Wednesday, January 19, 2005

full disclosure

a hot topic running around the blogosphere this week or so is disclosure and ethics. so let me take this moment to discuss my position here.

first of all, as i hope everyone remembers, i am solely a volunteer member at scaa. i am not paid; i get no salary or income of any kind.

the scaa did kindly pick up my airfare & hotel expenses (about US$600) to allow me to attend the atlanta conference planning meetings last year; and the same for conference. and it did so -- thank you, kimberly easson and ted lingle! -- apparently over the objections of those in charge of looking after the scaa budget.

this is only because i worked at conference and before to set up programs, attend online and conference calls, as well as to speak and hold workshops at conference.

they didn't even buy me any food, which was probably just as well, since at conference there is no time to eat or sleep: you are running from one workshop to another, brewing coffee, setting tables, scrubbing the milk off steam wands, pouring coffee, clearing tables, sweeping the floor, fetching milk, and carrying boxes up 2 flights of stairs and across a convention center the size of 3 football fields.

and then you realize the coffee has been sitting for 30 mins. (too long!) and you need to brew another 3 gallons because the master brewing center is backed up working for the pro seminars. . .suddenly it's midnite. and you are informed you have no coffee cups, and you need them for 5:30am; thus you spend the night running thru the hotel seeking china cups.

no china cups available, so you try to get paper cups, and try to establish exactly how many you need, and where you need them, and who will deliver them, since you are picking milk up at 5:00 am yourself. and while the conference supposedly has people to do this, you know from experience that they won't show up until late and will deliver to the wrong room. . .

so you have to call people you barely know on their cellphones (you got these numbers by begging other people for them and promising you would never reveal who gave them to you) at 3:30 am and plead with them as a personal favor -- because you have no coffee business, you can't help these people make money -- to get up in an hour and a half and fetch cups for you.

you also have to call and thank the people who kindly sent biscotti from new york and the u.k. for you because you need to take help from anywhere you can get it!

this led one waggish scaa board member to remark that i was the hardest working scaa staff member. which is funny precisely because i'm not at all on staff; but does underestimate the amount of work the scaa staff really does.

that's my position as a c-member "consumer advisory group liasion volunteer" to the consumer marketing subcommittee at scaa. scrubbing is so glamorous, right?

it's not clear that they will cover any of my expenses this year. in fact, i doubt they will, as one former scaa president told me recently he would personally fight to prevent that.

so i'm back to depending on the kindness of strangers. . .because i don't think (altho' i could be wrong here!) that c-members have a line-item in the scaa budget.

and there are costs i pay for myself, such as the whole coffee meetup thing; other costs for events have been picked up by generous and visionary coffee industry sponsors (which i deeply appreciate!)

now that's the disclosure; let's talk about the ethics. scaa chief ted lingle and others can attest that i email them with ethical questions because i am aware that as a committee volunteer, i do represent the group.

let's talk about the events i hold -- i do try to hold events at scaa pro member coffeeshops, and to work with scaa pro member roasters and allied members. this is not because of the travel expenses above, but because in general scaa pro members adhere to higher coffee standards and are attempting to create and promote what we coffee lovers want: better coffee.

further, i am aware that we are all partners in the coffee family. closing the gap between farmers, greenies (importers/exporters/brokers), brownies (roasters), machine-makers (allied), retailers, baristi and consumers is the only way we coffee drinkers are going to able to communicate what we want to the industry in detail.

and that's one goal of the scaa c-member program, besides, of course, just having fun learning more about coffee. (long-time members of who are silvia owners can attest how we used to futilely attempt to contact rancilio! now mark prince holds a well-attended event at conference every year where consumers and machine-people can dialogue about coffeemakers. . .)

however, i have included non-members in my events since as ted lingle said to me: "everyone is welcome in our church; not just the choir."

let me close this discussion by mentioning the coffee descriptions. as everyone knows, i don't accept ads on this site; unlike some other coffee sites, i don't make money in any way from the coffee industry.

the only ads are those unwelcome ones that my search engine atomz has started tacking on; none of that money comes to me. and as soon as i can find a better, no/low-cost, ad-free search engine, i'll be dumping atomz.

i will sometimes ask for coffee to describe, but as anyone reading the comments on this site can see, mostly brownies very kindly offer me coffee. i love coffee and am happy to try and correctly describe anyone's specialty coffee.

unlike some coffee review sites, i don't sell coffee in other guises on other domains. and if i don't like a coffee, i'll say so: long-time readers will remember me writing things like, "i don't like coffees roasted this dark, but... " and then proceed to try to describe them accurately because someone else might like them.

ted lingle told me that as a consumer, i am allowed my preferences. if i were an scaa board or staff member, that of course would be a different story.

i describe coffees primarily to teach myself to cup, to learn to use the scaa flavor wheel, the nez du café, to understand the coffee cuppers handbook, and to help others do so as well. other consumers are devoted to home-roasting -- i am devoted to cupping, to learning to appreciate coffee as a fine beverage.

also please notice i never put numbers on my reviews unless asked or unless participating in a formal group cupping where we are using the scaa or cup of excellence form.

as for coffee machines, i am rarely sent them: when i am, i use them as door prizes for my events, to encourage more people to make better coffee at home. the only machine i have besides silvia is of course my steamy latin guy, carlos expobar, from todd at wll, in return for which i wrote an article on their website about coffeekids -- so that was a trade.

i don't call up machine vendors and demand machines to review -- and then keep. but i won't make a secret of the fact that i would like to be able to discuss more machines.

however, i would prefer to discuss them and then give them away to other consumers as promotional items, like the coffee meetup door prizes, or at other events i hold on behalf of the scaa. i think that policy serves the entire coffee community better and maintains a more ethical position.

to end this overlong post, i am happy to make reasonable factual corrections. usually i will edit the piece to include them; often i will also note corrections in the comments.

but to close on a lighter note: i know we all admire the bat-muncher's delicate hand with eyeliner, but hey guy, keep it to 3 or 4 6-oz. cups a day, ok?

coffee is a beautiful, romantic, intellectual beverage to be savored with fine appreciation; it's not a caffeine-drug-delivery system!

posted by fortune | 8:05 AM | top | link to this | email this: | links to this post | | 0 comments

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