Coffee Common: Joining Forces for a Better Cup

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[Photographs: Meister]

What happens you take different single-origin coffees from eight coffee roasters, turn them over to nearly 40 baristas from around the world—who can then brew each about a half-dozen different ways—and unleash the whole kit and caboodle on the TED2011 conference in Long Beach, CA?

What you get is Coffee Common: A radical new way for quality-obsessed coffee people everywhere to bridge the gaps between them and create a space that's all about the coffee.

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Cafe Grumpy's Amber Sather works with Intelligentsia's Chris Owens.

"For 360 days a year, we're competitors; this week, we're Coffee Common," said Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea's Stephen Morrissey, one of the collaborative project's organizers (along with Intelli colleague Kyle Glanville; Brent Fortune, owner of Portland, Oregon's Crema Coffee + Bakery; Tim Williams of London's Square Mile Coffee Roasters; and Peter Guiliano, Counter Culture Coffee co-owner and current president of the Specialty Coffee Association of America). What Morrissey meant is that among a large section of the specialty coffee industry, there's actually a prevailing sense of brother- and sisterhood underneath all the fret about profit margins and making rent: Many of us believe that just as a rising tide floats all boats, raising consumer awareness and interest in painstakingly hand-crafted coffee helps all of us toward higher quality, increased sustainability, and, let's face it, sheer deliciousness in our morning cups.

That's where Coffee Common comes in: Inspired and driven by Alex Bogusky's FearLess Revolution philosophies, the collective represents the idea that coffee is a deep-seated and unifying part of our culture. It brings us together—at the kitchen table in the morning, in a cafe in the evening, or lingering over after-dinner conversation at a restaurant. If the coffee can do that, shouldn't the people behind the coffee do the same thing?

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One of many ways to enjoy coffee at TED2011. [Photograph: Meister]

The Common helps us share ideas, celebrate flavor, and create open conversations about the quickly changing face of the global coffee community. And there was no better place to unveil this project than the brainy sharefest that is TED2011.

Over the course of the conference's five days, a hand-selected crew of baristas from around the world—including national champions from Norway, Canada, Guatemala, Australia, and the U.S., as well as two World Barista Champions—represented a constantly rotating menu of coffees from roasters both stateside and in the U.K.

TED attendees, therefore, could grab a macchiato made from Ritual Roasters' sweet, silky Colombian La Orquídea in the morning and a French press of a rich and black-curranty Kenyan Mamuto from Terroir between sessions—complete with a story about the many, many hands that helped that coffee get there.

The best part? Many folks actually surprised themselves by wanting to hear the stories, and ended up joining the fun. "So let's see," said a conference attendee as he approached one of Common's six espresso bars. "I had a Rwandan espresso this morning, and it was really bright and interesting. What's on tap now?"

But this really is (we hope) just the beginning. The Common aims to reconvene at other events, make more face-to-face connections, start more conversations, and spread more good will and good beans around the world. Where? When? We don't know exactly, but one day you might look up into the sky and see a kind of jittery Bat signal, and you'll know the Common will be out to get you pumped about coffee.

About the author: Erin Meister trains baristas and inspires coffee-driven people for Counter Culture Coffee. She's a confident barista and an audacious eater, but she remains a Nervous Cook.

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