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Pursue great coffee and don’t settle for less

Daniel at Daniel’s World of Coffee posted a review on the Zoka coffee shop in Kirkland, Washington in the Seattle area.  On first look, I was about to be unimpressed because it’s another coffee shop in the Seattle area that’s making good coffee, but something about this review hit me differently.  What he’s really trying to point out in this review is that great, high-quality coffee can be made anywhere in any town, and it doesn’t have to be on the swanky corner of a hipster downtown in an urban scene.  Effectively, he’s challenging coffee shops to do more than just make coffee and brush off the great stuff to the Intelligentsias of the world, but is calling each and every coffee shop to step up and do it excellently for the sake of the coffee.

His final paragraph rings so true to me:

Sometimes people seem skeptical that great coffee will ever be anything other than a micro-niche, especially people outside the industry. It’s not surprising that super-specialty coffee got its start in über-hip places like the corner of Denny and Broadway on Capitol Hill, or downtown Portland. And the urban hipster vibe is still crushingly strong in the overall industry. But Zoka Kirkland is proof that great coffee is about quality of ingredients, professionalism, care, execution, and love. Not your zip code. I’d put their quality up against just about any other shop in the country.

I sometimes question whether I’m part of a micro-niche that may never really grow into something larger and broader. But I see glimpses of hope in the discussion, like this week when a coworker called specifically to get my advice on which coffeemaker to buy, making the qualifier that it couldn’t be over $200. The “over $200” qualifier gave me hope because it told me this guy is willing to spend some real money on a coffeemaker and is beginning to understand his coffee better, and it actually led the conversation into more manual methods of brewing coffee versus whether he actually needs to buy a coffeemaker at all. At times, I feel crazy for being so passionate about coffee and wanting to learn more, but then there are other moments where I realize that being a resource is valuable. But I also get frustrated realizing how many coffee shops really don’t wholeheartedly pursue a craft but only make the next cup.

I write to affirm the joy that Daniel’s Zoka review brought me in his call to excellence, and I’m writing to do the same. If you run a coffee shop, and you’re doing it half ass, get out of the business so someone who’s really going to pursue “quality of ingredients, professionalism, care, execution, and love” can fill the gap you leave behind. If you’re thinking about opening a coffee shop, realize that there are lots of coffee drinkers who don’t really care too much about those things, but there are people like me — and plenty of them, even more than I sometimes realize — who will reward you with their dollars and their loyalty and their friendship if you pursue a coffee shop that’s not just about ZIP code but is about “quality of ingredients, professionalism, care, execution, and love”.

If you’re a barista, don’t just dump grounds and pull shots.  Make good coffee.  Measure things out, check for freshness, seek to make the best cup of coffee or shot of espresso every time.  I appreciate it when a barista dumps a shot they’re making for my drink when they realize it’s not a good shot.  It’s a big deal to me when the person behind the counter actually knows what they’re serving or what’s in a blend they’re selling.  I regularly ask baristas what’s on tap and what’s in it, and I’m amazed at how many give you a blank stare.  Yesterday, a barista at a local coffee shop (who isn’t a newbie — I’ve seen her around) didn’t know the different between a City and a Full City coffee roast.  Seriously?!?!?  And the other day, at another local shop, a barista pulled my espresso shot directly into a styrofoam cup without even looking.  Is that excellence?  Is that attention to detail?  Is this what I’m paying for?  If every barista pursued “quality of ingredients, professionalism, care, execution, and love”, the coffee scene wouldn’t be so hit and miss.  C’mon, people — step up!

And if you’re a coffee drinker, don’t settle for just a cup of coffee.  Pursue the best and expect it from those who make your coffee.  Don’t just drink what’s nearby; drink what deserves drinking.  Get to know coffee, how it’s grown and prepared and roasted.  Learn to make it at home and make it right.  Learn the ins and outs of what makes coffee good and how to tweak it and make it better.  Don’t go to shops that don’t pursue excellence in their product simply because you can get wifi.  Seek out the different, less traditional methods of making coffee, like pourovers, Chemex, vacuum brewers, French presses and more.  Actually figure out how you like your coffee brewed, and in the process, you’ll begin to appreciate those who do it right and know their stuff.  Let’s give credit where credit is due, and show our appreciation by being loyal to those who really pursue “quality of ingredients, professionalism, care, execution, and love” when it comes to coffee.

Thanks, Daniel for the inspiration, and thanks to Zoka for doing it excellently right where you are. I’ll come visit next time I’m in the Northwest solely on the storyline that Daniel has put forward.