TED2011 marks the debut of Coffee Common, a really cool consortium of coffee roasters — competitors, in one sense, but united by a shared goal: to educate people about great coffee. And it’s not just a taste thing, says Stephen Morrissey, a champion of Coffee Common (and himself the 2008 World Barista Champion). It’s about making a better world — because drinking great coffee reflects an investment in sustainable small farms, most in developing nations.
As Morrissey says: “Had coffee been grown in France all the time, it would be different, but coffee tends to be grown in developing countries. And in developing nations, in failed states like Kenya, the children of farmers — very few of them look at coffee as a profitable business you can step into. In nations that are more developed, land that was once farmed is now being developed for housing, for business. And there’s been a very unusual climate shift that’s causing a lot of countries to have very bad harvests. Our mission has always been, we work with these producers, giving them lots of feedback and a really strong relationship. When they invest in quality, they insulate themselves from the whims of the market.”
It’s a message Morrissey has been spreading for a while, but, as he told the TED Blog, “It’s easy to ignore if you’re one company. What if it was 40 of the world’s best baristas, all saying the same thing every day?”
Morrissey and team answered that question by assembling a team of baristas (including some national and world champions) from around the world to work cofffee bars in Long Beach and Palm Springs. They’re serving a different brew at every session, and telling the story of each coffee. “All the coffees we’ve chosen were chosen because we wanted to be able to tell the story of the farm. Every morning, all the barists are going to do a tasting. You’re going to have baristas from Stumptown, from Counter Culture, from Intelligentsia … and it’ll be Counter Culture baristas explaining Intelligentsia, learning from each other.”
The idea of putting together a coffee consortium for TED2011 was already coalescing when the Common connection got made. “I was emailing with Alex Bogusky; I’d been kind of helping him with coffee education for a while. And he sent me a video about Common, something him and his guys had been working on. He said, ‘We’d love to help you brand all this and make it really conprehensive. For us, it proves that the notion behind what we’re talking about can work.’”
Rolling this project out at TED felt right, he says. “How do we get the message across to an audience that’s coming in so openminded, with such a willingness to learn? We thought, we could slosh coffee in there as one more thing they walk away with from TED.”
And, um, what if you’re not at TED right now? Morrissey says: “Go to the Coffee Common website, and seek out roasters in your neighborhood. The list of Coffee Common partners will evolve. Look into these roasters: All of them were chosen for the business model that they follow, the notion of working with farmers to produce quality. It’s a different mindset. These roasters will always talk aboutt the farner first. This is what we do and what we believe in.”
Above Mike Phillips, the reigning World Barista Champion for 2010, and Oda Misje Haug, the two-time champion of Norway. (She’s 20.) Photo: Brian W. Jones.