The Experience of #TEDCoffee

Pictured above, Barista Guild of America members waiting to serve coffee at TED2013 in Long Beach, CA

By Richard Sandlin, Fair Trade USA

Disclaimer: Below are lessons learned from my experience serving coffee at TED Long Beach. I am not speaking on behalf of the Barista Guild of America nor claim to be its representative. I was simply one of the few baristas lucky enough to be there. Below is a summary of some of the inspiration felt at TED.

Pause for a moment and think about your typical day. For me, most days look like this:

Alarm goes off at 7:30. Boil Water. Grind Fair Trade Certified™ Organic Beans. Bike to work. Talk about Coffee. Meet with friends. Talk about coffee. Sleep. Repeat.

My world is a silo. I live, eat and breathe specialty coffee. Much like you, I see nothing wrong with the above pattern. I love our industry. Coffee unites cultures, (can) provide real economic and environmental opportunity (at all levels of the supply chain) and simply makes our lives better. For me, it’s international relations and economic development in the real world. It’s also delicious.

Specialty coffee has opened my world (literally). I’m learning Spanish to engage with coffee producers, I practice Japanese at coffee tradeshows and I eavesdrop on Russian restaurateurs trying to discover the secret when they shift from “chor-ney chai” (black tea) to “kawf-yeh” (coffee). The coffee industry is so much more than the art of preparation. It’s a multi-billion dollar global industry that connects us all. For those reading this, this is nothing new. But for most people, do they understand this?

Recently, I was invited by the Barista Guild of America to represent a coalition of top tier coffees, roasted by the Roaster’s Guild and served by the Barista Guild at the annual TED conference in Long Beach, California. It was nothing short of an honor to serve coffee with some of the best Baristas in the business.

I stood side by side some of the best names in the coffee industry under the leadership of Ric Reinhardt, Peter Guiliano, Trevor Corlett, Chris Schooley, Julie Housch and Lilly Kubota. Together, we executed stellar coffee (and Tea) service to 3,000 attendees at 5 bars pouring a collective 1000+ pounds of coffee – all with a smile.

In the TED space, our task at hand was to perform the art of preparation for an adoring audience and serve them some of the best coffees the Roaster’s Guild has to offer. It was simply unforgettable.

Our cups of sustainable brew were part of a larger dialogue. We were there to support TED’s mission, to provide, “Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.” While engaging with these communities, we learned about impact investing, urban agriculture, future internet mogul strategies, progressive education models and a lot more. And hopefully, we taught them a little about quality coffee, supply chain development, professional baristas (YES – it’s a thing) and the coffee industry. My world is 100% about coffee.

For me, the big take away was simply being a part of the larger moment. TED attracts entrepreneurs, environmental leaders, educators, angel investors, supply chain developers, techies, foodies, artists and a million things in between. I couldn’t help but think; how can we partner with these intellectual superstars? What does our industry need? Do we need more money to increase our impact? Do we need better environmental stewardship? Do we need better education for consumers, baristas, roasters, importers and farmers?

The TED audience is excited about specialty coffee. Coffee Common and Thanksgiving Coffee have served them for the several years and the TEDsters knew the Barista Guild of America would come prepared. Many TEDsters could not wait to get their hands on our offerings. They have the toys, some of them have third-wave brands in their portfolios and they have the pallet. But how can we partner further?

Pictured Above: “TEDster” Alon Halvey making his own coffee at the DIY Bar. Coffee Lovers will know Alon because of his incredible book Infinite Emotions of Coffee – but most of the world knows him as one of Google’s top engineers.

I want the specialty coffee industry to be present at TED and other thought provoking events IN A BIGGER WAY. YES – coffee can be consumed – but we can engage with leaders in far greater ways. It was an honor to serve, but we need a larger voice. We need leaders. We need innovators. We need a team who can engage with global thought leaders beyond serving them exceptional cups of coffee. We need to ignite their passion and convince them that our priorities are theirs.

The TED x SCAA collaboration proved a long held assumption: we are stronger together. As an industry, it is so valuable to stand together, share our story and promote our interwoven industry as a team. The Barista Guild and Roaster’s Guild are incredible examples of strength in numbers. Being able to stand next to 40+ of the best people in the business, sharing coffees roasted by another 10+ brands, sourced by varying Importers and of course harvested by global farming superheroes was nothing short of an honor. It has been the best moment of my young coffee career thus far.

But let’s take it to the next level. Next year, we need presenters on that stage sharing our story. Let’s share with the world who we are: Baristas, Roasters, Importers, Farmers. Our strength lies in our companionship and our romance. I don’t want our industry to stay in its silo. Let’s share. Let’s engage. Let’s excite! So I ask - who is ready to share on the TED stage? Will it be a barista? A roaster? An Importer? A Farmer? Let’s hope all of the above! And hopefully, the Barista Guild of America and Roaster’s Guild will be right there serving up some incredible coffee.

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