Cry, the Beloved Coffee Community

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, ever since I won a contest for my story, “Rebecca The Little Field Mouse” when I was six and was presented with an award at Children’s Fairyland in Oakland, Calif. (along with, I didn’t know til I got there, about 25 other kids). So I studied poetry in college, then worked as a music critic post-graduation at The Oakland Tribune. But the thing was, musicians hate music critics (and typically rightfully so), so I never felt like I was part of the community I liked so much. I surely wasn’t interested in being part of a newsroom community, which can be cool in an early Capote kind of geeky, ambulance-chaser kind of way, I guess.

So I took off for grad school where I was in a program called Literary Nonfiction, where I focused my time on studying subcultures. What that essentially means is putting oneself inside the community they want to learn about and write about. Oftentimes, you’re in that community for so long that you actually become a part of it (though those who are very strict in their journalistic training would always refrain from making connections that blurred the lines between subject and reporter). But I found people only trusted me when I could truly understand — often from experience — what they were going through. I wrote my masters thesis about adolescent boys who fit the profile of school shooters, and spent six months with a boy and his friends, playing video games, getting muddy at the park, talking nervously about girls, sneaking into R-rated horror movies, and watching them get angry and frustrated by what they couldn’t control.

Onward: I graduated and went to work as a lifestyles writer at The Oregonian newspaper here in Portland, Oregon. But again, like when I was a music critic, I was never part of these cool communities I was writing about. When a series of events led me to the specialty coffee community, I never looked back. A few years later, when Ken and I started Barista Magazine, we were fully a part of this community we found ourselves so charmed and inspired by.

I think part of what has kept us so happy writing about baristas and the larger coffee industry is how much you all value community, as well. You love talking coffee to each other, but you also like sharing records and deconstructing Belgian beers. You visit each other on your days off, and make longer trips to spend time with coffee friends you haven’t seen in a while. When you can’t travel, you keep up with each other via email and blogs and forums. You are there for each other when there’s a question about coffee and also when there is a question about how to interpret a certain paragraph in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, or the lyrics of a Rilo Kiley song, or the promises of presidential candidate.

And now there is another place for you to stretch your social muscles with your beloved coffee community: on Matt Milletto’s new site for the exchange of barista information, Barista Exchange.

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OK, so the idea for the site came out of one specific thing: Matt’s desire to provide a forum for coffee professionals who wanted to travel the world and experience work in different cafes and roasteries. But in the few weeks it has been live, Barista Exchange has become so much more. As Matt says, it’s a place for anyone and everyone. You don’t have to apply to become a member– just sign up. The site has already attracted more than 500 members, an astonishing accomplishment given that it’s been up for such a short time. Matt didn’t start the site with the intention of making quick cash; he’d like to draw sponsors so he can pay for upkeep, but that’s about it. If you haven’t checked it out yet, DO. It’s a place full of resources and more importantly, friends.

One more note on the topic of community: Barista Magazine has something BIG in store for you. In a few days’ time, we will unveil something awesome on our website, so please check back soon. Of course, we’ll blog about it and explain it in detail here, as well. Our goal remains to build and strengthen the specialty coffee community, and this latest development of ours will do just that. We’re so excited to show it to you! And it’s almost ready so please, stay tuned…

Unrelated note but super important: It’s a big day in Iowa today, folks. Ken and I participated in the Washington caucuses in 2004, and it was an energizing and complicated experience. Keep your fingers crossed for the good guys. As Obama told The Baltimore Sun today, “Anything is possible at this point.”

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