This is coffee “SCIENCE”

(A similar version of this post will appear shortly, circa June 19, 2013, on the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Symposium site.)

April 11, 2013 — Last night at Chef Jasper White’s Summer Shack (where a dinner was held for attendees of the first day of the SCAA‘s 2013 Symposium) I sat with a few fellow old-timers and we talked about the presentations on the first day and the high science content.  There was some concern that the takeaway might be construed that the SCAA, CQI and WCR together were taking credit for inventing “coffee science.” It was pointed out that the bi-annual ASIC meetings (International Conference on Coffee Science) and the solid published research they have catalyzed, and all the work done at national research institutions such as Cenicafe in Colombia,  or by the many other institutions operating in many of the larger producing countries, might be getting trod underfoot as we reviewed the biological basics of coffee and, in particular, coffee rust disease.

There is certainly a caution to be taken from this line of thought but a couple of things occurred to me as I listened. One is that for all the work that has been done and IS being done on coffee, whether it’s genetics, diseases, agronomy, etc., etc….there isn’t an institution with a quality-centric orientation until the SCAA/CQI/WCR efforts – and I know it’s not quite kosher to lump these all together but work with me here, ok?  Until now, I have never felt the connection between the research being done on coffee and the recognition that quality had to come along or the whole point was being lost…how many times have we heard, for example, “There is no difference in taste,” from researchers bringing forward new hybrids over the past 10, 20 and 30 years?

To have scientists (the “research community,” if I may) intersecting here with us at Symposium is, I believe, accomplishing a purpose above and beyond the presentation of content that occurred on our first day of Symposium…it will also serve to alert the scientists and researchers presenting here that quality has to be part of the mix (or at LEAST can’t get left behind). I hope the presenters could see the dedication of our industry to quality WHILE we try to get a grip on the biological and climatological challenges facing us in terms of sustaining ample production over the next several decades.

The other thing that differentiates the content being produced by the SCAA/CQI/WCR teamwork is that, as was said yesterday, it’s all open source. There is a lot of research that goes on in the world of coffee but I would venture to guess a healthy percentage of it is proprietary and not readily available to the “coffee public;” but the work of the SCAA/CQI/WCR alliance is.

All this notwithstanding, though, it think it IS worthwhile to point out and remind ourselves that despite the vast amount of information covered on the first day of Symposium 2013, we’re barely getting our feet wet as an industry when it comes to the science of coffee. What’s new is that we (the specialty coffee industry) and coffee’s scientific community have now been introduced to each other — giving the members of our industry the opportunity to participate, to cheerlead, and to perhaps, on occasion, even lead…once we get a grip on the basics…the first day of our 5th was a good start.

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