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From the Publisher

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What defines the successful 21st century coffee roaster?

For a roasting company, you must have operations in New York, San Francisco and at least one of the following: Seattle, Portland, Chicago or Los Angeles. This, of course, only gets you on the list. To be the “best of the best,” you better have your own coffee farm, a solar-powered ship for transport and a roaster that runs on organic peanut shells.

For an individual roaster, you must have traveled to more than 10 origin countries, including at least one of the following: Papua New Guinea, Burundi or Yemen. It helps if you have hand-harvested peaberries from the slopes of Kilimanjaro after having ridden 25 miles on an off-road motorcycle. Bonus points if you have your own reality TV show.
For a publisher ruminating on the state of the coffee business, you better have magazines in 12 languages and sponsor 18 SCAA events. If your company posts to its social media account twice an hour, you may have reached the pinnacle of success.

When you are as immersed into a business as deeply as we are, it can be difficult to keep perspective and near impossible to retain a sense of humor. I write this not to diminish the seriousness of the issues that face our industry, but as a reminder to myself that perhaps only humor can put into context the truly serious issues, such as producer food security, from the competition to be the hippest, anti-corporate corporation, the “there I was at 7,000 feet in the forests of Ethiopia” green coffee hunter, all the way to the “been there, done that” publisher of a trade magazine.

I think the drive to seriousness in our business goes deeper than the old-fashioned “keeping up with the Joneses ” syndrome. There is real pressure to remain relevant in a business that has seen its fair share of stodgy old-line companies bypassed by the third wave in just 20 years. How do we continue to innovate, yet avoid the pressures that push us into the trends that appear to be so successful for others?

One litmus test is to continually measure your ideas, projects and direction against your founding principles, which you have written as something like a mission statement (and, yes, the irony of mission statements being a corporate trend is not lost on me). At Roast, this means setting “Dedicated to the Success of Coffee Roasters” on one side of the scale and every project, sponsorship and initiative on the other side. Anything too far out of balance needs to be trimmed, changed or removed entirely. Beyond pure business sense and experience, humor, and in particular sarcasm, are the machinery that comprise the scale.

Since the other mark of a successful publisher is to shamelessly borrow from smart writers, I will leave this column hanging on one last piece of advice from the well-known writer Rudyard Kipling: “Take everything you like seriously, except yourselves.”



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