6.02.2010

Thank you sir may I have another

Another day.... another chance to beat the snot out of mainstream media...

Today's contestant?
Esquire Magazine.

Actually.... let's be fair here... in this case Esquire is largely the patsy. They're the rube being taken advantage of by the smirking carnie. And that shifty half-assed conman? No other than everyone's favorite has-been coffee guy Todd Carmichael. In case you don't know (and believe me - the fact that you don't know is the big issue for Todd), Todd is the unbearably louche and jaded founder of La Colombe Torrefaction.

La Colombe was once the shit. Like a east coast Torrefazione Italia before Starbucks bought them. Back when everyone still believed that slavish mimicry of Italian traditions was the only possible way to create good coffee - true coffee. But time has passed La Colombe by. Unlike Torrefazione and Seattle's Best - they didn't sell out to Starbucks. And the new breed has left them behind. They're no longer cool. They're no longer the shit. Hell.... they're no longer even good. And Todd... bless his aging hipster little self... Todd is kinda bitter about this.

Todd's now written two "pieces" for Esquire. The first was snide and annoying and self-serving. The second is all that and also bitter and angry -- and wrong.

The problem is that Esquire is the publisher - and conning your publisher always creates problems. The goal of the publisher is NOT just to give you a soapbox. It's also there to make sure you don't make mistakes and don't step off the soapbox and fall off a cliff in the process. To illustrate, I'm going to do what Esquire should have done (if, of course, they hadn't just been your clueless mark).

Listen, the espresso machine was invented for a reason: to be "espress," a.k.a. fast (and, ironically, to replace the siphon and slow-brew.) Listen up, geeks: Drop the slow-brew renaissance and pick up the pace. We have work to get to.

First of all.... you're missing the point here. As mentioned above - time has moved on. As Starbucks has become ubiquitous folks like you (those who serve a quick pharmaceutical product for consumption on the way to work) have ceased to be the cutting edge. There is no point in competing with Starbucks for this market. The cutting edge has moved. You're no longer cool. Convenience espresso is now a commodity.

Beware the presence of the $17,000 coffee machine. It's a lot like the fad of the $100 hamburger: The beef may be good and the press may love it (at least for a day), but if you order it, someone in public relations will be laughing at you. No one was actually supposed to buy it.

An example of how one plays editor... "Todd... what are you trying to say here?" I mean - seriously. Are you saying that you can only get good coffee from cheap espresso machines? So... you spend a lot of time trying to come off like a bargain basement Tony Bourdain. You want to be treated like you're a chef - and spend energy implying that you've got the same sort of chops, approach and cred. So let me ask you a question.... do you think chefs don't care about their tools? Do you think chefs think spending lots of money on the "right" knives, the "right" stoves etc is "a fad?"

Beware the barista who goes techno-nerd on you when describing how he makes coffee: heat-surfing, pre-infusion profiling, tamp-dialing. Seriously, and how would you describe the act of opening a beer, liquid-load pressure breaching?

This is a great analogy - as it gives amazing insight into your mindset Todd. You are, in essence, comparing the skill required to make a good shot of espresso to the skill required to open a beer. A barista - to you - is completely unskilled labor.

I'm not going to defend some of the behavior of current baristas. I, too, rapidly tire of the near total lack of understanding of what a good customer experience is like. I'm bored and annoyed by the lack of professionalism and the record store clerk mentality.

But even the Italians understand that a great espresso is one part machine, one part coffee and one part barista. You've now dissed two out of the three parts. Are you going to go for the trifecta?

Super-geeks love to claim their coffee hails from single-origin Valhalla, unapproachable for any other roaster. Truth is, we live in the computer and commuter age; the world is tiny and coffee only comes from the small band around the middle. We all have access to the same beans.

Yes.... yes you are. So the machine doesn't matter (just a fad - buy something cheap). The barista doesn't matter (if you can use a bottle opener you can make espresso). And coffee is just a commodity that all of us have (and it's all the same). The trifecta. So much for respecting the Italian tradition there my boy.

But more importantly... now this is where you're showing your age there Todd.

Once upon a time, "we" did all have access to the same beans. We'd all call up Royal or Holland America and say "send me the offering sheet." That started really changing about 10 years ago now. At first, only a few smaller niche players were sourcing outside the spot and commodity markets and from outside the traditional exporters. Around 5 years ago - things really took off. Even the big guys started buying outside the markets - auctions become more and more common - and Direct Trade got big. Now - the whole coffee world is centered around the fact that we all do not have access to the same beans. Getting access, locking up sources and production... this is the new name of the game.

Todd... I'll put it bluntly. The coffees you have access are the coffees that everyone else has picked over and passed on. Your coffees are the ones that other roasters have said are not even good enough to put into the house blend.


You can call yourself a "neo-traditionalist" all you want (despite the fact that even a half-wit editor would call semantic bullshit all over you for this description).

Me? I just call you old and washed up.

11 comments:

ddarko said...

Word

Barista said...

On point....someday soon, I will get to speak my mind as well ;-)

sandeee said...

WHAT A WEASEL. You know why he had to cross South America alone? Cuz nobody likes his bald-headed bitch-ass. If I weren't such an effeminate barista (a symptom of updosing, for sure), and if I weren't so reluctant to enter the same room as a greaseball like Mr. Carmichael, I'd find him and shove his pre-ground dark roast down his wrinkly old throat.

sandeee said...

South America? I meant the South Pole.

Klaus Thomsen said...

Ahhh Chris, it's like you put my thoughts on paper. Just better.

I had to laugh out several times when I read it. I was surprised to learn at the end of the article that the author was actually someone who work in coffee, although many times throughout the piece he shows he knows some detalis (like temp-surfing and stuff). Of course one look at his company website reveals that this is just yet another bullshit story about keeping it real - Italian style.

The funny thing is that the whole Torrefazione-thing is just as much a fad or a trend as anything else. It just sort of died out 10 years ago.

Oh yeah, and what the hell does his crossing the South Pole have to do with his merit for writing about coffee?

jason dominy said...

Amen, Brother Chris.

JmC said...

damn chris, well-said. the piece didn't bother me too much until you clarified his arrogance and close-mindedness so well....

sandeee said...

Plus his coffee sucks anyway.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/nickcho/4647843823/

Charlie said...

Ugh, that dude's got Philly bitch slapped. Every one serves their shitty coffee, loves it, and is mostly, or was mostly, completely unwilling to try anything else. I mean it's the best, riiiiiiight? Totally gross. Where's the transparency? What am I drinking?
I was unaware that anyone else knew about him and La Colombe outside of Philadelphia. And talk about love of bad machines- their Rittenhouse location's machine is soooo old and filthy. Crusty steam-wands galore and clueless servers with fancy pants and tons of attitude. Yikes-carumba. Thanks for tearing it up. Pray for my town. Hope. Progress.

.BWJ. said...

Perfect.

Alaska Alabama said...

Perhaps old news, but still good for a laugh, self righteous or otherwise: There have been some changes in La Colombe's life recently.
1) Super Hilarious website, featuring their coffee blends and awesome taste profiles (one blend tastes "exclusive!")
2) The naysayer has apparently just picked up a super expensive (more than $1000!) machine... get ready for it... a Synesso! Way to "flip flop," dip shit. Kudos on the "techie-gear"... Maybe next you'll actually try to give a shit about your product as well. That might be after his trip to Mars, bitches.