05 March 2012

coffee common at TEDActive

This past week, I had the great honor to be one of six baristas serving with Coffee Common at TED Active in Palm Springs. (Another 24 or so served in Long Beach.) It was an incredible event, one which I will not soon forget, & I hope to be able to bring some of the joy that we experienced in Palm Springs back to Primo Passo in Santa Monica.

The TED Active attendees greeted Coffee Common with openness & excitement. I say "openness" because we prepared coffee in a way many weren't used to. Our drip coffee service is familiar to those who know specialty coffee, but the TED attendees hadn't opted in. They simply walked past a kiosk that smells like coffee — like coffee with delicious, sweet, lush, cranberry-&-chocolate, or pear-&-walnut, or plum-juice-&-molasses aromas. And then we started talking.

"Hi there. [Fill water kettle, rinse filters.] The coffee we're brewing right now is El Batan, which is the name of the farm in Ecuador. [Grind beans, empty decanter, drop grinds in filter.] It's an interesting farm [pre-infuse grinds] — it was started as a women's empowerment project, first harvesting yuca & later expanding to coffee. Their relationship with Equator Coffee is also pretty special. [Begin to add remaining water, eyeing water levels.] Equator provides the farm with loans throughout the year to improve their production facilities. The farm recently built a cupping lab, which is incredibly valuable in separating out exceptional lots for sale. In turn, the farmers can improve the quality of their coffees. It's an elegant, mutually beneficial relationship, & it's the kind of relationship we're delighted to see more of in specialty coffee all over the world. Meanwhile, this particular farm has grown from five members to 22, an indicator that their empowerment project is working. Speaking of things that work [hold up filled decanter] your coffee [begin filling cups] is done. I hope you like it."

That's a new experience for a lot of people. And most of them (even if they walked up just wanting a damned cup of coffee, milk & sugar if you please, or even if they weren't looking to get a coffee at all) stuck around to listen. That openness is exactly why Coffee Common came to TED. The TED attendees traveled great distances at no small expense for the opportunity to have their minds blown wide open. They were receptive to new ways of doing things, to creative problem solving, to dynamic & sustainable business practices, & to things that are excellent. And Coffee Common is excellent.

this is where the learning is

It was truly remarkable. It felt like we were giving tiny TED talks, ourselves. Much shorter than the allotted twenty minutes, the topic of our TED talks was this: Right here in your hands is a cup of something beautiful. It's beautiful because it's sustainable, it's beautiful because it's delicious, & it's beautiful because it's attainable. You can seek out this beauty at a coffee bar in your city, or you can brew this beauty at home. Lastly, it's beautiful because, at significant volume, it can change the world. And that, friends, is an idea worth spreading, indeed.

spectrum sculpture, TED long beach

This is a sculpture at TED Long Beach. Thousands of differently-colored strings, stretching between two stairwells. As originally installed, each thread was pulled tightly in order to make a nice straight line. But there are thousands of strings. It created enough tensile force to compromise the structural integrity of the stairwell (so they loosened the strings). Though the whole structural-integrity-compromising thing wasn't intentional, I read the phenomenon as a metaphor for the immense power behind a group of people with a common goal.

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