Open letter to some coffee educators

(Warning: Neil has proofed this and observed that it is “mushy”.)

To Peter, mark, rob, ellie, troy, jay, gerra, & everyone who positively influenced my coffee education in the past week.

I really can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me.

Professor Peter Giuliano
Professor Peter Giuliano.

This letter began as a note to Peter Giuliano after spending the day with him on Monday and attending the “Origins, History and Trade” class at the new Counter Culture Lab in NYC. We talked about coffee all day, and really, Peter was nowhere close to stopping. The depth and quality of the education I received, was, to put it simply, priceless.

Its not only the content from his class that was shocking in both its depth and clarity, but also the way in which it was presented: Peter constantly danced between being a coffee business man, economist, agrarian, sandanista, politician, and perhaps most importantly, a coffee ambassador. The way he speaks and writes with both a confident authority and a hospitable humility is why I find Peter to be the most resonant voice in the specialty coffee industry. This really isn’t meant to bolster Peter’s ego, in fact, it comes as kind of a counter-argument to egos: with an ego in the coffee business you can get yourself into trouble really fast. Thinking you know everything about coffee, to me at least, is a red flag that you really know almost nothing about coffee.

A speaker like Peter, who happily gets in front of people and says, “theres a lot of information out there, and this is my experience. My experience gets me to these general beliefs but by no means will I say they are the hard and fast rule” actually helps change the perception of what coffee, and the specialty coffee business, is really all about. It’s a constant game of “it’s really simple, and at the same time it’s very, very complicated.” And to have someone articulate that point clearly, without losing his audience, is something we need more desperately in the industry than I think we even realize.

Something that’s so special about the way Peter teaches people is that he will engage with everyone that is around him, he doesn’t pick and choose his favorite students, he is the epitome of a “there are no bad questions” kind of guy. I’d seen it in small doses with him before, with people asking him about griding coffee, or even in one of my first questions that I asked Peter about a fermentation tank experiment he was working on (which probably wasn’t the first question he expected out of a relatively young barista).

So that said, I think that everyone gets that Peter is one of my favorite coffee people in the industry. If you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak or attend his courses, take it. No matter how much you know about coffee, you will learn something new.

pourover bar makin' a drink
Phil & Kim make cups of coffee in Easton. Ellie waves as David Latourell makes a small cup of coffee (espresso).

Then, I hopped on a bus and headed to Easton PA on Tuesday for the Barista Jam and to visit with my friend Ellie from Coffee Solutions. As a bonus, I got even more great education. Mark Inman gave a great talk about the crucial importance of independent small businesses and businesses at the regional level. Ellie gave a really simple talk about the 12 steps of espresso extraction, which turned into a fun exercise and a spirited debate. You can also read my tweets from other talks. And maybe my brain was just really open because of Peter’s class on Monday, but I was once again inspired to keep up my work, and hope that my courses and events hold a candle to these other great educators in the industry.

Most importantly, it’s finally really squarely hit me on the head that we are not competitors – not by a long shot – there is just too much bad coffee and bad information about coffee out there to worry about other people in the specialty industry. We are all fighting the good fight, and the more we get along and provide a collective voice, the more we will all succeed.

Ah, but more on that later, as I tackle specialty coffee and the press.


~ by Anne on June 29, 2009.

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