February 28th to March 4th I participated in the inaugural banding of a group of people in the specialty coffee industry under the guise, “Coffee Common” down in Long Beach, California at the wonderful TED talks.
For those of you who don’t know what TED is it’s an acronym that stands for “Technology Entertainment Design” and their motto is “Ideas worth spreading”. TED talks are free to watch online and they will easily inspire you with some of the greatest 18 minute presentations you’ll ever watch. Or at least that’s the goal. You can watch the talks and learn more about it by clicking here.
A number of baristas were invited down to participate in the “Coffee Common” from all different areas of the industry and world. You can find out more about the “Common” brand here, but the general idea is to group and gather people and businesses that would normally be considered competitors together for a common goal, that is beneficial for all parties involved. It can be applied to anything, not just coffee.
The mission for those of us in the coffee common was to expose the attendees of TED to what coffee is, and what it can be.
The menu was very simple and small (in all senses of the word): Drip Coffee (via V60, 6oz cups). Espresso. Macchiato. Cappuccino (6oz). Whole milk or soy. Coffees were provided by 8 different roasters and were rotated through multiple times a day based on a schedule that coincided with the beginnings and endings of the presentation sessions.
Because it was a conference, the work flow would range from very non-chalant and personable moments, where you might find yourself with double digit minutes of no drinks to make, over to extremely intense onslaughts of people flooding the bars, before and after the sessions. In most cases you were paired with a partner and stationed at one of the 6 bars where one of you would be on shots, the other on milk. Each bar but one had at least one espresso machine, with V60 pour over stations on the 2 main bars, as well as one bar dedicated solely to “alternative brew methods” such as Syphon, Aeropress, Kone, French Press and so on.
Throughout the course of the week I worked with 5 different people, and of those 5 I had never worked with 4 of them before the week began. It was very interesting for me was seeing how different, some more obvious than others, each barista I worked with did certain things. From dialing in and profiling the shots they were serving, to how clean they kept their bar, their capacity for talking and working at the same time, how good they could get the message across, and so on. An interesting thing to do was to make your way around a the different bars and see all the different interpretations of the coffee being served – it was inevitably a different experience at each bar depending on who made it.
The week was tough work. Talking to each person that you could and trying to share little details on the coffee you were serving was exhausting — there is no denying that. And especially the first couple days when people didn’t really know what we were doing and were more excited just to be at TED than they were to be drinking coffee (and understandably so) it almost seemed a little hopeless. But gradually things changed. Some people began to “get” what we were doing there, that we weren’t just a normal catering service. Many started asking which coffee was being served, and being able to recall favorites. Many compliments and “thank yous” were given.
So was it a success?
Yes. I think so. I hope so!
I like to think that the next time these people are drinking coffee they will have their TED experience in the back of their minds, and maybe some of them will seek it again.
And while I of course can’t speak for anyone at TED personally as I’m not them I do feel that just the idea of a “Coffee Common” and the execution of it was an inspiration to everyone involved, and that maybe some of that inspiration trickled through to many of those following alongside us through blogs or through coffeecommon-hashtagged-tweets and retweets. What that hopefully has begun to lead to (and will continue to do so) is more awareness among ourselves not only on what we are drinking, but what we are capable of doing for coffee, not just at events and conferences like this, but over our own counters for our own customers in our everyday jobs and lives. And when we realize that and embrace it, things can really start happening.
It’s certainly had this affect on me.
Stephen Morrissey, Kyle Glanville, Tim Styles, Brent Fortune, Sean Bonner and Peter Giuliano all deserve huge credit for putting together what they did. Just the front end things that I saw them doing tirelessly for 12+ hours each day would have been hard enough, and I’m positive that there was much more going on in the background that they had to deal with that none of us saw. Thank you thank you thank you. Intelligentsia were also amazingly gracious hosts, both upon my arrival in L.A. at the Venice location and then the wrap up dinner party at their Pasadena location. The food was delicious and all the staff so very hospitable. Sean Bonner I’m sure other people were involved in this, like sponsors and the roasters and designers and other coffee drinkers, so to all you invisible people and unsung heroes that also helped make it all happen, thanks thanks thanks!
You can see all the pictures and some videos and find out everything you could possibly want to know about the Coffee Common by clicking here.