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  • Something on your mind, dear?
  • Scott Carey
Something on your mind, dear?
It’s Friday night –so that means it’s time to blather on about coffee and something totally unrelated to coffee. 

First, it’s uncomfortable to write in the first person –so like any good, modern corporation (boo, hiss, snicker) I’ll attribute personhood to the Shop and present this post as if the Shop were sentient –Sump as Hal without the homicidal tendencies.

The Shop often doubts or questions itself. Again, the age old questions of ‘is it special’, ‘can coffee be special?’ (I’m mean, the Shop says, just because the Modernist Cuisine states unequivocally that coffee is 2 times more chemically complex than wine doesn’t make it the horse to bet on or actually perceivable –right? Didn’t the great Tyler Durden once say ‘sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken?’ And the Shop also doesn’t think it would like Mr. Myhrvold as a person anyways.)  So where is this going?  Three things: (a) coffee has a hard time mirroring the pricing (value proposition) structure seen in the wine industry because coffee, once roasted, cannot be stored/aged for prolonged periods of time and instead must be consumed fairly quickly –at least relative to time scales seen in the wine world. (b) to have growth (meaning economic growth generally, but being generous scope-wise, let’s also suggest a spiritual, yet secular, growth (growth of the artistic craftsperson) the development of ‘new’ property rights are fundamental to growth in levels of production, productivity and production of growth in economies/markets/industries/peoples. (c) how can the Shop innovate? How, as defined by Schumpeter, can the Shop innovate via a means of shattering the status quo of existing products and services (in its chosen endeavor –i.e., coffee), to set up new products and services? Again, imaging the Shop saying this, doubting –saying how can I, the Shop, innovate? I mean, well the Shop means, is innovation possible at all with something like coffee?

(a) Coffee has a difficult time mirroring the pricing structures seen in the wine industry.  (And it’s not so much an argument about more money as it is about the perceived value of coffee, or the limits thereto.) First, the argument must assume that the value is there, that coffee possesses that same value intrinsically –on parity with wine. The question is one of perhaps market failure or market willingness. And why are so many people comfortable with spending dollars on wine?  (For clarity, let’s call the tipping point $40 and above. Let’s further assume a typical bottle size of 750 ml. Let’s further assume a coffee bag size of roughly 8 to 12 oz of whole beans (which would produce a volume of something like 3,200 ml to 4,800 ml)).  The Shop would argue that when someone purchases a bottle of wine it’s really a transfer of currency from one form to another. Because wine can be stored, it means that the dollars spent psychologically feel more like an investment or perhaps not spent at all because of the potential for another subsequent sale of the wine, and quite possibly for more money.  So in actuality it’s almost as if a person is really not spending anything at all –at least until the bottle is open. Further there is the possibility for delayed pleasure (you pleasure delayer). It’s the anticipation –the romance of drawing out the pleasure of consuming or the potential of consuming –something not possible with roasted coffee (or at least limited in terms of it’s event horizon). So the Shop would argue that it’s hard to regularly spend $40 dollars on 8 oz of coffee, because that $40 spend is felt immediately –closer to the pain of driving a new car off the lot and losing at least 11% to 20% of its value as soon as those tires roll out into the street. So the Shop would argue that a coffee purchase might never be a currency conversion –like dollars to euros, such as how a wine purchase might be experienced.  It’s just a thought and you have to forgive the Shop, it’s young still, just turned 2 years old in December.      

(b) To be growth there must be the development of ‘new’ ‘property’ rights. (So rights might be too aggressive of a term, but since the Shop is borrowing heavily from economic literature (and its past life as a lawyer) it will stick with rights. But it wants to suggest something softer –like ‘forms’.) Quickly, examples of new property rights include land patents (grants) for westward expansion (we have to ignore in this example the fact that the government took away or ignored the rights of one people for those of another). But it could be argued that by the creation of new property rights (deeds/claims) to new property in new territories it created westward expansion and growth –growth for the people that received the grants, growth for the government that benefited from the peopling of the those territories, and on and on until the present day. The second example is the extension of rights to mere intellectual ideas –nontangibles, so the growth of extending legal protection to ideas in the form of patents, such as software (which was not really patentable subject matter in the mid to late 80’s), can be argued resulted in the tech boom of the 90’s and early 00’s (and which could be argued is still ongoing currently).  Now for the extension of this analogy to coffee –at least in America: Until shops like Starbucks and Peet’s, coffee in America was drip coffee –it likely came pre-ground in a can, varietals were unimportant, maybe origin mattered (or just origin sounding names –like mocha-java).  Shops such as Starbucks created a new form of coffee experience or a new set of services or shall they be called new rights –which in turn created new growth –both economically and perhaps ‘culturally’ –without destroying what came before –ground coffee in a can.  The whole point of (b) or lead up thereto, is more of a response to a question a journalist from the St. Louis Business Journal asked the Shop, that being –why so many independent coffee shops now? The Shop’s reflexive answer was something like people are tired of a cubicle life and so either start something (a coffee shop isn’t that inaccessible of a concept –it’s not like launching a new drug or building the next big thing in aerospace or electric cars) or alternatively want to support something that’s provides more connectedness between them and their environment.  The Shop would also like to suggest that it’s also the beginning of the creation of new rights or forms –in that coffees once in disfavor –like dry or natural processed coffees, now have begun to come to the fore and/or people taste and describe coffee with such words as stone fruit, jasmine, cumin, etc. (not typical of a Folgers’s commercial from the 80’s or 90’s); as well as, creating or expanding on new ways of producing a cup or shot –such as Slayer Espresso or Alpha Dominche or any number of Kickstarter coffee funded device brewing apparati such as Espro or Able brewing.  And as with the wave before it Starbucks and the like remain intact and clear representations of their original selves.

(c) How can the Shop innovate? No answers here, just a march of continuous doubt. The Shop would like to suggest a why this is the case. Say the Shop produces an amazing coffee –for example the Abaya this year was pretty amazing, but once it’s gone so is the amazing. Imagine preparing a transformative appetizer or dish and never being able to obtain a key ingredient –so all the luck, skill, hard work and magic that brought together the dish is somewhat gone forever. There will be other dishes –due to the aforementioned skill and hard work, but there may never be ‘that’ dish. Or think of a novelist or director (M. Night for example) with one bananas concept and execution and a trail of middling thereafter. What if the Shop never marries together a nexus of happenstance of exceptional green coffee and the right roast curve and a community to embrace it? Also is innovation really possible? Or is it derivative inspiration? I mean … http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kungfury/kung-fury/widget/video.html

So what does all this mean? Nothing. The Shop would like to invite you to a cupping of our new coffees on January 23rd at 7 p.m., a Thursday. We’ll try the old formula again –a cupping, followed by a movie. There will be a small snack in between.

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  • Scott Carey