(photos by Kyle Glanville)
I take my coffee pretty seriously. So the idea of some of the most respected names in the coffee business—who, under normal circumstances, consider one another competition—coming together to work towards a common goal is very interesting to me. As a consumer I'm always trying to get my hands on really delicious coffee. As an enthusiast, I'm constantly annoying my local baristas with questions. As an advocate—well, my advocacy work to date has consisted mostly of caffeinated rants to friends. But a few months ago, the opportunity to explore that a little deeper presented itself.
In December, my friend Stephen Morrissey, who works at Intelligentsia, called with a crazy idea. In 2010, they provided coffee services for the TED conference in hopes of spreading the word about really good coffee. Stephen also happened to be the 2008 world barista champ; he knows about really good coffee. His idea for this year: rather than just serving coffee, the goal would be education. Rather than employees of a single company, the bars would be staffed by some of the best baristas in the business from all around the world. Rather than beans from one roaster, various skilled and talented roasters would be contributing the best they had to offer. This wouldn't be advertising for a single company, it would be advertising for coffee itself. But does anyone really need to learn about something as ubiquitous as coffee? And would something this weird even be possible? Turns out the short answer to both questions is yes.
In fact, the whole reason something this weird needs to exist is to help with that education. It's worth noting that coffee—at just about every level, from farm to cup—is a mystery to most of the millions who consume it each day.
For example: coffee grows on a tree and is the product of a cherry. Each cherry yields two "beans", the seed of the fruit. For the best farms, each tree, spaced meters apart, will yield only a pound of roasted, defect-free and delicious coffee. After the coffee is planted and matures, it endures a vast and complex chain of custody during which any weak link can destroy all the intrinsic qualities the coffee has to offer. Only the smallest fraction of coffee grown on the planet can be considered "specialty quality," and few people have the pleasure of ever tasting it.
But that's just scratching the surface. We're hoping to dig in much deeper. Who's we? When Stephen first told me about this crazy idea, he also explained that he was pulling together an all-star team, inlcuding Kyle Glanville, Brent Fortune and Peter Giuliano— all with the shared goal of producing an amazing coffee experience for TED 2011.
And all would be associated not with any single coffee company, but rather the top names in the business all working together to show off not just how amazing coffee could actually be, and why it's important for people to know what happens with it before it reaches their cup. At the TED event, yes, but also well beyond after that to broader audiences.
We knew what we wanted to do, but not what we wanted to call it. Coincidentally, Alex had just announced the launch of Common, a new collaborative brand that would be rethinking capitalism and injecting some social responsibility. This made way too much sense, and almost immediately Coffee Common was born.
For the few of you readers who will be attending TED in person, some of the top baristas in the world will be on hand to expertly prepare one of the following:
Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters: Abangakurushwa, Rwanda
Counter Culture Coffee: Buziraguhindwa, Burundi
Stumptown Coffee Roasters: Loja, Ecuador
Madcap Coffee: Los Lobos, Costa Rica
Terroir Coffee: Mamuto, Kenya
Ritual Coffee Roasters: La Orquidea, Colombia
Square Mile Coffee: Villa Loyola, Colombia
Has Bean Coffee: Finca Machacamarca De Berengula, Bolivia
For everyone else, we're going to be putting up a ton of information, photos and videos, on the site over the coming days, as well as after TED.
We're looking at this as the first of many awesome steps Common Coffee will be taking. I'll be guest-blogging about it here from time to time as well.
We've got some amazing stuff planned. I am confident that we're about to change everything you think you know about coffee. For the better. It's going to be awesome.
(photos by Kyle Glanville)