Right now I’m just a dude from another land with big dreams. So a lot of what I say on here holds no more value than the tiny 1s and 0s that comprise this blog. There are dreams, though and there are plans. When you’re not exactly in a position to immediately apply those plans, they remain simply dreams. I have to continue, though, as if everything I hope to accomplish is part of a plan. So, I have to think not in terms of if I open a café but rather, when

Just thought I’d get that out of the way.

Now, as I see it, there is one very large challenge that one faces, or rather that faces me in my hopes to open a quote/unquote third wave café here in GBG. The perception that people here don’t expect much more out of a cup of coffee than just a cup of coffee. I think this is a self defeating mindset and is an enemy of progress. The key to subverting this mindset is not to try to force consumers that their way of consuming coffee is wrong but rather to show them that there are other ways to consume it. Create the space in which both “good” coffee and “bad” coffee exist and allow them to choose what they want, when they want it. Obviously, we want to sway people towards choosing “good” coffee because, well that’s what we’re excited about and in order for coffee enthusiasts like us to continue what we’re doing, we need people to buy into it.

How to do that is simply to change the way the product, in this case specialty coffee, is presented. If it is presented with a strong dosage of passion, skill, knowledge and enthusiasm then people will take it seriously. If it is presented as just another product that is no more or less unique than a pair of socks or a bottle of water then, naturally people are just going to accept it as such and go on. Also, I don’t want to say that just presenting coffee in a cool way with fancy latte art and using cool gadgets is all it takes to get people interested. The product has to be worthwhile.

Despite what many (and I do mean many) Swedes may think, coffee in the States is not “worse” than coffee here in Sweden. Yes, overall, Swedes may like their coffee stronger, but stronger doesn’t really equate with being better. I have had some absolutely atrocious cups of coffee in my two plus years here and you know what? I have had some absolutely horrible cups of coffee in America too. Bad coffee is bad coffee all over the world. Conversely, great coffee is great coffee all over the world too. The baristas at DaMatteo are every bit as skilled as the baristas at Stumptown. Also, the coffee sold at DaMatteo is just as good as the coffee sold by Stumptown. That’s because both organizations approach the process with the same amount of dedication to craft, quality, education and execution.

And enthusiasm.

You tell someone in GBG that you want to open your own café and their response is most likely going to be something along the lines of why would you want to open another café in a city full of cafés? My response is this: I have absolutely no intention of opening another café in a city full of cafés, my intention is to open a GREAT café in a city full of uniformly bland ones. See the difference?

For most coffee shops, their intention is to just to…exist. To just be a place where people come in, chew the fat, shoot the sh*t, drink their coffee and be on their merry ways. There’s nothing wrong with that really, there’s just nothing unique about it either. The coffee shop does serve a functional social role, I just think that there’s no reason that a quality product shouldn’t be part of the overall package.  The impression I come away with is that the proprietors of even some of the best shops in the city are very content with what they do and have no interest in changing with the times. Their customers are also content with what they do too and don’t really place any demand that these shops do anything different. That doesn’t mean, though, that they wouldn’t be open to change and be willing to follow in whatever direction these shops decide to go.

Consumers can be frustratingly accepting of mediocrity sometimes. Most of the time. Yet the good thing is, consumers are also equally accepting of a high quality product if said product is presented as being worth the time, effort and money. People like McDonald’s. Yet I think most (reasonable) people who go to McDonald’s know full well what they are buying. Food that contains hardly any nutritional value yet is very, very satisfying on the purest of levels. You don’t go to McDonald’s expecting Boeuf Bourguignon and you don’t go to Fond expecting a Happy Meal. If you just want something that tastes grapelike and contains alchohol then there are plenty of crappy wines you can buy, however if you want to buy something that is unique, was prepared with a great deal of pride and is worth every cent then you seek out the wines that are rated highest. The same goes for beer. Want to get drunk? Buy Budweiser, Falcon or Carlsberg. However, if you want something with a bit more character that requires you spend a bit more time with than grab a Dugges, Ocean or just about anything Belgian.

So the idea that people are just as happy with crappy coffee and don’t care about the taste is absolute rubbish. People may be content with it but they’ll be more than happpy to buy something of higher quality if it is available. If the former were truly the case then DaMatteo would not be as successful as they have been thus far. There is a vast gap between what DaMatteo does and what essentially every other coffee shop in the city does. The main thing to realize is that you can’t really compare them to every other coffee shop in the city, their competition extends beyond the borders of GBG. Their competition is Square Mile, Stumptown, Intelligentsia and Counter Culture. Their peers are James Hoffman, David Haugaard, Tim Wendelboe or Nick Cho. I hate to seem like a DaMatteo cheer leader (believe me, they stopped paying me two winters ago) but I know quality when I taste it and the proof is in the cup people. They’re the best in town, hands down.

The fact of the matter is, I would be willing to bet that a great deal of DaMatteo’s customers couldn’t tell you (specifically) why their coffee is high quality, they just know that it is. If people can see that the product they are being served has been selected, roasted and brewed with pride, craft and passion (and enthusiasm!) then they have no problem paying for it even if they are unable to express what makes bad coffee bad or good coffee good.

I must say, though, that I don’t mean to sound condescending. The fact of the matter is that if you put a great cup of coffee in front of someone and ask them to just taste it, they will be able to tell IMMEDIATELY that it’s not your average cup o’ joe.

The first time I met Nick Cho was the first time I’d ever tasted a cappuccino. That’s not to say it was the first time I’d ever HAD a cappuccino. I mean I’d ordered them at coffee shops countless times before then, heck I even made some when I ran the café at Borders a year or so earlier. But I never really TASTED a cappuccino until the day I went in for my interview at Murky Coffee (it was more like a conversation than an interview. Obviously, the conversation went well since I got the job!) After talking for a while, Nick asked me if I wanted a coffee and we went down to the bar where he made me a cappuccino that more or less changed my life. Yeah, okay, so that’s a bit of an overstatement but what I mean is, this thing just tasted different. It FELT different. Like drinking a cup of liquid silk. It was smooth, it was sweet and it was all I needed.

One cup. The proof is in the cup. I don’t care what you think of coffee made in America, coffee made in Sweden or coffee made in the Bermuda Triangle, if you don’t give a crap about what you’re putting into someone’s coffee mug then I have no time for you. However, if you do place value in your hard earned dollars, pounds or kronor(s) then maybe, just maybe, you might want to think about what it is in the cup. And maybe, just maybe, you DO want to place higher demand on your local coffee shop or merchant. Ask them about their coffee, ask them why they selected it, ask them if they even LIKE it, ask them where it comes from. Is it Fair Trade? Direct Trade? Challenge them.

I am no expert, not by a long shot. I’m just a fan. There’s so much I don’t know but want to know. And I am not even half as good a barista as I want to be but I think I make up for a what may be lacking technically because I love what I do and want to improve. I’d like to think that counts for something. Hopefully it counts for enough to turn this concept (this movement?) into something tangible.