Who is our Alice Waters?

I remember back when I was first starting out as a cook hearing people dismiss the idea of a restaurant that did not have a fixed menu. "That will never work, people want to know what they're going to get," all the experts said. Restaurants like Du Marche in New York were scoffed at. The idea of a limited menu that changed every day that was based purely upon what was best and freshest of the local products on that one day... they all said it would never fly. Tasting menus... the pundits all claimed people required choice - the required control. "Customers want comfort in their food - they want to order the Chicken Diane with the side of spinach every Thursday night."

But some brave souls ignored the experts. And as a result, food as cuisine (as opposed to food as sustenance) took root in the US.

These same experts are now claiming the same things about coffee. "Consistency is the most important attribute in coffee," they say. "People want comfort in their coffee." These are ideas borrowed from the worlds of traditional retail and from fast food -- from commodity based markets. They are conservative worlds and conservative models - where quality is less important than product brand, where volume is the goal and the workforce is one step up from slave-labor (and in some cases may well be slave labor).

For the Starbucks of the world - this advice is both valid and valuable. Starbucks, after all, is fast food. But for the true specialty coffee companies and more so for the artisan coffee companies this advice is not only incorrect - it is destructive and damaging. It is fundamentally the wrong model. Those companies are not in the commodity business, they are not in the fast food business and they are not in the traditional retail business. They are in the culinary business.

The minute some brave souls take the risk, ignore the advice of all these experts, we will see our first American Place, our first Du Marche, our first Chez Panisse. And some of those brave souls will reap the rewards.

It takes a huge amount of passion, courage and vision to take a risk like this. But I truly believe that someone is going to do it. I truly believe that we will see businesses like this emerge - where coffee takes center stage - in all its idiosyncratic and ever-changing glory - and where it is celebrated as it deserves. I truly believe that this is where we will, finally, see the mighty $5 cappuccino.

And when it happens, you will see me there - standing at the bar drinking a $3 shot of the espresso of the day with a big huge smile on my face.

So... who has balls big enough? Is it you?

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