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Oz and the speciality coffee adventure.

Long ago in a galaxy far away there was a land where coffee had no brain, no courage, and no heart. It was an unhappy plague ridden place where desolate mountains of percolating volcanos and deserts of agglomerated powders forbade the sane to venture outside the bounds of mediocrity. Tourism was down as all visitors went away with a bad taste in their mouths from this sad place. It was a time of frustration and despair.

In what now appears to be a continuing blossoming of diverse joys for the palate, specialty coffee has changed the coffee landscape of the land in just twenty years. Specialty coffee was born of an intellectual ideal, and a remembrance of something golden and valued and lost of long ago.

Specialties are the reasoned approach to excellence in coffee. They champion honor through craft, and promote the makers' own virtuous thoughts of self worth. They celebrate and express the spirit of the minds that made them. Like the blendmaster, they have no compromise to make; no excuses. The specialty merchant knows the difference between right and wrong. He translates objective values into his work, not letting anything other than his moral integrity direct his product making decisions. Devotion to truth is the moral code behind specialty coffee. Specialty coffee has a brain.

Specialty coffee is a reflection of the merchant's pride and his burning faith in the invincibility of quality. But in 1970 who would risk their livelihoods and their reputations on something untried, even if it were true?

The specialty coffee pioneer knew that only his reasoned sense of conviction stood between his object of virtue, his coffee, and the forces of darkness. The moral code that sustained him was his faith in himself, and in the ideals that he would represent through his coffee. He knew that virtue and ultimate glory would lie in the hand of the hero who upheld his standards unflinchingly even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Specialty coffee was not then, and is not now a game for the weak of spirit, for the compromiser, and the apologist. Specialty coffee has courage.

The honorable first-wave of specialty merchants who hit the beach with products reflective of their personal values; who took their virtuous coffee to the man in the street, to the Chef in her sanctum, to the cooking school and the caterer; to the great market in the big city and to the corner grocer have, for the most part, survived to see their convictions vindicated.

A state of uncontradicted success has been attained by many in our profession through the application of concrete virtues. The product of this morality; coffees of highest quality are selling at a fair price and earning honest profits. We and the consumer have struck an honest relationship. We each give honest value for honest value received, and we each thank the other for "Being there." Fully 5-8% and some say more of the American market today belongs to specialty coffee.

Market share, and money, the byproducts of achievement in our society, have come to specialty coffee's practitioners. But our beloved coffees are representative, remember, of virtues higher than Market Share, and that other impostor. It was this same Market Share, and money stuff that got the old coffee industry in such bad straights to begin with in the age of our fathers. For the full expression of our aspirations, our intelligence requires more of us than to buy the accouterments of affluence with our well and hard earned gains. We must recognize that there was intelligent life behind those beans even before we saw them for the first time at our cupping table.

The people who cultivate the coffee, and nurture it, and realize the crop for our benefit are our brothers in quality. We are dependent on these, our friends and allies for our life's blood, our green coffee, even as they are tied to the U.S. specialty coffee market to realize the best possible price for the product of their labors. We share a common destiny. And our friends need our help, and they need it right now.

The economic viability of many coffee growing communities is tenuous. In Guatemala, 10% of newborns die in their first year. Poverty is severe, and young children suffer from chronic malnutrition and hunger. The family structures in these communities are strong but poverty prevents these good people from being able to feed their children properly. The difference of as little as 70 [cents] a day can make a meaningful difference in the life of a family. That seventy cents can literally mean life for the child of an impoverished family.

Many Guatemalan women working in the coffee groves supplement their wages by raising chickens, making clothing, or running a produce stand. These folks are enterprising and hard working. They are indispensable to the coffee economy, yet the coffee economy can not, alone, support them. The Guatemalan banks and financial institutions are not doing their part to help these people, yet given the opportunity most of them can earn the money to survive on their own. They need a source of accessible credit at reasonable cost as seed capital for their self-help micro-enterprises.

Coffee Kids is the brain child of Bill Fishbein, a Providence RI specialty coffee merchant. This good man has taken on the plight of these kids as his personal specialty coffee mission. Coffee Kids is a not for-profit corporation established to improve the quality of life for children and their families who live where coffee is grown. It is supported by many in the specialty coffee community. In the few short years of its existence it has had a positive impact on the lives of each of us who support its efforts as well as having been a force for good in the lives of the children and communities it has touched.

Here's how you can begin to turn your coffee success from just a just cup. Write to Coffee Kids at 207 Wichenden Street, Providence, RI or call toll free (800) 334-9099 and take the first step in saying thank you to these folks who give us so much of themselves in every sack of cafe that we roast.

Then put a coin drop box by your register. Support a child, or help a whole community get on its feet by funding an idea called a "Village Bank," or help Coffee Kids participate in one of the many other community and self-help organizations the effort helps to sustain. Dress your staff in Coffee Kids painter's caps, and feel good with your next mug full. Specialty coffee has heart. Use it and become, as Frank Morgan said, "A Philanthra...phialana...A GOOD DEED DOER!"
COPYRIGHT 1992 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:many specialty coffee merchants support Bill Fishbein's Coffee Kids, a philanthropic endeavor to help children and families in countries where coffee is grown
Author:Schoenholt, Donald N.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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