A Message on Collaboration in Coffee from SCAA Executive Director Ric Rhinehart

For the past eight years I have had the unique pleasure to serve as the Executive Director for the SCAA. This role involves many of the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities you might imagine, coordinating the efforts of volunteers, staff members and elected leaders. All are designed to ensure that we deliver on our mission: to recognize, develop, and promote specialty coffee. We work hard to stay true to our values and create opportunities for our members to thrive in the specialty coffee business.

One of the ongoing challenges facing us is understanding how we will continue our mission into the future. Change in the specialty coffee business is a constant. Consider the changing environment, a growing global market for coffee and the emergence of a new generation of coffee professionals. All these things and new technologies impact how we live, communicate, and connect.

We have fortunately had the opportunity to consider our future with input from a wide range of thoughtful, innovative, and inspiring leaders from every corner of our industry. As a result, we have brought forward some clarity that has led to action.

One of the first manifestations of this took place back in 2008. It became clear to us that the barista was the most likely point of contact with the consumer. We needed to focus on developing and celebrating the art and craft of coffee brewing.

A focus on the barista was the backdrop for the Barista Guild creating its program of professional development. It was also a primary driver for the launch of Barista Camps, a renewed energy around the US Coffee Championships and launch of the Brewers Cup. In 2010 it also spurred an alliance with the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe and the launch of World Coffee Events. Our leaders noted the growing international nature of our organization. They noticed participation of coffee people from all over the world in our events, our education, and in our volunteer corps.

In March of 2011, the SCAA Board of Directors formed an ad hoc committee to explore a more international engagement. Once again, a broad group of stakeholders assembled to contribute their best thinking on the issue.

The work of that committee is demonstrated in several places. This included the decision to shift the International Relations Council of the SCAA to a body owned by its participants. It also drove us to create an international education partnership program and establish SCAA certified labs around the world. We worked to provide more access to our activities and events for coffee people globally. Since then, international participation at our annual event has swelled to over 35% of attendees.

SCAA’s expanding contact with the global coffee community has driven us to focus on the fundamental basis for our industry: the coffee producer. A challenging combination of volatile markets, changing climate conditions, and shifting labor forces have brought new urgency to our members in every sector.

The Sustainability Council of the SCAA pushes for a broad-spectrum view of the issues. It seeks a renewed commitment to drive towards concrete solutions to the challenges of our supply chain on every front. Significant work in these arenas led to the incubation and support of World Coffee Research (WCR). WCR embodies our commitment to collaborate on fundamental science and agronomy that is critical to our future. WCR has grown to a global organization with collaborative partners in over 24 countries. We have also worked in tandem with the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) to advance development work in producing countries, most recently around gender issues in coffee.

Throughout this activity over the past years, two things have grown increasingly clear. First, we are at our best when collaborating with coffee people all over the world to foster an environment where everyone in the coffee value chain benefits. Second, we make progress only when we focus on delivering value to our members. The greatest strength of the SCAA is to bring members together to imagine, innovate and to generate activities that create an environment for specialty coffee to thrive.

Last week the latest of this kind of broad based, member driven, innovative thinking took place in London. The boards of directors of the SCAE and SCAA met together in a facilitated meeting. Their goal was to consider even greater collaboration and alignment on how best to face the challenges of the future. Challenges like how to ensure a supply of great coffee, deliver on member value, and embrace a new generation of coffee professionals and coffee consumers.

It was a meeting remarkable for its openness to a broad range of thinking. This was combined with an unyielding insistence on delivering on the commitments of each organization to their members. Emphasis by both focused on the need to act first locally and then globally. Much more will need to be done before the way forward is clear. I am confident that in the near future we will be able to look across the specialty coffee landscape and see the concrete results of our efforts.

We’re excited about the decision to explore our individual futures together. Through international cooperation and collaboration with a global outlook on sustainability and quality, we can take specialty coffee to where it belongs: a movement that transforms the world. As we explore, however, we know that our primary responsibility is to our members. The only way it makes sense to unify is if it increases the value of our association to those who drive it.

What we know so far is that:

  • International coffee standards, a global coffee system, globally inclusive events, better standards, and more publications are possible if we expand the scope of our association.
  • We have a stronger chance of making a difference in the lives of coffee farmers, entrepreneurs, baristas, tasters, experts, and many other coffee professionals by expanding our international network.
  • Engaging at the global level is our best chance at ensuring the future sustainability, viability, and availability of the coffees on which we’ve built our industry.

We’re at the beginning of this journey. We’re exploring at the moment, and we will have more to share as we continue to investigate. Your elected leadership will continue to be highly engaged in evaluating the outcomes of this exploration. As the possibilities become clearer, we’ll be sharing more detail about what the next steps look like.

In the meantime, please engage with others in the community on these ideas and we’d love to hear your thoughts. Your voice is always a welcome addition and you can always reach me at executivedirector@scaa.org or your president, Tracy Allen, at president@scaa.org.

Best regards,




Ric Rhinehart
Executive Director, Specialty Coffee Association of America

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