Category Archives: Uncategorized

When things go South

One thing that always gets me in the US, is the fantastic service you get in most places. Bartenders are notoriously good at it, but even the supermarkets have service friendly staff, without the incentive of tipping.

One thing stands out: the Speciality Coffee bar. I’ve had great service in places like Vancouver (duh, it’s Canada) to decent (SF, Santa Cruz, Jackson (MS) and Las Vegas), to bluntly ignorant with attitude (NY, SF, Portland, Seattle and NOLA).

The South is well known for it’s hospitality. In Jackson, Mississippi, I found two coffee gems that stood out.

Deep South Pops

With craft beer on tap, home made icicles and decent coffee, stunning layout, this place was an instant favorite. They sell t-shirts etc with cool local prints, and service was simple but good. Had a batch brewed coffee and an icicle called “Arnold Palmer” (simply because an in joke with my ex mother in law). This place is easiest the coolest place in JXN!

Sneaky Bean

Simple bar, outfitted pretty much like a mom’n’pop store 2.0. Place offered local beers on can as well as coffee from local roaster Bean Fruits. Again, decent service, but a very impersonal location mostly catering for lap top crowds.

Jackson is a town without a real CBD (well there is one, but it’s literally a CBD and nothing else), instead it’s consisting of satellite areas. The area around Sneaky Bean is the most central part in the actual city, and there are other interesting non-coffee outlets.

Spending most of our days in JXN and outskirts with family, we went around various Civil War and early settlers locations, as well as ruins of grandeur long gone. It’s a beautiful, peaceful lush state, laidback and relaxed.

Our last day of the trip we went 24 hours to New Orleans. Since my wife has lived there briefly and been many times, we opted for the touristy parts for me as a first time visitor.

NOLA is a tourist city, let’s just get that stated. The infamous Bourbon Street after dark is pretty much like Magaluf in Mallorca – littered with rowdy drunken young people.

As far as coffee goes, the French quarters caters mostly for those who wants to have the “experience” of dark roasted coffee mixed with chickory and topped with hot milk.

Spitfire Coffee

Tucked away on a side street is a small cool place called Spitfire, apparently the first of its kind in NOLA serving speciality coffee (others have followed, but I didn’t have the time to go all the way there).

Now, here’s where I started thinking about what I started this text with. I know casual can be good, but having no customer focus at all is unusual in the US, but unfortunately not unusual in coffee places. It’s like the philosophy is “the coffee is so good it doesn’t need anything else”. That coffee better be damn good. In my case, I had a very average espresso, tasting like most average speciality coffee espresso that has looked a bit too much on Instagram trying to figure out this Scandinavian thing. The heat of the city made me order a iced coffee. It tasted generic and left me mostly baffled how our industry seems to have such confidence in the green bean that an execution from the barista seldom ever lives up to the expectation. It’s sad, really.

Drip Affogato bar

Drip is a bar dedicated to the affogato. Placed in the arts district, a stone throw away from the ACE Hotel and Stumptown. Not a fan of affogato really, but in this climate it’s a brilliant concept. Offering several options of various concoctions as well as flights of those, it’s the perfect lunch break getaway for a caffeinated sweet treat. Service was decent and friendly.

Other sights we saw was a tour of the Bad Bitches of New Orleans at night, visiting the original Sazerac bar at the Roosevelt (a must) as well as possibly the first bar in NOLA. I can’t wait to go back and discover more, but 24 hours was really enough for a first visit.

NP Down Stone The Crow

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Identity theft

To me, speciality coffee had the appeal to do good in the world, one cup at a time. Good meaning creating a place for creative and open minded people to get together on both sides of the counter in order to spread good vibes throughout the day; the customer knowing you prepare a beverage especially for them, from beans roasted especially for your shop, imported especially for the roastery and in a chain of events making it a better place for everyone.

There are a lot of things in the way, of course. Workplace ethics, toxic relations at work between customers and/or coworkers etc. In all I would say, over time the speciality industry has transfered from being a place for creative minds that appreciate the good vibes, over hipsters that were scene police for a while and then went back to making apps or whatever they were doing before, to finally becoming swarmed by what now seems to infiltrate every inch of society – identity politics.

I think the turning point basically came with the outcry when the WCE were about to host competitions in Dubai, a nation not known for its belief in the political standpoint of for instance gay rights and equality between the sexes. Fair enough. A certain web publication known in the coffee industry for activism managed to stir up a shit storm and made the WCE back away.

Now, I think in one sense it’s correct. But first of all, WCE had already hosted the World Ibrik Competition here before (oh, that weird competition only “ethnic people” do, says all the PC hipster baristas in their minds without saying it out loud). Second of all, the comps had been hosted in China, which is basically like Dubai in terms of human rights. No outcry then. Third, maybe the coffee industry could help making a change? And fourth, and I’ll get back to this, you are representing your country as a coffee maker, not a sexual being. I know plenty of homosexuals who went to Dubai on vacation without getting arrested or harrassed. Why would competing coffee people be any different?

Now, high and mighty on their success, the activists are at it again. First a Canadian barista uses non dairy milk in his coffee to make a point, and gets disqualified. I’m a vegan myself, and I don’t want to judge milk drinks or any ingredients that have animal products in it. But, change comes from changing the rules: create a petition to change them (I’d gladly sign it), write articles, use social media. But why use a competition to make a point in order to gain light on your own high horseshow?

Then a former barista champion uses the same kind of platform to enlighten judges and crowd on the imbalance between representation in judges etc. Now, this might seem noble enough, but there’s probably a good reason for everything you see. To become a judge, you have to be a good entrepreneur or have a company behind you that see value in you taking time off work in order to help the coffee industry. There’s nothing that stops anyone to become a judge but those two things being in place for you. There are plenty of women who judge and compete, on an average they probably represent the amount of women who are in the industry to stay for a longer time and not just passing through, while men tend to stay longer in the industry once they’re in simply because they were already drawn to the industry because of the coffee and not just to earn a few bucks while studying. I know great competing and non competing women in the industry who left it and became succesfull in other fields, why should they settle for less, i e competing for nothing else but the glory among peers, because let’s face it – there are no major benefits, regardless of your skincolor, gender or sexual preference to compete other than honing your skills. And maybe get some sort of recognition among your peers. And there are no other benefits judging, than helping an industry to maintain this charade. So why do more heterosexual white men than anyone else do these things? Probably because we don’t have much else going for us. We’re stuck here. The rest moves elsewhere, with no, little or great results, but still… moving on. The ones that wants to stay and pursue a career are more than welcome to.

Another thing that irks me, is the extention of what I believe David Schomer referred to as people that should be out on a ledge somewhere. Using the coffee as an extention of your own ego has been a total annoyance from an early stage. The preacher barista who tells you why his (it’s almost always a he) coffee is superior, but really he is just wanting you to know he’s superior because it’s his coffee. It’s a form of activism that may have served a purpose at one stage to an extent, but now is mostly frowned upon.

Take a second to think if someone started talking about Jesus in a coffee competition. I use Jesus, because I find some Jesus people using him in that very same way – their own righteousness elevated through an object or identity that they’ve adapted to and became activists around. How would you score this person? Or what kind of article would you write?

If you’re saying you would praise the courage of this person, or even at the slightest say you would not ridicule him for doing this way out of context, you are most likely lying to yourself. But there are a lot of Christians in coffee. They have to withstand your cursing, your sinful music and your clothes that are not appropriate for a Jesus loving person to wear. And can they deny to serve a customer who wears a t-shirt that says “Jesus is a cunt”?.

My favorite saying is; what happens after you get offended? Absolutely nothing. Deal with it. I’m not offended by people who use the barista competitions as a platform to highlight their identity politics, I just feel it’s fucking sad they don’t know how to make proper changes within the industry by lobbying, writing articles, workplace protests or filing complaints. Anything else is just social media masturbation. You are talking to the void. And action speaks a thousand words, when twitter only allows 140 characters. And a competition only lasts until the next big thing comes along in social media. Like a latte art throwdown in some godforsaken city. Or the “big news” that a German conglomerate once was nazis…

NP: Combat 84 Politically Incorrect

The death of a salesman

This year I did something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, yet now I regret it pretty much, since I am not that energetic at the moment, and the timing is a disaster. I signed up for the SCA Swedish Chapter board. When I did, things looked pretty good at work, and I felt excited to be part of something that I’ve been around as a competitor and judge for so many years.

Soon things started to crumble, and I started to have less time for this obligation I had now put myself up for. Unfortunately, it felt like most people that had put up their hands, were in a very similar situation and/or mindset that I had found myself to be. And there was some circumstances that weren’t ideal, like the NC giving birth 3 weeks before the competition and ending up at ER with her child because of a virus during the very competition. And then there was the other member whose family holiday unfortunately was put under the same time. And someone elses man flu. And I had no staff to fill in for me, so I had to work the weekend, but managed to get someone in for the first days, in order to try to fulfill at least some of my obligations.

On top of this, we had several officials of Swedish coffee nobility that bailed out in the last minute leaving us in a very bad pickle, and there was some intense days communicating with the World Coffee Events if we could even host a competition, thanks to these people. One of them kindly mansplained with senior advice to postpone the competition to save money. Not possible with the World Championship around the corner very soon. So basically a shit show.

One person, a former latte art champion, has basically organized the event by herself, with help at a distance from the rest of us (I am the first to admit my input unfortunately has been minimal). Whatever good comes out of this competition, that just ran its first day, is due to her diligence, and the people around the SCA events that persistently believes in the coffee culture of Sweden.

The event actually looks great (setting reminds me a bit of London 2010 actually), but during my helping out today, there are some thoughts that I need to write down about the competition as a whole.

The competition, since I started having interest in it back in 2007, has changed, a lot. I’ve competed in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2017, and I have judged inbetween. First of all, the interest in the actual Barista Competition has changed drastically. It is a high profile competition, catching the same kind of interest as the low profile latte art comp. Instead everyone wants to do the Brewers Competition. I can understand the popularity of it, it’s relatively cheap and easy to do, but it also see there’s a problem with this. It doesn’t reflect the standard of any coffee bar at all. Neither does the Barista Competition, if you look at the coffee served, but at least it shows some skill and showmanship. I’ve had Barista competitors coffee in the bar, and it’s usually at a high level. I can’t say the same about people serving me coffee in a bar after doing a Brewers Competition, simply because the design of the competition allows you to serve the ideal coffee in the ideal context. Even the person finishing last in the Barista Comp, can use their training in a bar working effortlessly with the competition structure as a backbone.

For me, the rise of the Brewers turned every Youtube-barista into a wannabe scientist. The anxiety of trying to control your brew creates false security, and assumptions aren’t always what you think they are. Today there was a heated debate on water and water temperature for compulsory. You are not, I repeat not, going to control a coffee you get one hour to play with, when you can’t even control a coffee you’ve spent months on end trying to control. Yet, the faux-professors of the world will make it the only thing that makes a skilled barista. There’s a simple explanation for this behavior: the sure fire way to blame someone else for your failure. The level of princess behaviour today was somewhat shocking. Maybe it’s because it’s the first time I am not a competitor or a judge, but just helping out being the middle man between someones nervousness and frustration. But there’s a lack of professionality that comes with seasoned competitors. And we had one of those there, showing a great sense of understanding for the situation, but also not letting this be a setback but instead looking forward. That PMA is what creates winners, not some fucking snotnosed entitlement attitude.

But what I noticed today really, was that there’s a clash between the competition mind set and coffee culture. My idea, all along, was to make SCA a stronghold when it comes to introducing budding baristas that are not in touch with an organized education and level. In order to make the consumer more aware, it is crucial to educate coffee makers at any given level, to give them a context and a frame work what the industry and aware consumers are expecting from them. This, to me, is the point of taking the competition outside the major cities.

In all fairness, I believe a lot of the returning exhibitors to these events have that effect on the mainstream visitors. But the discrepancy between what happens on the fairground, and backstage, is massive.

It’s not necessarily the format of the competition that is the error, but the behemoth it has become on a world scale. Competitors mostly come to believe and expect stardom, and with it comes arrogance. They’re only there to get access to a world platform, that is so vastly different from the whats and the whys we have the competitions in Sweden.

In the World these things can co exist, but normally it’s industry focused. We have sponsors at the local events who are industry focused, but the event itself mostly have an audience that is focused on walk ins. At the first day of competition, there’s a big lack of industry leaders and celebrities, simply because they only want to be connected to the comps if their product wins.

I do believe in the competition, in the way I grew up as a barista in it. Comraderie, exchanging ideas, building community with your competitors, helping new comers becoming involved. I’ve seen great careers start from the competitions. Now I mostly see entitlement, lack of a positive mind attitude, despise for people not understanding our product, starfuckers and fame hunters. It’s sad. And the public watches and shakes their heads in disbelief, going back to their dark roasts and milky beverages. Because we taught them that speciality coffee is for twats.

So what is the future for the competitions, in Sweden? My main point is that we are not breeding representatives for speciality coffee in a way it was meant. We are not selling our product with this format, we are alienating the end consumer further. We don’t speak their language.

The way I see it, there are two ways. One is the unlikely way, where we become more consumer orientated, we put emphasis on the coffee culture, and how to build bridges between “us” and “them”. The World Coffee Events are not going this way at all, and I’d say it would weaken our positition even further as a competing nation, maybe for a greater good for the Swedish industry, but not for the competitors.

The other way, that to me makes more sense, is to hand over the event to these new local organizers of coffee events, like The Grid, and let them run it at their own coffee festival. They will make it a fringe festival for hipsters, naturally, but I think of it more in terms of an industry party that could bring people closer together within the industry, rather than welcoming a broader audience.

The death of speciality coffee is here. Let the sinkers of the ship keep playing their fiddles.

NP City And Colour The Death of Me

I have a dream

This year had me thinking: is this really what I want to do for the rest of my life? How pathetic is it for a 60 year old to make hot drinks for a living? It’s pretty pathetic at 45 if you ask me. But it’s not just that I’m on the verge of stumbling into a midlife crisis.

In coffee we have talked about sustainability for a long time. 99% of the time it’s about farm level sustainability, connected to the relationships and well being of the farmer and roaster/buyer, and about the environmental impact of coffee as a produce.

But, I’ve touched this subject before, how about the sustainability in the work place? How long are staff supposed to excuse low salaries in order to work with cool brand gadgets and boutique coffee? I’m not saying businesses necessarily do this out of malicious intent. But, this is the reality in many cases. If you rather rotate staff ever so often instead of giving pay rise and other benefits, is the coffee culture sustainable? Not that people should have pay rise just because, there should naturally be incentives, but they are also representatives for your business, and happy reps are a good value for the image of your company brand!

My dream is a place where you can integrate personal growth with the growth of your place. Be a socially sustainable platform.

I want the place I will create to be in line with my personal needs and desires. Combining a healthy life style, with a family life. Those are my only two reasons for having a place in the future. To be able to live off the food I make for other people, as in enough variety and healthy aspects that it’s sustainable for me. To have business hours that allow me to see my family enough and take time off every year to rejuvinate and find inspiration. To live my life ethically and morally every day without compromising in what I do for a living. I want to work with my wife, and possibly get external help from friends. Building sustainable relations across the board!

To me, speciality coffee is a place of honesty, trust and the building of healthy relations. That has to incorporate myself in the future, where I don’t work myself into mental illness and let my relations with family and friends deteriorate due to exhaustion.

NP: Gorilla Biscuits Start Today

The Way Forward

It’s that time again, to sum up the year that was.

The year before carried over some of its shit onto 2018, but soon we had a new permanent home, and a fulfilling job working for great people again, with a great product.

The summer saw the greatest heat wave in modern history of Sthlm/Sweden, and that made business slow. I worked the bar myself, six days a week, for three months in order to keep costs down. The walls crept in on me, and my health has taken a major toll. I feel exhaustion, I’ve gained weight, I’m dazed and confused at times.

In the late summer or early autumn, I got two great staff onboard, Niki who is a young greek with kitchen experience, and Nikola who is a seasoned croatian coffee/bar guy. Both adding a great vibe and team effort, making it fun for me to work again! These people work hard as fuck, and put in an effort I haven’t seen Swedish people do before. I am so grateful for their appearance in my life at the right time!

In the early part of the year, my wife raised the stakes. I had been nagging on her for a long time to go vegetarian, and she made us go vegan. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve done. Being vegetarian for so long, 17 years, has been a walk in the park. Now I realize there’s egg, butter and milk in everything!

I thought giving up cheese would be hard, but it’s just like cigarettes and alcohol; once you leave it behind you don’t think about it. But avoiding dairy and eggs is a rough ride, which made us cook a lot of food at home. My wife has been an amazing cook the past few months with time on her hands being unemployed.

On a professional level, 2019 looks like a promising year. We will do good things at work, deepen our relations with Da Matteo coffee wise as well as do some more development on food and beverage, possibly involving alcohol in our line up.

For me personally, 2019 will involve much more music making. The vinyl released in the late 2018 is a swansong over something that I enjoyed doing but isn’t necessarily something I’m overly proud of. Now we have new focus, new constellations and new ideas. It’s 30 years ago I started my first hardcore band, Living Guts, that later evolved to the death metal band Cauterizer that in hindsight actually was probably my proudest moment in music. I’m eager to return to those roots.

We are focusing hard on the family, hoping to have an addition to our quartet before the year is over or early 2020. That is my main priority for this year.

Health, diet and work out will also be a huge part of 2019. Needless to say, we’ll keep going vegan, but adding mental and physical workout to the regime will be crucial! I’ve gone from survival to being top of my game, and it feels fucking good!

This is probably the most optimistic and positive update I’ve done. And I feel it. I’ve never been in a happier relationship, I’m enjoying work, and I have two great girls I love more than anything. Anything besides that is a bonus! So keep it straight, and never negotiate!

NP: Enter The Hunt: One

Stockholm Syndrome

For over a month now, I’ve been doing 12 hour shifts, seven days a week. Mostly alone, but with occasional help. This is not a cry for pity of for sympathy, to quote Dallas Green, but an interesting time in my career to reflect on. For the first time in my life, I have the toolbox to observe events from outside of myself, while participating in them at the same time.

Once you’re alone with a task, it grows on you at first. Then the walls comes closing in. Spending the lionpart of the day at work, doing the same things over and over again, becomes something of a Sisyphos situation. For someone with my diagnosis, it can be both heaven and hell at the same time. Heaven, because routine is good, the familiar is good. Hell, because you feel trapped and can’t go anywhere. Literally.

And then, you start to question your existence. What are we doing here? Who is your customer? What does the outside world think of what is done here, how it looks, how it tastes and so on. With being on the brink of exhaustion, you stick to your guns, doing what you’ve always done. This is not the time or place to experiment. But the dream of change is there.

The Stockholm Syndrome is an expression that originates from the infamous event on Norrmalmstorg, where bankrobbers took hostage, and the hostage started to take sympathy for their captors. Soon, I felt not only the coffeebar, but the whole coffee industry kept me hostage. I am 44 years old, making hot drinks for a living, and a part of me likes it, but a part of me is also scared to get stuck and have nowhere to go because of the financial situation I’m in, as well as the market for 44 year old coffee makers is really not that great.

I see the industry at an evolutionary dead end, where speciality coffee in Sweden not really going anywhere. New roasteries keep popping up, but there are no outlets where more speciality coffee is served. This industry does not need more roasteries. It need more outlets. Yet still, it seems that is really not happening (in Sweden). Quite the opposite.

Social Media has made the industry into a bubble, where it’s more about branding, co-branding and selling a life style that doesn’t really exist or has very little value to the coffee scene. Coffee people stopped drinking small batch gins and IPA’s, and turned to Natural Wines, since it seems to be a similar industry. And it is. Natural wines are an aquired taste, much like speciality coffee, with tons of pseudo science and very few outlets. Again, the industry turns to another excluding culture for help.

Finally, the narcissism of our industry is catching up with us, thus not generating new comers to our midsts, but just regurgitating old clichées with the same old cliques. Where is the real future for our Culture?

I thought I’d never say this, but reaching out to the masses in order to create an industry that leads the way when it comes to things that really matters, might be the way. My dream goal now is to take the path to become a Vegan chef. I truly believe that what the industry needs, is a hard look at what is real sustainability. Avoiding pseudo science like raw food, but staying on the path where we move towards a plant based Culture. Let’s face it: coffee is a plant, it thrives among other plants. The coffee industry itself might not be the best for our environment, and for those growing it. So we need to make a change, make progress all the way from seed to cup.

NP: Birds of Tokyo Broken Bones

We Grew Up Fast

Just finished two books on rough childhoods and chaotic backgrounds, J D Vance “Hillbilly Elegy” and Harley Flannagans “Hard Core – Life of my own”. They’re not just stories of children, and how their outcome in life is a result of childhood, it’s also very much a story about class and opportunity.

I grew up in the 70’s, with a housewife mom and a working dad. Both of them were active communists when they met (I was conceived on a Soviet friendly trip through the Iron Curtain in 1973, apparently in Transylvania). My dad came from Russian borgeouise and revolted against his background by becoming communist, but my moms genes came from true white trash lineage: my grandmother, to whom I was the apple of her eye, was born a bastard and had to move from home at a very young age to serve in a household, and my grandfather was an abusive alcoholic with travelling people blood.

It would be a lie to say I grew up like the kids in Appalachia or Lower East Side, but there are some similarities that shapes you: for instance I grew up dirt poor. Every summer from when I was 12, I had to work throughout my whole summer holidays to sustain my interests, and even additional bus card for music rehersal. But there was no weekly or monthly allowance, going to the movies, buying a record or going to concerts was budgeted for.

Since my mom hated her mother-in-law, who was from Russian high society, I didn’t spend much time with her as a child, and missed out on the opportunity to learn about social codes among the rich. Instead I grew up with poor food, and lack of anything but common sense for my kind. Clothes etc. was a bare necessity and not something that meant status. Rather lack thereof.

My father didn’t teach me much, since he worked most of the time, but he taught me to pay the bills and if there was anything left, I’d eat that month. He also taught me there was no such thing as a dishonest job. And he taught me to be loyal, though you probably shouldn’t in some obvious cases. My mother was a terrible person to grow up with. I know now that she probably has a Borderline Personality Disorder, something both me and my sister has been diagnosed with. She made promises of rewards that she would never keep, and she’d be embarrased with me and tell me that she was. Never once did she stand up for me, even when a teacher hit me, she was embarrased of the commotion I’ve caused with my bad behaviour.

My father wasn’t exactly a great source of encouragement either. Sure, it was great that I had my music and friends, but why did I opt for that shit music, and those shit friends? Nothing was good enough for him, and in hindsight, I hear the echo of his own past in my ear. But that took its toll, and my friends became my real family, since it seemed mine didn’t want me or at least didn’t accept me for who or what I was.

Early on, I decided that I’d leave the house as soon as I could, and that became my only goal. As JD Vance describes it in his book though, you might leave the house, but the culture of the house is always with you. And also like him, I was shaped by the community I surrounded myself with, other music freaks who didn’t trust society and authority and wanted to watch the world burn. That excluded most normal people, and the ones I kept close had to earn their respect as being credible in our subculture, as I had to have earn mine among my peers. This aspect and angle has taken me through subcultures all my life, basically because the life of the common people either has reminded me of my parents too much, or I’ve just felt like a stranger among those not extreme. As I’ve grown older, I’ve inherited my fathers talent as a social chameleon though.

I heard somewhere that you should find what you’re good at, and make that your living, rather than make a job out of your passion. Growing up, always feeling like I was never good enough and noone standing up for me, I’ve had to stand up for myself (which I’m pretty terrible at to be honest, and that’s a great part of why I’ve drank instead. Swallowing seemed easier), or find someone to work for who looked out for me. That creates a problem of identity, because I work best as a team, representing something that is larger than I. This may seem both humble and admirable, but it has created a path in my life where I’ve been loyal and not being payed neither in money nor in thankfulness, but been taken for a ride.

Another great error in my upbringing that still has great influence on my modus operandi, is my endless thirst for validation. As a child, I never had it from anyone but my grandmother, and she gave me rewards just for being me. That felt very good each and every time, and was the one thing I was looking forward to. In her place, I’ve gone on to reward myself constantly, to fill that gaping void in my soul: anything from candy, through records or books, to alcohol. Escapism has also been a great part of my character. Always looking for a way out, instead of facing whatever demons that were in my own mind. Leaving your surrounding and your context, creates the false idea that you are free from them, but in reality you just focus elsewhere at the moment. Soon enough, the demons catches up.

After these two books, I happened to open up Chris Grossos “Dead Set On Living”, a super interesting book on the Buddhist outlook on addiction. Like all therapies say, traumas in our childhood is the foundation for how we deal with the world as adults. But Grossos conclusion is founded in Buddhism, and this rings true within most Indian philosophies; we have a chance to heal our present projection of our childhood trauma, by accepting our condition, and embracing forgiveness.

I’ve been on wild goose chases, aimed for the moon and stars, in order to always fail. I now see that my mothers unrealistic approach to my rewards has had that impact on me. For the first time in my life, I feel the need to focus on one thing at a time, and not dream away but instead making plans, and work towards them. I am beginning to treat my work as a job and not a passion. I am fending off all wild dreams of the future, and instead focus on the now. It’s kind of liberating, once I accept that is where I am.

NP Travis Quite Free

Relationship vs Community in Coffee

In Speciality Coffee, we talk a lot about the relationships and communities affiliated doing business within our industry. At Da Matteo we’ve tried for a long time to find some kind of certification that tells a story what kind of work we do to improve the relationship with our coffee farmers, and their lives at Origin. That is one kind of relationship within Speciality Coffee. Another relationship to have is one between roaster and coffee shop.

Before I go on, there is a major difference between those two relationships. One is that the one selling coffee to a café is chasing the customer in order to buy. The one selling coffee to a roaster doesn’t necessarily have the means to chase the customer, but has to be found by the buyer (naturally, someone starting a café will look for the best coffee on the market, but there will be no shortage of competitors trying to get you to change your mind. We’ll get back to that).

A community is something else. It’s something built up around a mutual interest. It could be about making awareness about better coffee, or become better baristi with the help of your peers. For instance, you could call the SCA a larger community, pushing for better coffee in the world, the Roasters Guild and Barista Guild two other communities that don’t necessarily are separated from the SCA’s goal, but are targeting their own peer group (roaster and barista).

The communities themselves normally have a relationship to various partners: it could be a mother organization (like SCA) or sponsors (like a machine partner), but customers of various roasters and workers at competitor cafes can all thrive in the community, under the flag of “education” or “awareness building” etc (pretty much like board members of an organization, just much more losely based).

Organizations can suffer from difficulties such as corruption or bias, but members will quickly strike out against such behaviour when made known, and thus it is a somewhat safe form to build an organization, because it will have goals, and have the means to canonize knowledge worth keeping, and stay neutral or negative to pseudo science or science not yet proven. Communities however, are made up by individuals each with their own agenda or context of which they swear by. In coffee, the more cutting edge ideas, technology and scientific claims wihout proper research are held as the latest must-haves, or even made up to be the pinnacle of the industry. It can be branch leaders whose adapted ideas form a meme that then gets wide spread through the imagined community thriving on social media.

Here is where we are now. There’s a hegemony of ideas and images, claiming to be the final solution, held by industry inofficial leaders. They are made up by clusters of roasters, bloggers, designers and the like, whose ideas have not been canonized by an official organization, but by the grass root people, the imagined community, online and in real life when getting together in smaller gatherings of like minded people. Now, there are a lot of similarities between what we call an imagined community, and tribalism.

A tribe, compared to a community, is more far more tight knitted, held together not only by a common idea, but also as a means of survival. There is often a hierarchy, and the inner circle will only grow as the tribe grows. Not rarely, in the social glue that is the inner circle, there exists an official or an unspoken inoffical ethical stand between the parts, however those outside the circle are not applicable to those standards (they might adapt similar strategies lower in the chain, but the top is not loyal to the bottom even though the vice versa is common, out of “respect”).

In a community, there is always the sense of “the more, the merrier”, due to the wish to gather round a common goal, such as the spreading of Speciality Coffee for instance. An analogue I draw is one of several underground movements I’ve been part of; the tape trading back in the 80/90’s. Death Metal was something new and fresh, it was about the music and it was a true excitement being close to a movement. The broader it became, however, the more tribal it got. When Entombed got a record deal, they were almost considered sell outs. More people found our culture, and the more we started to feel there were too many “posers” around. In Norway, they went so far they basically wanted to put peoples loyalty to the extreme to the test, and so people started to burn churches and murder people in order to prove their salts worth. We who were nihilistic rebellious youth with a strong identity with the music, started feeling things were going to far, and so death metal stagnated in its culture, and the music itself started to sound very conform. Later, black metal met the same fate.

In the tribal world of Speciality Coffee, people seem to refrain from murder, but the structure is the same. Many people are trying hard to be invited into the warmth of the top dogs, some succeed. Some don’t. Others are just happy to be supporting the top in their great work. A community around the tribe, so to speak. In 1% terminology you could address them as “hangarounds”, and the ones trying to make the inner circle would be considered “prospects”.

Now, I find this idea of “relationship” and “community” problematic. We throw these words around withouth really honoring their meaning, when we are in fact more proned to tribalism. In a community you don’t have to agree on everything. Let’s say for instance you have a latte art throwdown, and a guy that works in a bar serving Italian style coffee beats everyones ass, he has earned everyones respect, but we might disagree with his stance that Italian coffee is the tastiest. He is still part of a community that over a beer can share stories of being a barista in a café.

The tribalists however, are much harder to deal with. They will frown upon anything that isn’t agreed upon with his purist masters. I don’t weigh my shots, I therefor present faulty shots. I use a blend, where their dogma requires a single origin. Funny enough, it’s always the hangarounds and prospects that polices everything, in order to prove themselves purist at heart to the priesthood.

Brands works on all three levels though, introducing yet another expression that we should use more in our industry: loyalty. Pictured above is three brands I’ve worked with from the start since I got to Sweden (RB before that). I tried other tampers in Australia, but didn’t like their grip. The wood grip suited me fine, and I’ve used the same tamper ever since. I also met the family behind the tamper, and I remain loyal to the brand because of my relation to them, proven that they are awesome people. Same with the espresso machine. The LM family is a close-to-the-grassroot community building gang, honoring those using their machines. DM was my own pick of employer, recognizing the style of coffee that was my preference, the way coffee tasted back in Australia. I’ve been loyal to DM not only because of the tastiness, but also because of the company culture that is highly inviting and open minded. We aim to build community and relationships, not tribes.

I think understanding the difference is crucial: a tribe demands loyalty, a community and a brand earn theirs. A relationship on the other hand, just like a marriage, demands loyalty but has to be earned mutualy. Transparency then is key.

There are some new kids in town, doing coffee events and building their own coffee festival. We did the same 8 years ago, and the reason it didn’t work then was probably because we were too affiliated with just one brand. Certain companies in Stockholm demand tribes, and don’t want to let their staff be seen with competitors. And we were also mostly a group of friends looking for a good time. Later our relationships turned to family, kids and professionality. It will be very interesting to see what path this group will take.

NP: Melissa Auf Der Maur Followed The Waves

nonzero the hero

A while back, Mark Dundon, known for his championing quality coffee and behind cafe powerhouses like Seven Seeds in Melbourne, posted a thing on Linkedin, declaring that Speciality Coffee is dead. He puts the finger on some things that has been bothering me for years in the industry; the word Speciality Coffee is not as frequently used in our parts of the world, but rather linked to the scale between 0-100 on the coffee scale. In Sweden, to duck the fact you are roasting non-speciality, you may call your roast a “microroast” or “handroasted”. It says more about the way whatever coffee was roasted, than about the actual coffee itself. Which at a first glance seems fairer. But our market is small, and it has only added to the confusion to the end consumer, especially for us still championing Speciality as a notable quality factor and selling point.

I am currently reading Robert Wrights highly interesting book “Nonzero”, a book about evolution and human cooperation. When people say we should learn from history, they often make the mistake of looking at recent history. How could there be brutal civil wars on the Balkan only 50 years after World War II? Have they learnt nothing?

Wright describes the development of human evolution as a brain with cells. The jump on the ladder happens as populations grow and intensifies the need for development. When it comes to coffee, we mistakingly look from the inside of the industry for evolution. What is described as first, second and third wave is not a descriptor of an evolution in coffee, but an evolution within a small group within coffee, that for some time had an effect on how some people looked at coffee when opening a cafe or coffeeshop.

The culture fostered within the speciality coffee community shifted very quickly from being about the coffee, to the tools of the trade. Wright states that what most researchers don’t realize is that mankind didn’t start domesticating animals and crops in order to survive, but in order to stand out in a crowd, giving leverage for status. What if you want to marry, and your neighbour is a hunter/gatherer. Well, I can provide the brides family with my own stock of yams too.

Evolution happened fast within the coffee industry. Baristas got used very quickly to work with top beans, thus anyone wanting to hire staff needed to have the right machines, the right milk, the right pitchers and soon the right aprons, tampers etc. Baristas don’t go to Origin and hang out with farmers. Roasters do. That’s their status being vamped up, posing as vagabonds of the developing world, scouting for the equally coffee centric farmers out there, maybe without them even knowing they are pictured this way. For lets be honest here. Who is using who? A farmer that better his crops, wants to get a higher price and in the end a better living. A barista typically “wants to learn more about coffee”. Probably still in his or her 20’s, living at home or shared accomodation, riding a fixie and spend most of the money on stuff that will create status on Instagram.

Cafe owners are constantly looking at ways to save money. Once the cafe owner realizes that the actual end consumer prefers something “bold and roasty” to cut through milk in the cup, measures will be taken into account. Remember that Speciality Coffee on the high end is an aquired taste, not a staple. We tend to forget that, since everyone focuses on what is happening at competitions, outrageous coffees at outrageous prices, to break the monotony for the judges. Your coffee needs to stand out, since it is no longer a competition about skill, but about doing a very delicate coffee justice. Such bullshit! And the trickle down effect is causing problems in the real world through social media.

Mankind is cruel, and we have cruel intentions. A zero sum game is one where there is a winner and a loser. A non zero game, thus, is a win win situation. In his book, Wright mentions the kind of idea that for modern man is hard to grasp: we live not in a world where peace is the norm, we live in a world of humans where war is the norm, and we wage peace in order to reach some sort of non zero game. An equilibrium that is the least bad for most people. Somehow, the relativism of modernity has gotten the idea that we are our minds, not our biology, but in truth we are still at war constantly, wanting to consume our enemies and wear their skin as our dress like those stone age tribes did. We just do it in a way that appear peaceful, maybe even moral.

Take the cafe owner, constantly at war with his clients, his staff and his producers. If the customer needs a different coffee, he will have to ask his barista to use an inferior product or extract the coffee in a way the postmodern barista-gone-scientist finds frustrating, and get his roaster to come up with a different coffee. We are not even talking about money yet. Then comes the war to find good enough staff at cheaper rate, and good enough coffee to make a profit. The harsh realities of capitalism comes, and the ideology of Speciality Coffee is secondary to survival. We know this from world history. All Empires built on extreme ideologies fail and dies. And lets face it: Speciality Coffee is quite extreme in the context of capitalism.

What other field do you know, where a specialist is required to extract a product with the latest gadgets and tools, and has to do so while also being focused on making sandwiches and be nice to customers, in interactions that is only lasting for about 90 seconds? That equation gets even harder when you not only need to interact nicely with someone purchasing your goods, you need also to explain why your goods is better, even though a vast majority of buyers actually might consider your product “inferior” to what they are used to.

So how come Speciality Coffee has been so largely successful in some areas of the world? There is one key factor for evolution that Wright speaks of, that I’ve already mentioned: population density. If Speciality Coffee is a 2% market, you must realize that there is a vast difference in evolution if you’re in a market where the customer base is 2% of 1 million people (Stockholm for instance) or 2% of say 25 million (Jakarta for instance). At a visit to a cupping organized by the Indonesian Embassy in Stockholm recently, I was blown away by the tales of the booming barista culture in Indonesia. Ironically, they are using local beans, with closeness to their coffee producer, which would be impressive to the social media barista, if only it wasn’t fucking Indonesian coffee…

Just like any evolution, your benefits is given you by chance. Among the Westerners, you are lucky to grow coffee in Panama, Kenya and Ethiopia for instance. You are not so lucky if you happen to grow coffee in Indonesia, Brasil, India or Uganda, cause your taste profile isn’t Instagram worthy. Only if you do something extraordinary that goes against what most of your neighbours are doing. This is the great paradox: we are considering ourselves liberators of the Third World, with relations of equality, treating our peers at Origin as equals. But only the chosen few, that meets our demands, which is nothing but pure post colonialism. Typical zero sum game between continents, described as non zero sum between individuals.

What mr Dundon is pointing out, is in reality that not everyone subscribes to the original idea of what “speciality” is. I remember clearly when reading job ads in The Western Australian 8 years ago, thinking “if that’s what it means to be a barista, clearly I am not one of those”, being probably on par with the people who shifted from being bartenders to mixologists. I’ve addressed this curse of the barista trade before, where it used to be a platform for creative people slinging coffee in the mornings, to support their musician jobs at night, or whatever, now being replaced by people who see themselves as scientists in service of mankind bringing the world the perfect cup. This to me, in itself, was the death of speciality. I think, frankly, speciality was more or less rarely alive on farm level or producer end, when it comes to how we saw it ourselves. It was a smorgasboard for our benefit, where we picked and chose whatever tickled our fancy at that point in our development, and exactly like those conglomerate behemoths we loath, we as an industry never intended relationships that actually demanded from us to take on full responsibility to create full equality. We were at war too, you know, busy to make our product packaging stand out against our competitors, have more advanced equipment than our neighbor and waste a shitload on milk to make pretty flat whites for our customers instagram value, that benefits us in the end.

Primitive societies, so called Big Man societies, has the one figure to look up to. Once their power fades, their society might fade with them. We have our Big Men on social media (I don’t have to mention their names), so called influencers or leaders that people follow at their least whimsical move. You see them at the parties around the world, white middle class hipsters who are never in conversation with those uninvited producers from India, but with their own peers. Speciality Coffee is very primitive in its structure. The idea of non zero sum in our context comes basically, without intending to do so, from a kind of socialism. And there are very few examples of successful socialism. One big Swedish roaster, now bought up by a huge conglomerate, market themselves as “coffee revolutionaries”. Their revolution seem to be selling lower grade coffee, at lower price to reach more customers. Maybe in the age of post modern relativism, that is actually revolution in Speciality Coffee.

NP: Tragedy The Power Fades

Inside the Pyramid

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I spent a lot of years being a hypnotherapist. Maybe I was good at it because it helped me focus on my own personal development too. Back then, I devoured a lot of self help literature in order to gain insight in how others in the same field thought and worked. Most of it was new age rubbish, but through a lot of sand you could find some nuggets here and there. I was into yoga and meditation, as the hypnotherapy basically was an extention of those traditions mixed in with Classic Freudian psychotherapy.

As I lost interest in this field of work, and became engulfed in the coffee world, I also lost touch with my own practice. The coffee world seemed rational, and so my focus turned to the understanding of the craft rather than the meeting between people, at least for my first couple of years. And my reading list shifted towards the neo-Atheist movement; Daniel C Dennet, Christopher Hitchens, Carl Sagan, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins to name a few. Not that I agreed with them necessarily, but it rooted me in the material world at the same time as my finances crumbled and my interest in coffee reached a high that demanded some investment on my part. From being a person who didn’t necessarily dream of material wealth beyond a specific guitar, or a new vinyl player, I all of a sudden looked at Hario scales, ACF cups and various brewing equipment with an alarming desire. I see the contradiction in this now.

Many years later, when I got diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, I started a therapy called MBT (Mentalization Based Therapy), and I found that the whole point of the therapy was to intellectualize my response to other peoples behaviour. If you know anything about Borderline, you will know it is basically a disorder that appears from how you are treated in your childhood. As a therapist used to digging deep into the subconscious, this had a lot of triggers for me as a professional, but also I realized that without the catharsis of using your feelings to heal your past, you will never heal at all.

The only thing this therapy did for me, was that I came up with a formula I call The Pyramid of Basic Needs. Basically, a pyramid has Three sides. Each side represents Relations, Work and Living. Lets look at each side individually:

With Relations, I mean the relation I have with myself and others. If I’m in a healthy relationship with a partner I’m ok. If I am happy to be alone and don’t need a partner, that’s ok too. But if I am alone and haven’t gotten over a former partner, scared of being by myself or missing someone to share my life with, I’m really not ok. Same if I am with a toxic partner. It takes energy to be in that place, it drains you. So, with relations, I mean a supportive one, a relation that gives energy, generates well being. If that is living with your mom, that is ok too. As long as the relationship is what you really want!

With Living, I mean your accomodation. Some people love travelling the world living half their lives in a hotel room. Others hate it. Some people chose to live on the streets, others are there without it being a choice of their own. As long as you have a place that you can unwind, call your own, not being scared that it will be gone tomorrow, not having to ask if it’s ok to stay another night. Or house two kids in a 1 room apartment without privacy for anyone, where they hate to be with you. In my own preference; somewhere sustainable for myself and my kids, having a bed and somewhere to cook, somewhere to put my Xmas decorations in a basement, and I will know next year where they are.

And I guess Work is pretty obvious. But having a job isn’t necessarily your foundation for the Pyramid. A work place is a bit like a relationship. If it’s toxic though great pay, it still might steal more energy than the money is worth. I’ve had jobs in the past that the only reward for going to work was the pay check. And it’s fucking draining.

So my point with the Pyramid is that if you have two sides covered, that can usually get you through the day in the one that isn’t. For instance; you have a loving family and a home, but a shitty job, the support from your family and the sanctuary of your home brings enough energy and comfort to sustain you. You have a home and a job situation that is really rewarding, that could get you through a divorce. You have a girlfriend you love that you can stay with while being without an apartment and you have a job that is rewarding, homelessness is bareable.

If you just have one of these filled, I’d like to imagine it just being the bottom field, and there is just a long hard walk in front of you, no roof on either side to cover you. That is when your life starts to crumble. At one point more than a year ago, I actually didn’t even have a Pyramid. That’s what I realized, and that’s how I came up with the idea of it.

There are a lot of mental images to harvest from a Pyramid. The idea of being a slave building it (though it is now scientific facts the Egyptians didn’t have slaves but free labor to build them), and gain freedom once it’s done, is one I like because it’s actually true. But more importantly; you can’t fully focus on balancing your life truly unless the Pyramid is filled. From my years in hypnotherapy, I now realize that a lot of people seek help in desperate times, which is great if you have the basics covered. But if you don’t, therapy will do very little to change that for you. If your wife leaves you, and you have to move home to your demanding mother, while you’re struggling at work, there’s no way that any therapy will help you sort that out. It can help you find motivation to get a new job, move away from mom and find a new partner at best, but true change will only appear when the Pyramid is filled on all sides.

That’s why I have so Little tolerance for these so called “yogis”, who spend their time posting Pictures of themselves on far away beaches, in expensive yoga outfits, trying to sell you yoga teacher Courses so you too can become rich and go to a far away beach and wear expensive yoga outfits. That is escapism, and escapism is always used when you want to get away from something; not rarely a job you’re not happy with, a relationship that isn’t fullfilling, or a home you’re not completely happy with.

My wife wrote something extremely Beautiful to me the other day, and it totally resonated with me, cause that is exactly how I feel too: “My life Before you is a dull haze, it seems somehow both unimportant (as if I wasn’t fully alive yet), and in some strange way a preparation to get to you, to us. Maybe it was a trial of some sort, and I’m so happy and grateful I made it through to get to this profound love and happiness we share“.

Looking back at my life now, I see that my Pyramid was never filled. I used to Think that whatever job I had was ok as long as it kept me being able to do what I was passionate about in my spare time. The problem is, I didn’t have the energy to pursue my passions. Instead I escaped through drinking. And then I escaped through work, I escaped through my family, and while stuck in a vortex of alcoholism and hating life, I escaped it all and ended up with nothing. Basically, I had to lose it all in order to realize what I actually needed. My life had been an endless trial up until that point, and in a way, my wife had done not the same, but a similar journey.

Writer Cal Newport said something obvious yet so profoundly life changing for me to understand: do what you’re good at, not what your passion is. For ten years I’ve been trying to chase that passion of coffee, when what I am good at is really to deal with people. And all this time trying to get to the core of the bean, has been an idea to use as a Foundation in order to build relationships. I work bar cause I like to socialize with customers. I want to be a roaster so I can go to farms and get to know people from other walks of life, not really to understand the absolute best way to set a roast curve. I want to write in order to meet people and let me share their stories. If you ever saw “Into the wild”, or read Jon Krakauers fantastic book, there is a very touching scene at the end, when Christopher MacCandless is dying alone in deepest Alaska in the Magic Bus. He has carved in the Words “Happiness is only real when shared”, while realizing he has gone through all these adventures, yet has chosen not to share it with anyone. And with sharing I don’t mean an Instagram Picture.

NP: Dio Egypt (When the Chains Are On)