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From the Publisher
To keep the wheels turning every day, we must focus on “what is,” so the challenge lies in how to disrupt our everyday routines in order to envision “what will be.” I find an effective way to do this is to become a “traveler,” not just literally, but also figuratively. A traveler in the literal context leaves their physical home to see the world; a traveler in the figurative context leaves themselves to see the world through others’ eyes. The most enlightening approach is to do both.
My hometown of Portland, Oregon, is experiencing rapid growth in population, accompanied by what seems to be even faster growth in coffee roasters and retailers. I am constantly being asked by both industry and non-industry friends, “Aren’t there too many coffee shops already?” As a local traveler trying to see the world through their eyes, it can appear that “what will be” is a dim future of oversaturation and competitive destruction. However, a recent trip to South Korea provided me with an alternative view of what might be.
Seoul is a high-density city on a scale that would impress even a New Yorker. There are countless “downtowns” with skyscrapers reaching top-of-the-world heights. In a city surrounded by beautiful mountains, there are people packed into every buildable space. It is awesome and dizzying at the same time. What really shifted my view of what is possible, however, was the incredible number of coffee retailers and roasters that find space and success in the city. As a true “third space” for many people who live in high-rise apartment complexes, there are often two, three or even four coffee retailers or roaster-retailers on every block. In a country the size of a large U.S. state, there are more than 50,000 coffee retailers. Portland, you have a lot of room to grow.
Many of these Korean retailers are taking U.S. concepts and improving upon them—fantastic coffee (many using U.S.-based importers); great menu options, including fresh, in-house baked goods; and innovative cafe designs. In a twist, I was able to see not only ways that coffee retailing has been enhanced, but also a petri dish of ideas for what might be. This is not lost on many U.S.-based “third wave” roasters, as companies such as Blue Bottle Coffee, Verve Coffee Roaster and Gorilla Coffee open roasteries in Asia, not only to export concepts developed in the United States, but also to explore and advance new possibilities that will make their way back here.
As our industry continues to enhance “what is,” I encourage you to make a habit of traveling, changing your context to see the world through others’ eyes and opening yourself to become a driver toward “what will be.”
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