The experience of Specialty Coffee: Engaging the heart, the mind and the senses

By Peter Giuliano

I’m not alone in this. There is a whole generation of people who live to eat, and who are immersing themselves in food culture every day. For these people, good food provides a thread that runs through their entire lives. A meal in a restaurant or a trip to the farmers’ market provides much more than nourishment—it can offer entertainment, social interaction, community networking, it can even become a political statement. Passionate eaters read about food, they watch television programs about it. For millions of Americans, good eating has become a lifestyle.

Which is why it’s always good to remember: coffee, too, is food. It’s grown on a permanent farm that resembles a fruit orchard. It’s fermented like wine or beer. It’s milled and roasted like grain. And it’s prepared and served like food is, in grocery stores or in restaurants, in coffee shops and coffee bars.

I think a lot about coffee when I am having other food experiences, and there is a tremendous amount we can learn from the way the food marketplace is evolving. Just as slow food and artisan foodways are distinguishing themselves from commercial, industrial food, so can specialty coffee distinguish itself from its commodified counterpart. In Specialty coffee, we do this instinctively, almost without thinking. We know and feel the special-ness of the coffee we bring to consumers, and we naturally construct our businesses to differentiate ourselves. We seem to run off an instinctive archetype of what a specialty coffee business is: an antique roaster, some exotic-sounding coffees, comfortable furniture in the coffeeshop. These are the things that distinguish us, but why do we do them?

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