Just like in any industry, people can take things pretty far in the coffee world. It can all seem a little silly when we think about the fact that we are just talking about a drink. Is it really necessary to be concerned about water temperature, brewing ratios, and all the other stuff that coffee lovers geek out on?
Well, yes — if you want to produce a good cup, that is. But dive into the coffee world, and things can get really geeky really fast. We're not just talking water temperature; we're talking analyzing mineral quality of water to optimize for the best cup.
This all begs another question: When it comes to coffee, how geeky is too geeky?
I would argue that the level of geekiness doesn't actually matter at all. What does matter is respect for the product. Coffee is, after all, an everyday product that so many of us are used to as part of our regular routine, that we might not even give it that much thought. But factoring in the amount of work it takes to get coffee from bean to cup, it actually should be a luxury product.
How many of us really know where our coffee comes from? Sure, we recognize the name of the country on the label, but how much do we know beyond that? Photographer Steve McCurry's new book, From These Hands, is a beautiful visual story that tells where our coffee comes from and who makes it. The book is all about better understanding our coffee, which in turn will lead to having more respect for it.
If coffee grew in abundance right next door, it would be one thing — maybe we wouldn't be justified in being so geeky about it — but it doesn't. It grows far away from most of us, and the people who produce it are often paid very little. If so many people are required to grow, process, export, import, and roast coffee, do you really deserve to put butter in it, completely ruining its natural taste and complexities?
People get geeky about coffee because it's an amazing product that takes a lot of time, energy, and love to produce. Underneath the geekiness is a respect for not just the product, but the entire process. Good coffee doesn't just taste good, it's a way to pay people a fairer wage, to ensure better agricultural practices, and create more sustainable communities and landscapes. That's why when people refuse coffee in coffee pods, at a fast food chain, or doused in sugar and a gallon of milk, they aren't being snobbish or geeky, they are understanding that what they consume has an impact.
All of this doesn't excuse the kind of snobbish behavior that the specialty coffee industry can sometimes be accused of. In fact, this very thing is what makes educating and having conversations with customers all the more important. If someone is going to be geeky, they should be able to tell you why. Geekiness for geekiness' sake doesn't serve anyone in the long run.
Peter Giuliano, a well-respected man within the specialty coffee industry, recently posted the following on Twitter:
To a barista, the customer is always right, except when they pour coffee in the trash can by the condiment bar to make room for cream. — Peter Giuliano (@PeterGiuliano) July 29, 2015
I laughed when I read that. If a barista has carefully brewed you a cup of coffee and you pour some out into the trash to make room for cream, well ... just be ready for whatever reaction you get. Because all you are doing is pouring the hard work of a lot of people straight into the trash.
And that's just downright disrespectful.