I’m writing from Long Beach, CA at the end of day four of TED 2011. More specifically, today was day four of the specialty coffee community’s effort to serve excellent coffee and spread the idea that coffee is delicious and interesting to the influential attendees of the TED conference. There are six coffee bars set up in the conference space and surrounding social zones where attendees flood on their breaks. The typical setup is a 2 group La Marzocco Linea espresso machine for espressos, macchiatos and cappuccinos (competition style) and a pour-over bar where exceptional filter style coffee is prepared with eye catching theatrics.
Coffees rotate throughout the day, such that every time the attendees break from the sessions there is a new coffee to explore and discuss. This morning we started with a coffee from many small producers in Loja, Ecuador roasted by Stumptown that was quite sweet with ample body and citric/molasses flavours. By 1 o’clock we were on to a Bolivian coffee from a single 150 hectare estate that was roasted by Has Bean in England. It is a less sweet coffee than the Ecuadorian with a more moderate body and flavours of caramel, roasted nuts and orange peel. In all there are about 8 coffees being served with about 5 making an appearance each day. All of the bars serve the same coffee at the same time, and the same coffee is served as espresso and as filter (sometimes with a separate roast profile for espresso). Attendees are given little custom made booklets that guide them through tasting each coffee throughout the week.
This is all happening under the banner of “Coffee Common” — a collaboration of eight specialty coffee roasters from the US and UK and approximately 40 highly seasoned baristas from the US, Canada, Australia, Guatemala and Norway (and perhaps elsewhere…). The purpose of all of this is to encourage people to think of coffee differently — to recognize it as a fascinating, diverse, complex and delicious beverage. More specifically, the purpose is to present a single brand representing the whole specialty coffee community united in the wish to sell more amazing coffee to people that are still drinking lousy coffee. It seems to be working, at least on this small group of people. The people we are serving coffee to here are incredibly engaged and curious about the different coffees they are trying. I lost count of the number of times I overheard the question “how is this coffee so good?!” posed throughout the day. There will certainly be more people drinking good coffee next week than there were last week.
One interesting thought I had after today’s service was how unlikely connections come about between people in the modern world. This afternoon I had an uncomfortable moment preparing and serving a coffee to a very busy (and very popular) Al Gore. Okay – partly I just wanted to post that this had happened — but it also made me think how interesting it is that not more than a month or two ago there was a farm labourer in Tarrazu, Costa Rica picking a coffee cherry from a tree that, in part, would eventually find it’s way into the mouth (and consciousness) of Al Gore. Neat. Perhaps the powerful few aren’t as removed from the rest of us as we might think.
You can check out a great deal of content including stories, media links, videos and photos at the coffee common website: http://coffeecommon.com