“I love coffee. It’s a way of meeting people, seeing people, talking to people.” -James Freeman.
A few weeks ago, my good friend Aaron at Everyday Joe’s sent me an article about Blue Bottle’s new coffee book being released The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee Book. Although it is not the most original title for a book, it is certainly an interesting read. The book is essentially a dialogue about the ritual of making coffee. They want you to learn how to enjoy the process and the rewards of the brewing process. You know, drink something delicious. The book goes step by step through the roasting process, tasting/evaluating, and finally brewing techniques to allow you to become fully encompassed in process of making a cup of coffee. Personally for me, I think that the book sounds like a great idea. Not only do you get to see the insides of the coffee process but you get to understand a little more the philosophy that us in the coffee industry want to share with you. That coffee is about the people and about appreciating a crafted drink.
To promote the video, Blue Bottle Coffee decided to release this video:
Not that bad right? Kind of enticing right?
Well, right after the video was released, Grub Street editor Josh Ozersky released a very critical tirade calling owner and co-author of the book James Freeman a “Mellow Weenie Cofffee snob with Architect glasses.”
In fact, he later goes on in his article and states:
When I watch the Blue Bottle video, I see whole urban-mandarin world in which I live in broad burlesque. There is the insufferably pretentious soundtrack, which moves seamlessly (or so it thinks) from Bach to some indie band that is never identified but which, no doubt, works as a cultural dog whistle for those in the know about such matters. Who is this coffee cognoscenti? How they act, and what they look like, can be inferred from the video; Freeman is a mellow weenie in architect glasses, the very image of a coffee snob.
The whole article insinuates that coffee people are very snobby, pretentious, and are so self involved that they feel this insatiable urge to constantly prove their superiority in the realm of coffee and life.
When I watched the video I was a little disappointed because instead of just watching it and making my own opinion I read this article and immediately felt myself siding with Ozersky. I agree with his opinion that the video conveys a sense of pretentiousness and tries to prove it’s mettle.
Watching the Blue Bottle promotional video, it reminded me of the video that I saw for Handsome coffee and there collaboration with Woodsmithe on building their new flagship coffeeshop location.
Instead of feeling dissuaded like I did with Blue Bottle, I was anticipating the opening of the new location. I wanted to sit down and learn more about their dedication to the craft industry.
That got me thinking. Both Coffee companys are fairly reputable in the coffee world. Blue Bottle is well established as a great pursuer of third wave coffee and Handsome has become one of my favorite roasters offering selections of coffee that are very light roasted and highly flavorful. They both have slightly hipster like people in the video with a lot of skinny jean and pomade action. And they both are in coffee, a similar industry as me! But why is it that I dislike one and am attracted to the other.
I think it comes down to the friction that the third wave of craft coffee has created. (For a quick recap, the Third wave of craft coffee is the pursuing of higher quality coffee standards from farm to cup. It is the push of quality craftmanship and highlighting specific coffee regions and flavors. It’s a lot more complicated but I am in no way an authority on the subject.) The Blue Bottle Coffee Book is really a highlight of what the company does well. It makes a good cup of coffee. The video portrays it as that they make the best cup of coffee so you should make it that way too. Hopefully reading how Blue Bottle does it, it will make it easier to make craft coffee at home.
That is fine and dandy, but Freeman in the video is very aloof and almost non-invested in the story of his company. He states that coffee is for people, but at the end when his wife puts the coffee ritual into a succinct summary, he looks away and gives her an offhanded compliment. That right there is exactly what frustrates me about craft coffee. All of the stuff being stated has to be Freeman’s idea and him giving those ideas to you to build off of. It is the way that some people approach you. “I want to tell you about coffee and why I think it is good and you will listen and not question what I say. But at the end of the day it is about the people as long as you listen to me.”
I can openly complain about that because I all the time fall into this trope of feeling this need to spout my information because I am right, it is wrong and shameful, yes, but it happens. Coffee people are the most insecure people in the world. We have taken something that your dad has been doing every morning since he was a child working in the factory and have tried to make it a legitimate career path. Everyday we feel like we need to prove ourselves and legitimacy. So it becomes less about making something for someone and enjoying a moment with a person by sharing our craft and more about “I demand respect.” Instead of respecting the craft for what it can give a person (a satisfying cup of coffee) we expect it to be more than that. But instead of opening up our world and creating a dialogue, we push people away by trying to forcing them to adhere to our coffee standards and belief.
The conversation about craft, the focus on the people gets lost in our insecurity and you feel that in the Blue Bottle video. Although people and opening up a conversation with them comes up in the video a multitude of times, it feels shallow and it’s not something Mr. Freeman truly believes. Although, from my personal experience, he BELIEVES WITH HIS WHOLE HEART IT’S FOR THE PEOPLE. Unfortunately, it comes out completely wrong and well…a little pretentious.
What I like about the Handsome video is that the video is centered around collaboration and details. That craft, in any form, is the ability to pay attention to the details, whether that be branding, the brew method, or even the architecture of their shop, there needs to be a strong focus on each step. Not only does there need to be those standards adhered to, but there also has to be an open dialogue for everyone to come into their own understanding of the importance of craft coffee. I like that in the Handsome video Tyler Wells points out their whole business changed with the collaboration with Woodsmithe. He did not force Woodsmithe to do what he wanted, he simply allowed for them to learn from each other. To figure out a direction and work on creating a mutual understanding and appreciation for the craft.
In the coffee industry, one of the hardest lessons that I am learning is that the coffee you are brewing, your adherence to third wave standards and pretentiousness aren’t whats important. It’s the people, your customers, that are the most important. You want them to feel comfortable and want them to walk away respecting the passion you have for what you do rather than making them feel like you are way out of their league when it comes to coffee. Because no matter what stance you take, pretentious or not, at the end of the day you are making a cup of coffee. But what separates you from a mr. Coffee is that you love what you do and want the people around you to love it too.