I recently was checking my coffee news on Sprudge.com (The Pitchfork of the Coffee World) and came upon an article from the blog “God Shot” titled On False Equivalencies (or How Hipsters Are Ruining Coffee). An article about hipsters and their judgmental scoff about coffee? Well this should be interesting…
For any of you that know me I have had a love/hate relationship with the idea of “hipsters.” As part of that awkward post Mtv Generation/Pre-Millennial age group I really have never identified with the hipster-dom that has taken over the twenty-somethings of today. In fact, I would even venture farther into stating that I truly don’t understand the widespread popularity of the deconstructionist movement that coincides with the hipster ideology. Everything has to be enjoyed by you first. You must be the early adopter, the pathfinder, so says the hipster. If you can’t find something first, you must enjoy it ironically and even then you must enjoy it so much that other people will find it hard to resist because they believe you are part of something that they don’t know about. But, even whilst you are consuming all of these new goods, these new trends, you have to constantly criticize and deconstruct the good qualities about it to somehow place yourself on a pedestal above other people. You know, because you were into it before whatever it is got big. It has become so cliche to become a hipster that even hipsters themselves see the word as a false symbol acknowledging the fact that the movement has done nothing for growth. Just constantly props innovation up only to bring it crashing down.
So what does this mean for coffee? Well, according to the article on God Shot, the hipster movement has been an impediment on the growth of GOOD coffee. Good Coffee is defined in many circles as a quality focused experience that includes education, customer service, and quality standards from crop to cup (I prefer crop to person because the coffee industry is about people via coffee). The idea is that coffee is a profession that should be respected on the same level of any other vocational trade or craftsmen. In the article, the author of God Shot goes on to argue that coffee is seeing it’s all time high and acceptance in the main stream consumer market, but it is not because of the coffee. It is because of the branding and “authenticity” marketing used to attract the Hipster movement. Hipsters, by definition, are early adopters and along with their avid use of social media can actually dictate trends and what will become “popular.” How they earned this power or who gave them this influence will be a question for some other sociologist, but for us let’s just say that it has been detrimental to the coffee industries growth. As the article states:
Because hipsters are so vulnerable to being marketed to with either authenticity based messaging (or cynical “faux-thenticity”messaging in many cases), we are seeing decision-making around coffee based not upon coffee, but upon marketing – while being presented as being about coffee…In addition, because hipsters are (inherently) opposed to anything that attracts non-hipsters, they tend to reject the things they love once uncool people adopt them. This trend creating / destroying behavior is deeply frustrating as it’s not based on anything the coffee companies do (coffee quality, customer experience, etc) but is instead effectively a form of punishing success.
As he points out in the article, coffee companies like Blue Bottle Coffee and Intelligentsia, both very famous coffee companies, were given this popularity due to their branding as “authentic” but as they grew and started to market to the Hipster demographic, many people, myself included feel like they have lacked on their customer service in favor of being the cool new “it” thing. And in doing so, many authentic shops focused on good customer service and creating a quality drink are seen as rip offs of the “real thing.” But what is the real thing? The building up only to deconstruct cycle of hipsterdom has detracted us from the enjoyment of coffee and businesses that have tried to reign in that authentic coffee experience are lost and many shops have to question authenticity with integrity. I feel that those two thing should not be mutually exclusive.
The article really sparked my interest in the hipster movement as it relates to coffee. Many times I have wrote on my blog about the hipster/pretentious trap my fellow colleagues and I have fallen into. It is so easy to become frustrated that your work is not appreciated by the “uncool” masses but I think that the hipster movement deeming whether you are cool or uncool is even worse. It’s worse because the hipsters are being misled by branding and marketing. Instead of focusing in quality it becomes another marketing game focused on who has the more ironic mustaches on their logo. It’s really scary because the hipster movement really sets itself up to be a victim to consumerism in the worst way possible. They build a society built on consumerism and who can make something the coolest but by trying to be “ironic” about what is cool they are victims of marketing. The brand is more important than the experience or the product. When the brand becomes the focus, than the people are taken out of the equation and it becomes a numbers game that all too often either fails or sacrifices quality. A real shame and a vicious cycle of impending pretentious doom.
Where does that leave all of us who are working? Do we cater to the masses of ironic judges of cool or do we persevere and maintain our integrity hoping that coffee eventually brings it’s focus back to the personable relationship between people and the bean? Only time can tell. But I think that coffee has a really good chance of being sincere and genuine and both hip and non-hip can enjoy together in piece. It just takes people like the God Shot and the readers of this blog to recognize the absurdity of Hipster judgement. Instead of comparing something to what we have been ingrained to perceive as “hip” why don’t we take the time to appreciate the individuality that comes from that something. Sure this coffee shop may not be Blue Bottle, but that shouldn’t matter when everyone does something a little differently and the coffee at the end of the day tastes good.