Friendly Competition: There is No “I” in Coffee

By Lily Kubota

Mac vs. PC. Facebook vs. Twitter. NBC vs. ABC vs. Fox.

We live in a world of competition, one in which companies knock their opponents in ads, product devotees push their favorites and make fun of the others in YouTube videos, and customers are expected, always, to choose a side. It is, we’ve been taught, the way of business, the way of capitalism and consumerism. Beat the competition to a pulp and leave it lying there, gasping for air. That, we’re taught, is the only way to win at business.

Of course, it’s not the truth. There is also another way, one that pervades the specialty coffee industry, and one that is perhaps best exemplified every year at the Annual Roasters Guild Retreat, where roasters gather—not just to learn and create friendships—but to give away their best-kept secrets, assist those who are just starting in the industry, and celebrate the success of their closest competitors.

It is, in essence, the antithesis of competition. And, yet, it works. As Shawn Hamilton of Java City, a founding member of the Roasters Guild, comments, “Even though we are all competitors, we actually rarely run across one another’s path in the marketplace.”

He goes on to say, “The real benefit of the Roasters Guild, and this event, is that it makes us all a little better at what we do. The better we get, the better specialty coffee as whole gets. The better specialty coffee gets, the more consumers will gravitate towards it, bringing all of us more business.”

All For One, One For All

This sense of community in the specialty industry is not exclusive to roasters, by any means. These interactions and relationships extend to every level of the supply chain. In coffee, every link in the chain is dependant on the others. This reliance and interdependence has become particularly evident in roaster-producer relationships in recent years, as the trade models have shifted to take into account the hardships that are faced by producers and the affect that these hardships have on the availability of specialty coffee.

These global issues were examined at one of the highlights of this year’s retreat, the Roundtable Discussions. Participants chose to discuss one of these four topics: 1) Will there be enough supply of specialty coffee? 2) Is the Q Coffee System relevant? 3) How can Relationship Coffee survive a $2.00+ market? 4) Is Fair Trade dead? To read the rest of this article, subscribe to The Chronicle or become a member today! If you’re already a Chronicle subscriber or member, please login.

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