Sunday, April 30, 2006

Looking at the concept of origin

I've been going over the great FT discussion going on at green LA girl and I've been reflecting on the idea of 'origin' as it relates to the coffee industry.

It has been wonderful to see the birth(rebirth?) of coffee focusing on origins. The explosion of interest in drinking coffees from specific places has done wonders for the current ethos of specialty coffee. Drinking a coffee from a certain place that you can point directly at on a map, generates a connection that is difficult to describe but no less real. Through coffee we can truly 'taste the earth' from points all around the planet, each bringing their own unique characteristics and sensory experiences. There aren't many things that we experience day-to-day that can claim that kind of scope. It's pretty damn cool.

The recent (past couple of decades) recognition and celebration of these differences (diversity) of smells, tastes, and feelings has lead to some exciting advances in coffee 'at origin'. Folks like George Howell, Duane Sorensen, and Geoff Watts et al. cannot recieve enough credit here. The forward thinking of these individuals and
many others is starting to get a handle on the agronomic and economic connections to the cup. Realizing how much events (environmental, processing, storage, transport,etc.) at origin can affect the cup,I think, is a vital part of the 'decommodification' of coffee that is crucial to the industry's health.

All of this focus on origin has generated new concern for the folks at the other end of the coffee chain. Coffee people are always talking about 'trips to origin' 'single origin shots' and what-not. This kind of talk eventually leads people to thinking about the situation of the PEOPLE at 'origin'. The coffee world is slowly recognizing that the conditions (political, economic, social, environmental) in producing countries has a real, but sometimes difficult to quantify, relation to the coffee produced. This relationship can manifest itself in numerous ways... probably as many ways as there are producers themselves.

While it cannot be denied that social, environmental, and economic factors have played a huge role in turning our attention to 'origin' (OG/FT/SG), quality has also been a major driving force in this focus. The people mentioned above have begun to put energy into relationships at origin because they realize that they can ultimatly end up with a higher quality bean if all aspects of the relationship (econ, env, pol, soc) are nurtured. This quality in the cup is a part of the 'Total Quality' that is the result of the sum of all aspects of the relationship.

So, if this focus on the 'origin' of coffees is about (or at least related to) achieving 'Total Quality' and it is considerate of the multitude of factors that influence the result of the cup; what about the origins of the rest of the products of our industry/businesses? Everything we use has an origin. What is the origin of the sugar in your cafe? the tires on your delivery vehicle? the gas to fire your roaster? the components of your laptop? Every 'part', ingredient, has an origin and what happens at that origin affects your results... and your 'Total Quality'.

Obviously, you can parse every decision and find some 'unsustainable' factor. Nothing is pure and we can never expect there to be some holy COMPLETELY SUSTAINABLE coffee where every link in the chain is without exploit BUT that shouldn't affect our attempt to strive for the best and most (more) sustainable options.

I hope that the current focus on coffee 'origins' will also cause us to begin investigating the origins of all the things we use in our businesses/life and seek ways to improve the 'Total Quality' of what we do as an industry and as individuals.


Post a Comment

<< Home