Monday, January 29, 2007

Reviving the Trade of Coffee

Bethany, our faithful employees, and I are working on latte art, both for our customers and for ourselves. We are trying, in our own little corner of the world, to revive the trade of coffee. In many European countries, being a barista is a life-long profession, with all the attendant mastery of skill and passion. In America, it is most often an entry-level job (and it shows). I do not yet consider myself a barista: I am no where near the quality level that I could be. But I am working on it...and I'm in it for the long haul.

The goal, I think, is to establish coffee craftsmanship as a legitimate trade, much like carpentry and masonry. Obviously, just pouring a great latte or cappucino is not much of a trade. Consider, though, that just hammering a board or putting up a stone facade doesn't necessarily make one a great tradesman either. With a trade comes business acumen, versatility, and mentoring. In that sense, if a barista was an independent owner or franchisee (or store manager), they could reasonable call that a trade.

I can imagine, if my dream comes true, that there will be people who do want to devote their professional energies to this sort of hospitality and conviviality work. I would love to see it. The nice thing about a coffee tradesmanship, also, is that it is necessarily interdisciplinary. You must be a skilled technician, but also a people person. You must understand the mechanics of your brewing, grinding, etc., but also understand the sociology of neighborhoods and third places. Add to this the traditional, somewhat subversive, role that coffeeshops have played in human history and all of the sudden a good background in literature, art, and politics comes into play. A barista could (and arguably should) be a well-rounded individual: a wholistic agent of shalom.

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