SCAA Symposium Panel Discussion: What’s Cool About Coffee?

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This was one of the last presentations held at the annual SCAA Symposium, a special pre-conference event featuring some of the most well known minds in coffee. Nicholas Cho of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters moderated this panel discussion, which featured Melissa Allison of the Seattle Times, Julie Wolfson, a freelance writer for Cool Hunting and other new media publications, and Oliver Strand of the New York Times. The goal of the panel was to investigate elements of the coffee industry that stand as compelling content for media publications and their readership.

Each writer had a video prelude before their brief Q&A session with Cho. Allison comes from a business journalist’s perspective, as someone who used to cover Starbucks for the Seattle Times. She soon learned that the specialty coffee industry wasn’t just a business sector. It drew extreme reaction from readers. Allison was really delving into the difference between mainstream specialty and the growing trend of independent coffeehouses serving direct trade, single origin coffee.

Julie Wolfson, the next panelist, came from a less traditional perspective, reflecting a new media perspective. As a freelance writer for Cool Hunting, Julie’s features of Intelligentsia’s Extraordinary Coffee Workshop and opening of Handsome Coffee Roasters showed to the blogoscenti that specialty coffee was back in a relevant way. By pairing these coffee stories with other artisanal food and beverage stories, Wolfson’s coverage in new media formats shows coffee as a unique visual story with a strong focus on design in the form of packaging and retail coffee bars.

Perhaps the most well-known mainstream coffee writer, Oliver Strand, presented coffee has an increasingly compelling story that was interesting to the widespread readership of the New York Times, GQ, and Bon Appetit. Too often coffee coverage only seemed compelling to those within the industry. Strand sees an increasing movement by those in the industry to complicate an already complex product, whereas a shift toward coverage that simplifies coffee as a culinary product.

Strand argued for a development of coffee from the consumer standpoint, without the sort of “educating” that the industry wants to impose on them. He talked about a language that eschewed wine terms or wine-centric methodology, asking for the industry to come up with an approach that elevates the customer’s experience.

Right now, coffee is making a transition from a niche beverage to a truly culinary product that reflects a globally traded product, not just a commodity whose price and quality are the baseline. According to Strand, the coffee industry needs to balance the two needs of being a daily ritual and providing a gastronomic experience. Wolfson spoke of the unique artisan approach from all levels, brewing, roasting, and producing. As quality and knowledge continue to increase, media in all forms are going to continue to cover what’s interesting and great about coffee. This in turn will create value for consumers, reliable content for publishers, and growth in business for the specialty coffee industry.


Matthew Kang

Find more of Matthew's writing on his blog, Mattatouille. Find him behind the Scoops Westside counter.

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