In the mixed feelings department, the Washington Business Journal recently reported on Counter Culture Coffee‘s newest regional training center in D.C.: Counter Culture Coffee opens training center in Adams Morgan – Washington Business Journal:. As with Counter Culture’s other training centers, it is designed to educate industry wonks and general consumers alike on coffee flavors and Fair Trade practices.
On the upside, awareness of what makes good coffee is a very good thing. I wholly support the notion of educating more people on how to make good coffee, from bean to cup. And while Fair Trade practices are hardly secrets anymore, coffee retailers and consumers should be aware of the issues that lead to the creation of Fair Trade.
That said, Counter Culture seems intent on shoehorning the ever-popular wine analogy with coffee consumers. While this is a convenient vehicle for explaining to consumers why a roasted coffee should cost $15 a pound, it’s also very misleading. Consumers are loaded with pre-conceived notions and expectations where the wine tasting model just does not fit — whether it’s the manual skill and chemistry involved in coffee preparation, the completely unromantic ritual of coffee cupping, or the idea of food pairing.
Environmentalism and social justice: today’s marketing jingle?
Counter Culture is avidly Fair Trade at its roots, so it’s no surprise that they actively promote causes they so firmly believe in. But I have personally become further and further disenfranchised with Fair Trade. As with Communism, the devil isn’t in the concept — it is in the detail of how it is executed.
And it’s not just because growers and the environment aren’t being aided to the degree Fair Trade advocates suggest they are. The goals of certification labels such as “Fair Trade” and “organic” have literally been swallowed whole by marketing efforts — not entirely unlike the “buy green” oxymoron. Just as Michael Pollan advised “never trust a food product that makes a health claim” in his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I’ve recently come to the rather radical conclusion of “never trust a product that makes an environmental or social justice claim”. Unfortunately, it’s gotten this bad — and it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.
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