Sticks & Stones

3 Jun

A term that I always want a better, or at least more concise word for when I write a post, or indeed am talking about coffee, is the term by which we refer to the segment of the coffee industry which is wholly quality focused and eternally striving to improve coffee as a whole.

Speciality coffee‘ is the typical goto phrase which is far too general and the spectrum which it could technically cover would include a large spread of poor coffee with good marketing. A food connoisseur may be considered to be interested in speciality food but that would be far too wide a gamut for a concise explanation as to what they enjoy or expect when they go to a restaurant.

I suppose the partial reason for why we always default to “speciality coffee” is to a degree at least people know what you are talking about and it’s an approachable term in that it is harder to impune much snobbery as opposed to a word like ‘connoisseur’, and to an outsider it probably seems quite accurate.

A further problem with ‘speciality’ coffee is that it has been adopted by the larger companies, whose doses and standards do not come close to meeting what I consider to be true speciality coffee.

But what are the alternatives? A few get kicked around but they don’t cut the mustard in my mind.

Third Wave‘ is a popular term but the pay off of it is that it doesn’t make a whole bunch of sense to an outsider.

Connoisseur‘ is typically construed as snobby and unapproachable, which is the exact opposite.

The best term I can think is passionate, but using the term ‘passionate coffee’ doesn’t make much sense, perhaps there’s a synonym that can be better used, but a passionate barista is at the heart of what the focus is about.

It could be said that this is merely semantics, but I think there is a larger problem in the barriers of communication that are faced by baristas when trying to connect with the clientelle is how we refer to the segment of the industry we mean in a concise way.  Speaking to the average person saying 3rd wave will lead to very little understanding which starts making the whole conversation start to become arcane and confusing to the uninitiated which, in turn can risk creating the negative view of snobbery and alienating the very peole we’re trying to reach.

Does anyone have a better term?


4 Responses to “Sticks & Stones”

  1. rolandglew 4 June, 2010 at 12:55 am #

    I really can’t think of a good term. And I think that isn’t just a problem for how we communicate with the wider world, it’s a problem with how new coffee enthusiasts get their coffee education. I think the “Speciality Coffee” label brings with it these associations of espresso-based drinks – particularly the more outlandish and showy – that means budding coffee geeks are pointed at increased complexity and using new ingredients as the mark of quality, instead of having the elegance of a perfectly extracted pour-over of a CoE held up as a target.

    • Alex Redgate 4 June, 2010 at 7:05 am #

      I completely agree, these terms were horribly cryptic as I was first coming into coffee, being that I was almost exclusively self-taught I experienced the confusion that a non-standardised language can create.

  2. Andrew D 4 June, 2010 at 8:12 am #

    I have two problems with the term.

    Firstly, what classifies as ‘Specialty’. Where do we draw the line? Does it have to be brewed to gold cup standards? Is it only made by the independent cafe? Obviously not, but as you say, it tends to be from those who are passionate. But is the result just a biproduct of the passion and not a definable target in the first place?

    Secondly, should we not be aiming, however unrealistic, for ALL coffee to be specialty? What happens then, do we change all the names to ‘Normal Coffee Association of …’ ? The term almost implies that there will always be at least two tiers. What message does that send?

    • Alex Redgate 4 June, 2010 at 8:33 am #

      Where we draw the line is an important balance. Too high of a bar and it alienates, too low and … well we go backwards. Something I may have missed in the post is that the coffee is constantly evolving and getting better. What would have been considered speciality (There it is again) 5 years ago may be far below the bar now. The xth-wave business is far to wishy-washy and cryptic, not to mention stepped.

      Your second point is probably the goal of any good barista, or coffee enthusiast. However as you point out it’s unrealistic. And the further question becomes ‘is there a plateau of quality?’. We seem to be in some-what of a coffee reinaissance at the moment, we’re spoilt with continuing development and boundless leaps in quality as the quest for quality is passed down the chain and information is shared between baristas, roasters, processors, importers and farmers for how to attain the best from their beans.

      Maybe Renaissance Coffee is the term we’re looking for…
      (Renaissance Coffee is © Awlred 2010) 😉

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