fast forward a couple of years, and the work had continued without my knowledge, involving a student of Global Studies from Gothenburg University, and in time for Da Matteos celebrating ten years as a roastery, they now launched a model called Truly Special. It is a self scanning program that builds on a sustainable relationship with specific farmers, that deepens the relation and sure fire progress at producer level and still gives a story and warranty to end consumer to understand what is the difference in what the company does with the product they are selling. It was well recieved by the industry representatives present, and could possibly introduce a turning point for Speciality Coffee to set itself apart from other, third party certifications. 

Curating is a word in fashion, but this is not about curating coffee. That’s what could be done in a coffee bar with coffees selected from a market place where coffees are already roasted and packaged. This is about ensuring that these coffees continues to reach that market place and keep on pushing the envelope for good quality. Truly Special thus becomes a coffee truly special to its buyer through relations, taste and quality on all levels. 

Pictures below from the celebrations, with specially invited friends holding seminars and brewing coffee. Happy Birthday dear friends! 

NP: Agnostic Front For My Family

A born identity

We are currently living in a postmodern society, where politics and ideology are intertwined with the idea of who and what “I” am. A lot of times discussions are no longer heated but actually ended abruptly by blocking out all ideas that aren’t in complete harmony with my own. Everyone is going “my way or the highway”.

The backside of this coin is conformity. We easily conform into our own group of likeminded individuals, and polarize ourselves from the others. The sense of individuality is only strong when we are with equally individualistic like minded people. Sounds like an oxymoron? It’s relativism at work. Everything is possible at the same time. Everything has equal value, but only if that’s how I feel about it.

I give this as a background to what I have been discussing with a friend recently. Working in service since 1995 has given me a decent idea about the customer and hospitality vs. service. The former is a two way street, the latter is a one way communication between a service offered, the expectation of that service and how it is executed at its best. Hospitality is when a person walks in your door, is greeted like an old friend into your domain. You set the rule, but you also want to make this person comfortable, like in your own home. Simple example: in a cafe with a mixed menu, a person wants to have some chicken with their halloumi salad. As a hospitality person, you accommodate the customers wishes, cause in the end it’s like opening up your own fridge at home. Service would be offering dishes that the establishment have a very strong opinion about what they are serving, and are curated by the chefs to be enjoyed exactly the way they are. No mixing, no adding. This happens more frequently in upper market restaurants, and thus the customer accept it, cause they are paying to get an experience by someone they trust or have high expectations of.

Since hospitality involves people, there are more than one outcome of what can go wrong in a cafe when they step into the door.

  1. The communication of what the establishment is, can be faulty. If you are a cafe but want to pose as a restaurant for instance, the expectation of what you offer is different from what you are actually offering. At Orion, we pushed the fact that we were a coffee bar, not a cafe, in order to lower peoples expectations of what we were serving for lunch. Once you talk about yourself as a lunch place, you get people thinking you are offering lunch specials, salad buffets, free bread and coffee (oh yes, that is a thing in Sweden). Important to show that coffee is your main expertise, food is additional. When people then taste great food, they are impressed that such a small coffee bar could offer such a great lunch meal.
  2. The customer has the wrong idea for various reasons. Either you have communicated your stance badly, or the customer simply have too little experience to distinguish the difference in segments. They just come with their own set of agendas (I want lunch + you serve food = you are a lunch place and thus should have everything I expect from such an establishment). Right now for instance, I am struggling with a customer who is one of those riche nouveau types. She comes for lunch, orders very specific meals and drinks (“I only drink Coca Cola Light, not Zero. In a wine glass. With ice. And lemon”) and expect to pay afterwards. This is a behavior that has been going on for years the staff tells me. And they have accommodated this silly little act for so long, it is now something you just have to accept. But breaking it down, you see where the cracks are: first of all, this person identifies as someone going to a restaurant. She can not differentiate in segments, don’t have the experience enough to do so and actually apply a common behavior in the proper fashion. Second of all, by actually trying to be something we are not (folded cutlery in napkins, bread buffet, lunch offering, the place used to serve alcohol), you are presenting something you are not. You are actually posing as a restaurant and not a cafe. Thirdly, the staff has accommodated this kind of behavior and fallen into a trap of the customer always expecting this, even at the expense of their own dignity (she treats everyone like shit). This customer is an extreme of what goes wrong when your communication is poor, and what she acts out, a lot of other customers invisibly also believes now (restaurant, with a lunch menu).
  3. The staff has the wrong idea of why they are there. This is important in any setting, maybe more so in a coffee bar than in a cafe or restaurant. If you are the owner of an establishment, you can do whatever you want, as long as you communicate this to your staff and make them follow your lead. Any outrageous idea is acceptable, if it is in fact your business idea. The problem occurs when you have hired someone for one task, and they perform another. As a manager of a cafe, I would hire hospitality staff with good customer service skills. You can train a monkey to make and sell coffee, but you can’t train people into being hospitality minded over night. Especially if you have an idea of your staff being extroverted outgoing friendly people that will attract business and raise revenue because they want to come back to your establishment because of your friendliness (don’t get me started on the obvious problem in communication with places that actually write “friendly” on their sign, and are fucking far from friendly). My experience is that the more coffee focused your business is, i e specialized, the more introvert coffee geeks you get that wants to work with you. They might not seem like geeks at first (geeks aren’t necessarily dressed as the cast from Harry Potter), but you recognize them when you ask them about food and dishes, and all the questions they have is about your coffee program. In Sweden probably 25% of your revenue is coffee at the most, the rest is food and other items. They are only interested in 25% of your revenue, but focus 100% on it. That’s great, if you have such a position available. In Sweden, you don’t. The problem here is identity. Just as the customer in example 2 above identifies as a 3 Star Guide Michelin customer in a cafe, you all of a sudden have a staff member that doesn’t identify as a customer related person, but as a coffee scientist. This is somewhat a growing problem in a lot of areas in society today, when human interaction is about to become obsolete. Driverless trains is one that I’ve encountered in my past career. But what about the craft of the barista? I’ve been in this industry long enough to have made pretty goddamned great coffee without the crutches of scales, tamper machines, timers etc. I started out on flippety flop grinders, where my boss was outraged if we didn’t have it in our backbone to hammer it out within a 1 gram faulty range. Same with time. But we actually judged espresso by its color (still do, the dinosaur that I am), and we remade shots that looked bad without any hesitation whatsoever. That was a craft. What if you weigh everything you do, with a grinder that has no more than 0,01 gram of difference each time, a tamper machine and use the preset on your machine (cause this coffee wizard said you should on a blogpost somewhere) to extract it? What’s the next level – baristaless cafes?

There is an idea in coffee, that comes from the competitions I’d say: if you win, you did so cause your coffee excelled. If you lost, you weren’t good enough. These people that identify as coffee scientists dedicate their time into mastering coffee as some sort of alchemy process, and expect customers to be equally interested in what they do. And about 2% of your customers are. Those are the guys that orders a single espresso once a month at your establishment and then rate you poorly on a social media platform, cause they too are narcissists with an agenda that no-one else can make coffee up to their standards. The time they rate you high, is when you actually had a human interaction with them, saw them as individuals and talked to them in a way that they found rewarding. That’s a lot of time and energy for a single espresso that might risk getting you bad yelp reviews if you don’t invest that time and energy. On knit picking twats. I’ve been a knit picking twat too, I know where they’re coming from. That’s why I know the problem with what we are doing.

Customers are people. Extrovert hospitality people can be narcissistic assholes too (“shouldn’t you be out on a ledge somewhere?” I think David Schomer famously wrote about that kind of barista), but as long as they can make your customer feel good by entering your domain, and the lowest average quality is very high, very very few people will actually know the difference between a 24 second extraction and a 26 second extraction. If your “good enough” shot is a lot better than your neighbors, they’ll still chose you, especially if the coffee scientists next door give them slow service and snotty attitude.

NP: Robert Tepper No Easy Way Out

God never closes doors…

…he just opens new ones, is an Irish proverb I have carried with me through life.

I have friends that have run coffee businesses in another city of Sweden for a while, and we’ve been talking about doing something together for a long time. Opportunity came with the purchase of a café in Stockholm. No rest for the wicked. I finished my job at Kafe Orion on Sunday night, and started my new job on Monday morning.

It’s a popular joint among locals, with the same ownership (or at least the same style) since 1997. People I know who used to frequent cafés back then (I wasn’t actually one of them, since I was more frequenting bars in those days), says it was a hip place for celebrities to be seen. Sure, there are a lot of “Swedish famous” people (as my American girlfriend points out) there, but mostly it’s a neighborhood café with lunch and coffee.

It’s always a great risk when a popular spot among regulars change hands, cause any change will inevitably be something that is disturbing the eye among those who cherish the traditions. And this is a very conservative area. So you have to add something instead. The decor is dated, the bar flow and communication setting between front- and back of house is really tricky. It’s a rather large venue, so things will have to change to up revenue, and create better service. Sometimes when you’ve run a place a long time, and I’ve seen this in many places, is that you start up with one idea and then gradually change into something else or develop it to meet demand, however you don’t make the necessary changes for the work flow, so you build in quick fix solutions that made sense at the time.

It’s a challenge, and to be honest, I’m quite exhausted from my past 12 months. But if things go well, it can be really really good. It certainly has the potential to find its way back to past glories!

NP: Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill