…is one of my favorite albums from my childhood. It deals mostly with political satire, and this year has been an eye opener for me regarding both politics in general, and coffee politics specifically.
When I got back from Australia in 2010, I was desillusioned since the coffee scene didn’t really allow a father/husband of an age over 27 to have a full time job and yet a satisfactory salary at a café as a barista. I also saw that the dedication to the craft was only second to the struggle to survive financially for most individual cafés. A café job was somewhat destined to be a passage for those who studied or moved on to other things. I wanted to be in the industry, but I also wanted to survive. So for two years I held a full time job with my old McJob, while working for da Matteo on the side. This was the year the tables turned, and I actually got myself a full time position in coffee.
But it had a price. I lost my family, dealt with alcoholism and depression, and was homeless for a couple of months. I’m not blaming anyone but me for this, I did have a choice. And for what? A full time salary and the possibility to work on an überboiler and a vintage 1981 La Marzocco GS2? It’s easy to think that either I’m an über geek who loves gadgets more than life, or that I am now ready to become fat and happy. Well, I am already fat, and that is something I intend to change. And as much as I am happy to work on great equipment, I still think there’s a lot to do before the work is finished. In fact, I think it has only just started. Fine by me.
Yet another apocalypse that failed us this year, the Mayan calendar turned out to be disappointing yet again. Still, I think it made a slight impact on people in general. I for one have been more obsessed with that end of the world 80’s music that sort of was the soundtrack to an era that few people expected to live through some 30 years ago. On Twitter, this is the year I think the cracks were getting really visible. The cycle of information and discussion have been at a full end, and there’s beginning to show a counter cycle floating on top of that ocean of diarrhea consisting of high-fives and self promoting Awesomes that noone gets to call the bluff on. Going to the WBC this year, the coffees I got to try while brewing and walking round at various stands were far from as good as what you’d expect from the hyperbole of Twitter. Not that I expected anything else, but I hope it was an eye opener for a lot of people that the coffee at home you compare with those Awesome tweets, are just advertising the obvious – we want to sell.
And here comes some of the negatives on that aspect. In Sweden the market of coffee isn’t nearly ready yet for Speciality Coffee. There are a number of cafés out there who actually get the idea of it. Most of them trained to understand it by larger micro roasters (that might sound like an oxymoron) such as J&N and Da Matteo. There is now a surge on the market of one- to three-man (well, mostly men, I can count to four female roasters in Sweden, sorry if I’ve forgotten someone) operations and they all seem to want their piece of the Speciality cake, rather than creating a new market. The cannibalization we’re beginning to see is actually counter productive: first of all, some of these roasters are not nearly as good in the cup as they are on advertising. This could actually work on a market that holds no knowledge in what “good coffee” actually is. But some cafés wants to sell by advertising, and might go with a brand that looks cool but doesn’t really taste that great. Second, when these roasters don’t deliver on time, get you rocks in your grinders or provide you with a coffee that doesn’t taste nearly the same each and every time, the cafés own customers are effected too! This is where “speciality” and “micro” isn’t always the same, even if you buy greens that are 80+. And price dumping? Don’t get me started. This short cut to gain attention at premium accounts will inevitably lead to either the micro roasters own demise, and moving the focus for the whole industry to a place where we have struggled so long to move away from.
Opening up your own units, like Da Matteo did in late 2012 in Stockholm, is actually a way to promote our coffee at the various outlets we have already established at customers cafés and retail locations. Without saying too much, I think we’re seeing more people doing the same in order to brand quality instead of flooding the market with a brand that doesn’t walk the walk. That might in short term mean that the perception in the general public is “branding”, but if we look at what Espresso House are doing for instance, you can see that even at a larger scale, with more than a 100 outlets throughout Sweden, this is actually possible in order to get more people to drink better coffee.
I think we will see more customer focused businesses, rather than just coffee focused. Or rather, coffee focused places realizing it’s not just about the coffee – there are customers involved too. Someone recently wrote something along the lines of “Don’t be snotty to a customer for adding milk and sugar, when you yourself an hour later order a 15 ingredient coctail”. Habits are hard to break, and are cultural. In my opinion adding sugar to an espresso I have never tasted before, is like going into a new restaurant and add salt to food I’ve never tried. If I realize my fries are too salty then, I know I made a fool out of myself. If the chef comes out and yell at me, I will never return.
For me personally, I think 2013 will put focus on my personal health and family first. I’ve procrastinated this long enough, and it’s time to actually step up and take control of my life! Things on my agenda in 2013 is exercise, kickboxing, yoga and better food habits. Beach 2013, here I come!
For me professionally (I work in coffee professionally, after all I make hot drinks for a living), I am looking forward to be competing in the Swedish Brewers Cup with one of our house favorites, made on a V60. We’ll have a new La Marzocco machine soon (no, not a Strada), and this spring will see us rotate some of our customers house blends as well as our own renowned ones. Together with the team at Da Matteo Fridhemsgatan we’ll most likely create our own blend during the spring.
Also looking forward to some coffee travel. I intend to visit Berlin, Paris, New York as well as Australia this year. And… this is the year I will start roasting! Finally… 😉
NP: Eddie Murphy Party All The Time