If I were to be asked to choose one thing in the specialty coffee industry that is overestimated, and potentially dangerous, I would say this one.
“Passion for coffee”.
Passion is used to promote specialty almost to the same degree as sex is used to promote, hmm, almost everything – basically now we can substitute “sex” for “passion”, and we’ll get the motto of specialty coffee instagrams – “passion sells”.
“We are passionate about good coffee”, “specialty coffee is our passion”, “passion for coffee”. “passion for arabica”, “We chose to work only with those who passionate about good coffee”, “Are you as passionate as we are about this espresso?” etc
If you think about it, it is crap. Passion for coffee means nothing. It is the word that sells, cause it has has some energy in it, something prohibited and strong at the same time – but these words are very hard to connect with the reality of coffee.
Farmers produce coffee because of many reasons. People drink coffee out of many reasons. Roasters roast coffee out of many reasons.
But is passion the first in the list?
Is it passion that makes a coffee picker get up at 4 to go to the plantation and spend there hours picking one cherry after another during the hottest hours?
Is it passion that makes a barista practice day by day, bringing him back to work even when he stopped seeing any sense in being a barista anymore and learning those latte art patterns and measuing the tds of the espresso every morning before the shift, to serve you the best espresso he can?
Is it passion that makes a roaster constantly evolve and improve the profiles, even though the changes are only visible for 10% of his customers, in the best case scenario?
Is it passion?
I don’t think so.
Passion sounds like something given from the sky, something magical, primal, something you have no control of, no responsibility for – something you can have, or not.
Passion for coffee – sounds nice, but something is lacking. The effort that is put into day-to-day simple tasks, like picking the cherries, making that cup of cappuccino for you, roasting one more batch of Ethiopian. All of these tasks, the fullfillment of which actually makes specialty coffee Specialty, requires much more than passion.
In my personal opinion, we should re-think that approach.
Any other alternatives, you will ask me? Actually I have a good one. What about the word devotion? I think this is what is actually in the heart of specialty at every level, starting from the farmers, and finishing with the baristas and cafe owners.
Devotion – is what comes into the scene when your passion is over, when the romantic period of your relationships with coffee finished, when you went through crisises, when you asked yourself many questions, when you went through the phase of buying every fancy coffee device and making tattoes of the coffee branches on your hands. When you passed through all of it, reconsidered your reasons, and actually chose to stay in coffee – that is Devotion.
Devotion – is when you stop looking at specialty through rose-colored glasses, and still choose it.
Continuining the business of your father and cultivating coffee when all your peers chose fancy career paths – devotion. Being a barista when it is not widely respectable – devotion. Waking up at 4 to go do morning roasts again and again – devotion.
It is not passion anymore. It goes beyond it. Devotion to coffee is something bigger. It means having your eyes open, seeing difficulties, understanding that you don’t know everything, learning fiercely, knowing your limits.
Passion is more about talking and looking cool, because only you know what it is right. But passion does not imply knowledge nor skills.
Devotion is about learning, growing, commiting mistakes, being dedicated through ups and downs to something you chose to be your lifelong pursuit.
When I think about Specialty Coffee and people from this industry who I deeply respect and admire, when I think about the plantations I volunteered at, the fincas I visited, the whole families who dedicated their lives to it – I see devotion to coffee in every single case.