Monday, May 17, 2010

Bucking Tradition

And it started a little something like this:

Did you know coffee is the world's second most consumed beverage after water?

One minute coffee is the second biggest commodity next to oil and now it's the second most consumed beverage after water. Sometimes I just don't know where people get their data.

In the world of specialty coffee, there's always something that gets the cognoscenti riled up and their panties in a bunch, this week it's an article in The Atlantic by Giorgio Milos of Illy Caffe causing everyone to dig up their pitchforks and don pointy white hoods...

His crime? Stating that American espresso sucks and that we here in the Good 'Ole U.S. of A. don't know what we're doing with coffee nor making espresso.

Um, boring...

Truth is, most American coffee is truly terrible. It's horrid, horrific and disgusting. Walk into most any coffee joint in America and chances are that I'm going to order an iced tea. Espresso? Forget about it. While my friends are willing to be adventurous and try an espresso, I won't. I'm too scared.

Anyway - Milos is traveling the nation as a coffee emissary espousing The Italian Way of making espresso coffee. He's giving lectures and demonstrations and I think that American Third Wavers are planning protests and perhaps even a hunger strike.

As for myself, I'd like to know when he's coming to Baltimore so I can attend his lecture.

Not to protest or to stage a hunger strike (that would be stupid) but rather to listen and perhaps learn.

Sure, what Milos has to say might be irritating but he's got a point: the Italian Method. Maybe there's something to learn from his discussion? Maybe not. Either way, to simply work yourself up into a frenzy and dismiss him outright because he thinks American espresso sucks is just myopic. American espresso does suck and maybe he might have some ideas to make it better. Or at least it might be a nice way to spend a morning listening to strange Italians talking about strange ways of making coffee.

The truth is that it matters little to me that Milos doesn't like American espresso, nor if he did not like our own espresso. The reality is that we're not doing "Italian Espresso", we're doing American espresso, or more precisely: Progressive American Coffee. Which means to say that while we're grounded in tradition, we're also exploring coffee beyond the mainstream, beyond what's expected. It also means that if Mr. Milos came to our little espresso bar or shop and found our coffee not to be in the Italian Tradition, that's okay too. It wasn't meant to be that Italian Tradition.

Personally speaking, I don't know why so many of my peers are so up in arms over this. Are we too insecure in our craft that we quiver and fall by those who criticize our craft? The Italian Tradition is rich and storied. The American Method is new and unexplored. I'd rather stick with our genre of exploration and experimentation than remain tethered to "tradition."