SCAA Moving Forward

In light of the recent discoveries at the SCAA, I think we need to start thinking about the future of the organization more seriously.

It seems as if the current issues are being addressed by the SCAA.

But getting through this current crisis is only the beginning. For the organization to survive long-term, a plan needs to be developed and actions taken to both restructure the organization and address the concerns of the membership.

First - I would strongly suggest that the SCAA bring in an external consultant to help restructure the organization and put in place best practices governance policies, procedures and structures. The organization truly needs this right now. Not only given the recent events -but also given the severe PR and trust hit the organization and the leadership of the organization have taken and will continue to take. The damage is far more likely to be significant at this level than at any (long-term) financial problems. This damage, if not carefully managed, could actually destroy the organization. Bringing in external assistance to help with this, and announcing not only that this person has been retained, but what they've been retained to do is going to go a long way towards easing tensions and preventing further damage.

At the risk of jumping the gun on this person's advice, I would tend to also suggest some changes in the organization.

First - move to a two board structure. The actual board would have to be not only free of any real conflict of interests but free even of the perception of conflict of interest. The advisory board could have people who were industry insiders on it, who would thus have a perceived conflict of interest. The advisory board would primarily function as a funnel for lobbying efforts, but would not have any vote. The true board would provide oversight and governance.

Second - The new executive director (or CEO) should not come from within the SCAA and should not come from within coffee, but instead should be brought in from a large, stable and successful industry non-profit. I would suggest looking for someone who had managed the stabilization of a large non-profit that had been experiencing significant membership churn and which had been traditionally weak in the areas of PR and Marketing.

Third - Move the SCAA from Long Beach to somewhere more likely to encourage on-site board and member involvement.

Fourth - Need to focus on building a long-term endowment for the organization.

Fifth - Obviously, need to rework the financial oversight. Suggest the obvious (yearly audits, total financial transparency to both the board and to members).

I truly believe that this can turn out to be a long-term positive event for the organization. I think many people have had problems with the organization. In particular, there has been terrible membership churn, there is a perceived sense of stagnation in the organization and there has been a noticable lack of transparency in the operations of the organization.

With luck, this could turn out to be the catalyst needed to move the SCAA into the 21st century.


SCAA Scandal

This was posted on another site, so I guess it's public now...

"Following the resignation and departure of the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) Chief Operating Officer on September 12th, a serious cash shortage was revealed. An immediate investigation by SCAA’s Executive Director uncovered serious accounting irregularities and a loss of SCAA’s cash reserves.

The association has reported this situation to the appropriate authorities, including insurers and the police. A formal investigation has been initiated and is ongoing.

The SCAA President, Secretary/Treasurer and Legal Counsel were immediately advised of the situation when it was discovered. They first informed the Executive Committee and then the entire Board of Directors. Following notification, the Board took the following actions: they 1) reported the nature, scope, and seriousness of the problem to the 125+ Committee members participating in the previously scheduled annual planning meeting; 2) restricted check signing authority to the Executive Director and Secretary/Treasurer of the Board of Directors; and 3) developed an action plan through the Committee structure to resolve the current cash crisis.

The elements of the plan for moving the association out of the crisis are three-fold. First, the SCAA has created a membership endowment fund to cover the association’s short-term loss of working capital. Second, it is continuing the normal conference planning process so that the SCAA’s Charlotte conference and exhibition is just as successful as the previous 17 events. Third, it is streamlining headquarters activities to operate within the current limits of available resources from membership dues.

The combined goodwill and determined efforts of the SCAA board of directors, staff, volunteers, members and business partners will ensure the timely and effective resolution of this situation. SCAA remains committed to its membership and is dedicated to ensuring the specialty coffee industry remains viable and strong . Rick Peyser, President of the SCAA Board of Directors, said, “The SCAA will continue to be the leading source of information and services for the rapidly growing specialty coffee community. We are moving forward with Executive Director Ted Lingle to achieve the plans we have developed and are looking forward to an outstanding annual conference that will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina April 7-10, 2006.”

The SCAA board will keep all association stakeholders informed regarding the current status of the situation and the full outcome of the investigation."

Needless to say, this is shocking and terrible.
At the same time, it was somewhat inevitable given the incredibly poor governance, cultural acceptance of "petty corruption", lack of accountability and culture of secrecy that was (and is) the SCAA.

Time for a revolution.

Official notice.

A blast from the past

I figure the timing might be interesting.
The following was first posted as a part of a larger piece here back in May of this year.
So here we go...

As a warning, I am 100% confident that I’m going to manage to piss off a lot of you at some point in this. Please understand that what I’m writing here is not only just my own opinion on things but that it’s entirely not personal and not directed at any person or people.

Specialty Coffee in the US – thoughts on the community, the people and the structures.

So we need to shake things up. How?

Well… the SCAA needs to change (first and foremost). I have a ton of respect for the employees of the SCAA. Folks like Michelle Campbell are the life’s blood of this industry. But the current governance, board and committee setup is severely broken. To a large degree it seems to be geared around protecting existing power bases and reputations and egos – around supporting and abetting conflicts of interest… in other words, it is your traditional profoundly corrupt political organization. There are some people involved who are trying to change things – there are some good politicians. But they are the exception.

As a result of the corruption and political nature of the organization, you see things like the institutionalized lack of interest in communication with and education of the consumer base. You see things like the pandering to certain vendors and the undue influence of certain vendors and organizations. You see stagnation in programs and offerings. You see an organization that is not leading the industry, but rather trailing the industry (and in the cases of the quality focused coffee companies, doing so rather severely).

These are all bad. And they are all a profound failure of the mission of an organization like the SCAA.

Given this, we really need to see not just a change in personnel at a governance level but also some structural and procedural changes as well.

I had some hope with the recent elections, but even that was (honestly) a long-term and incremental change that was unlikely to solve anything in the immediate future. Now that the results have come out, it is clear that nothing is going to change in the near future. As one person said, “the trouble with the old guard is that they all vote.” So now what do we do? People have to change. It didn’t happen in the election so I guess it’s going to have to happen in a bit less orderly of a manner.

When it comes to structure and procedures, we really need far more transparency and far more accountability. There is a Kremlin-esque quality to the SCAA that is really disturbing to me. The people working in this industry tend to have no idea what the SCAA committees and boards are doing, what the goals are – and there is little or no accountability when it comes to results. This then creeps out throughout the industry and infects all other organizations. As a result, the USBC ends up being incredibly secretive, political and insular. I’m afraid we could even end up seeing the same thing happening to the BGA.

Reading back through this I realize I sound very angry. And that isn’t quite true. I’m frustrated. I feel like there is so much potential in this industry and so much energy and passion in the people in the industry. But I feel like the organizations and structures that are in place to support, promote and represent us are failing to help us all get where we need and are instead creating a junior high school sideshow drama that is getting close to the point where quality focused companies have no choice but to simply jump ship.

Honestly – given the caliber of people in this industry – we deserve better.


Espresso "reviews"

As many are aware, I have always had some major issues with espresso "reviews" as both a concept and as a practice.

First and foremost... too many "reviews" are conducted without truly skilled baristas involved. This, of course, is akin to "reviewing" espresso using a Ouiji Board.

Secondly... the vast majority of "reviews" seem to assume that there is one generalized brew temp, brew pressure, dose and extraction volume/time that works for all espressos.

Third... almost all "reviews" are not adaptive and iterative. I.e. the "reviewers" do not provide feedback to the "barista" to help them tune the espresso extraction parameters to get the best our of a coffee.

Fourth... there seems to be no appreciation for the importance of the machine/grinder choice, cleaning and servicing.

The above has, by now, resulted in my suggesting to any and all roasters that they not provide espressos for review. It's simply a crap shoot - and the damage that can be done to your brand and your business is significant. It's not worth the risk in my opinion.

This has recently become demonstrated to me by a couple interactions and experiences.

First - I had a moment of hope last week where I honestly thought that we might see the first serious and respectful treatment of coffee and espresso in a mass market publication. All the signs were looking good. And then I found out how the espresso "tasting" was going to be done.... depressing.

Second - one of the best coffee cuppers out there (and someone I really respect) reviewing espressos and pulling all shots with a dose of 14 grams and an extraction time of "17-23 seconds." No indication of what the brew temp was. So... you get an espresso that is "thin bodied" and "sharp". Ummm... maybe you might want to up the dose to more like 18 grams? Maybe take the extraction time to 27 seconds? Or pull the shot ristretto? Maybe your brew temp is too high? Or you get another espresso that is "lean in body" with an "astringent finish." Again... perhaps your brew temp is off. Or your extraction time and volume is wrong (for this coffee). And... what a shock, the best reviewed coffees seem to all have an optimal combination of low dose, short extraction time and high brew temp.

Now this is why I suggest roasters not provide espresso samples for review.

We need an independent espresso review and analysis and research lab.