The following missive was sent by me to my friends Paul Katzeff, and Dan Cox, two gentlemen of coffee who were present at the birth of Specialty Coffee Association of America, have served multiple terms as the association’s president and have both been honored as Lifetime Achievement laureates by the trade. An interesting thing about our 35 year friendship is that we have rarely all agreed with each other on things coffee. We now share a stronger bond. We share the bond of a common youth in coffee.
Dear Over-the-Hill Gang,
It appears that SCAA is in the process of deciding if we should merge with Specialty Coffee Association of Europe. It may also be so that the decision has already been made.
SCAE is a child of SCAA, born of our success, and the impact that the American specialty movement, personified by SCAA, had on the global stage. Specialty Coffee Association of Europe , from its earliest days, has had a close relationship with SCAA. If we are to have a partner, there is none I would choose before SCAE.
As the great roasting center, and consumer of specialty coffee the United States and its specialty coffee association has been an inspiration, and provided encouragement, and support to others birthing specialty coffee associations around the world, including outposts in Brazil, Bolivia, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Honduras, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, and Panama. Each of these associations , and the many producing countries who belong to regional associations as East Africa Fine Coffee Association, and AustralAsia Specialty Coffee Association all look to SCAA as the world leader in specialty coffee education, networking, and promotion. Before any of the rest of it, SCAA was always about the coffee, and about the coffee people who made the coffee; at origin, in the roasting plant and retail shop, and at home.
From the first I have believed that our trade group was all about the membership and their coffee, and the consumer and her coffee. Nothing is more important for the association than serving the consumer by building a coffee community serving and supporting small roasters, and independent retailers. My thoughts turn to the membership now, as the association leadership contemplates moving the American coffee soul, that created the world specialty coffee movement, and its first trade association spiritually out into the Atlantic. It is a grand vision, but I am confused by the geography. I thought in search of a better world everyone always sailed West, or did Cabot, Ericson, Columbus, and the Pilgrims all get it all wrong?
It is one thing to continue to extend our good influence, and our educational reach, as a model and a partner in education and special projects. It is something else to give up our American identity and join a one-world coffee movement. It may turn out splendidly for our members, but it may not.
I will share my further thoughts with you as I reason out the potential impact of a merger on service to the hundreds of small independent US roasters and roaster retailers, who are the backbone of our trade, and who may feel left out, and left behind as the association moves onto a global stage and away from the ability to give close support to its US and Canadian members who have poured their heart into their family businesses, and have been told over and over again that SCAA was their organization created by and for the little guy in coffee in North America. It’s tough to serve the little guy, the fellow roasting coffee in his neighborhood for a faithful clientele, when you are a global presence. I am reminded that in 1960, the world-wide beverage giant Coca Cola was asked what plans they had to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Civil War. Coke said, they had none as it was only an event in one market.
There will be unintended consequences. Here is one that comes to mind; After 34 years, there will be only one national trade association who can claim to speak for America’s roasters. It will not be SCAA.
The strength, and glory of SCAA has always been its focus on the people who toil every day in the “vineyard of good coffee”, holding their heads up high as they strive to beat their personal best cup, and meet their personal coffee economic and social goals. If SCAA and SCAE merge how much of that uniquely American coffee soul that created and made SCAA will be forfeit to a “greater good”. The brave new world we are entering may, prove to be less an opportunity for individual entrepreneurship, critical coffee thinking, and personal initiative than it is something out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
I hope this missive makes you reflect on your own lives in coffee, about those who are following in our footsteps, about the trade and its association which we helped to birth, and grow , and what role SCAA should play in the future of coffee. It is my hope that your good minds will jump-start a wider discussion, through the Past Presidents, Lifetime Achievers, and interested and committed coffee friends. If a consensus emerges perhaps we can take our ideas to the SCAA leadership widening the range of educated voices than they might otherwise have heard, helping them to move forward or back off of what appears at this point to me to be both an exciting and frightening course.
My personal best to each of you, and your families, for the coming Thanksgiving holiday.
Additional Note #1
On Tuesday November 4th I had a conversation with SCAA President, Tracy Allen. It was the first time we had spoken privately together, and I found him warm, interested, and open minded. I shared some historical context, and my personal concerns about the direction in which SCAA appeared to be moving. He assured me that no resolve other than an exploration of the possibilities had been authorized to date, and that no decisions to move forward with a merger have been made. He offered that an independent agency’s feasibility report was only to be presented to the SCAA leadership in December. I suggested that, for added perspective, a presidential commission made up of folks who have skin in the specialty coffee game as Past Presidents, and Lifetime Achievement Laureates be commissioned to also study the idea of merger VS staying independent, and that their views (made in a written report presented to the membership) be given significant weight in the decision making process. Tracy plans to visit New York in the coming months, and we agreed to meet when he next comes in. –dns
Additional Note #2
On Friday November 6th I spoke to Dan Cox, who added to the discussion his conviction (it did not take him more than 1 minute to convince me too) that any decision about merger should be made by a vote of the entire membership and not just a vote of the executive committee or the Board. -dns