Fraud In A Cup: The Weissman Cometh to The Seattle Times

From Seattle Times Coffee City writer Melissa Allison, on the front page of the Sunday Business section:

“Talking to baristas, the word “passion” comes up a lot…[it's] a well-known trait about baristas — their love of talking about coffee, from the bean profiles from various countries, to the best pressure and water temperature for pulling a great shot of espresso. So, hang on to your travel mugs. We’re going behind the counter to ask baristas to talk about themselves”

The article goes on to feature, in a somewhat disjointed interview style, quotes and profiles from a number of Seattle-area coffee types. Some come off as erudite and knowledgeable, others seem downright obsessed (the article IS titled “Coffeemania”, quite the neologism). We’re not really sure what Tonya Wagner of Victrola is getting at; her quotes about white guys and bike geeks and oenophilia seem either woefully out of context or flown in wholesale from another planet. But it’s all in good fun, until we get to the final segment:

Weissman

Weissman and Barista

“A lot of them are talented, alternative people who never went to college and really need a subculture that’s special … It’s hard to come up in America and find your way into something that isn’t stupid and meaningless. The whole blue-collar thing is driving people into poverty and lack of meaning. These guys might smoke a bunch of dope, but they get up every morning and they consider it an art. They do their art, and they love it, and it’s beautiful to them, and romantic.”

That’s from Michaele Weissman, she of the 2008 industry exposé “God In A Cup”. A tilt-a-whirl of mid-2000s coffee trends and bong-rip fantasia, “God In A Cup” is an outside view of the insiders, a document that was out of date before it even reached publication. Ms. Weissman’s contribution to the Seattle Times article amounts to the first peep we’ve heard from her since early 2009, when her blog was last updated. Why on earth she was included in an article on “barista passion” is entirely beyond us, but let’s take a moment and break down her quote, line by line.

“A lot of them are talented, alternative people who never went to college and really need a subculture that’s special”

A lot of baristas never went to college. What’s more compelling, however, are the number of baristas who have.

More than half of the working baristas interviewed for Melissa Allison’s article have college degrees. 6 out of 7 baristas running the Stumptown Amsterdam cafe have degrees. Take an informal poll of your own specialty coffee shop and you’ll find similar results. Many in this industry hold degrees in a wide range of learned fields. Sprudge.com is personally acquainted with working baristas who have proudly earned degrees in Arabic Language Studies, Botany, Visual and Media Arts, Art History, and Anthropology, not to mention individuals carrying their Bachelor of Arts in English, History, Journalism, and Poetry, or Bachelor of Sciences in Engineering, Chemistry, and Archaeology, just to name a few.

“It’s hard to come up in America and find your way into something that isn’t stupid and meaningless. The whole blue-collar thing is driving people into poverty and lack of meaning.”

“Stupid and meaningless”? Is this barista passion as class warfare? The whole thing just seems so mean, as if informed by a kind of blue-blood dialectic. Are you saying that baristas are a portafilter away from a meaningless existence? Skilled tradesmen aren’t meaningless, and if anything, there’s a significant lack of appreciation for skilled tradesmen in our culture. The idea that baristas are somehow rising up from the impoverished sadness of the blue collar experience…well, to use her own words, that’s a “stupid and meaningless” thing to infer.

“These guys might smoke a bunch of dope, but they get up every morning and they consider it an art.”

The idea of someone like Sam Lewontin or Andrew Milstead smoking “dope” before working a bar shift is patently ridiculous. These kinds of assertions are tortuously based in a mid-2000s Portland paradigm, and even then, we’re not sure if we believe you were ever actually offered that infamous bong rip. Do your research, Michaele – coffee people go out for cocktails after their shift, they don’t get high before.

Seattle Times – Coffeemania: From The Mouths Of Baristas

Comments

  1. Renee says

    I couldn’t agree more! When I first read this book, I would take a minute to read a page and then take 10 minutes to rant and rave about Ms Weissman and her ridiculous comments and assumtions. My better half actually hid the book from me for a few days, because he couldn’t take it.
    I wouldn’t read anyone’s article who would use her as a point of reference for anything related to coffee.

  2. schooley says

    wasn’t there a nyt article about how awesome weed smokin’ is, and how cool people and chefs are all weed smokin’?

  3. says

    We never understood what Michaele Weissmann has to do with quality coffee any more than Pamela Des Barres had to do with decent rock music in the 70′s.

    So we basically glazed over anything coming out of her mouth in that article.

  4. says

    Straight up.

    Personally, most of the baristas i know either graduated college already or are working on degrees.

    Most of the professional baristas i know don’t deign to cheef a blunt at any time of day – they’re too busy; going to cuppings, blogging/tweeting about their espressos, viewing food porn, reviewing brewing techniques, or otherwise delighting their palettes with excellent examples of culinary art.

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