Graphic Designer Questions Barista’s Ethics

Italian barista champion Francesco Sanapo recently starred in an advertising campaign for a new line of Green Mountain’s Keurig K-Cups. If you click here, embedded cookies from the ad campaign will show up every time you check your OK Cupid profile. Brian W. Jones, a graphic designer whose viral twitter project developed into the blog “Dear Coffee, I Love You”, called him out in an op-ed blog post just a few days ago.

For a coffee culture that is continually discussed regarding their relevancy in the emerging progressive coffee scene, it’s sad to see the Italian Barista Champion being used in this way. The brand’s tagline, “Brew like a barista™” is insulting to Francesco’s accomplishments as well as every other barista who works passionately to serve great coffee every day.

It’s very easy to take a knee-jerk reaction towards this sort of thing, and far more difficult to take a step back and view it a wider context. We find it curious, then, that Mr. Jones chose not to speak to Francesco directly, or even Google his name, before he authored his outsider’s op-ed. Had he done so, he would have come across our recent profile of Francesco Sanapo while on assignment in Moscow (it is the top English-language Google result for his name).

“I start to study roasting first in Italy, and also in Denmark and Germany”, Francesco said, paying homage to the education and experience necessary to make the jump from barista to roaster. He’s planning to feature his roastworks prominently in the cafe space: “In Italy, if you want to show the difference, I think it is important to show. I want to have my roaster in the window. In Italy this is very unusual, but I want to show why my coffee, Francesco Sanapo Coffee, is very different”.

Francesco is currently in the process of financing a progressive venture to help elevate and advance specialty coffee in Italy. The difficulty of this undertaking – in the land of illy, in a coffee culture for whom “strong” and “dark” are the societal norms – is a gaping, unfathomably vast challenge, something that Sprudge.com is amazed, inspired and daunted by. It goes far, far beyond the comparatively simple endeavors of working in the American specialty coffee industry for a decade, or documenting its cultural foibles and morays on a website.

As an entity that represents the editorial voice of a passionate barista, one who has proudly worked for over a decade in the specialty coffee industry across America, we can say that we’re not the least bit insulted by Francesco’s involvement in Green Mountain’s ad campaign.

So many, many facets of specialty coffee are funded on the back of compromise: our competitions, the vast majority of our media outlets, and most importantly, our cafes themselves. Many a barista champion has appeared in promotions for syrup companies, promoting a product that, on face value, is seemingly anathema to “every other barista who works passionately to serve great coffee every day”. High concept and high mindedness is fine when you’re blogging, but it ignores the reality of what it takes to run a successful cafe, to fight the good fight in the trenches, and, if need-be, to endorse the best damn K-Cup you can find if it means you’ll be opening a boutique roastery back home with the earnings.

These are realities we feel that Mr. Jones intentionally obfuscates in his editorial; they are realities that, while far from perfect, still exist on a day-to-day level in this industry. If you choose to criticize Mr. Sanapo for cross-branding with Green Mountain, and seek to maintain integrity in the aftermath, there is a bottomless list of specialty coffee paragons towards which your next op-ed should be directed. Start first with the humble mom and pop wholesale cafe, for whom busting ass and serving high quality coffee (and paying top dollar to partner with specialty roasters to do so) is part and parcel with the vanilla lattes that pay the rent.

Comments

  1. @thesticksooke says

    I remember back in the day when people read newspapers.  Those people
    would choose the particular papers they read according to the politics
    of the editorial team. 

    While I have no problem with 2 independent web-based coffee-industry
    information sources having different opinions and even different
    editorial agenda (or something less sinister-sounding than agenda) but
    what I would like to point out that the papers of yore had sections
    where editorials appeared and sections where news appeared. 

    I think
    that maybe we’re confusing the 2 with this topic.  If there were op/ed sections in these web-based news outlets then this wouldn’t have come to pass in this unsavory manner…Some of what we’re venting here is not productive for Specialty Coffee as an industry.

    For the record: I like Mr. Sanapo, Sprudge & DCILY.  And I am really quite a hunk.

  2. swagv says

    And Lord knows everytime I go to an SCAA barista championship, I think of Krups.

    Krups: the choice of the world’s best baristas.

    Mmmm, mmmm, tasty.

    Yeah, yeah. We get the banter. But wouldn’t a fictitious world be great where we didn’t have to continually compartmentalize lies from truth depending on who’s being paid to say it or not?

  3. Peter G says

    I read Brian’s article as a criticism of a system that seeks to take Mr. Senapo’s very real accomplishments as a barista and turn them into marketing fodder for an unrelated-to-espresso brewing device.  In comments since, he’s made it clear that he wasn’t criticizing Senapo as much as he was Green Mountain and “the system”.  I don’t think it’s fair to twist this into a Jones-vs-Senapo grudge match.  Brian is a thoughtful person and passionate coffee guy; it’s wrong to dismiss his opinion just because he works as a graphic designer.

    I agree that it’s important that coffee professionals like Senapo be able to embrace product endorsement, it’s an important part of the barista’s evolution as a professional job description, just as celebrity chefs like Julia Child and even Chef Boiardi (yes, he was real) were critical to the appreciation of the chef as a skilled professional.  Product endorsement, however, is fraught with danger; I mean, look what happened to poor Chef Boiardi!  On the other hand, product endorsement- as sprudge points out- can be a great way to enhance a talented food professional’s income.  It’s delicate, and it’s right for both Jones and sprudge to want to talk about it.

    I agree with Kevin, however, that it’s incorrect to paint the Italian coffee scene as a bleak wasteland just waiting to be saved by an American interpretation of “True Specialty Coffee”.  That may be the topic for another discussion, however.

    Peter G

  4. Kevin Knox says

    I don’t have any problem with Mr. Sanapo’s supposed compromises, but do disagree with Sprudge’s dismissive comments about Illycaffe and espresso in Italy generally. “Stong and dark” are the American contribution to espresso deevolution – Charbucks and their imitators. I’m always amazed given the tight regulation of the retail price of espresso and cappuccino in Italy just how many tiny, passionate craft roasters there are, and bars with a third or fourth doser-grinder with a great single origin coffee in it. 

    Volumes could be written about Illycaffe’s contributions to coffee quality at origin and to roasting and packaging technology. IMHO they buy generally superb coffee, blend it skillfully, roast it moderately – and don’t have anywhere near enough control of its freshness. But the basic style is nuanced, subtle, meant to be drunk striaight or with a little sugar but not milk (which Dr. Illy famously called “brutto” – ugly – when talking about Starbucks). 

    When we get to the point where a proper espresso served in a pre-warmed demitasse and a 5 oz. cappuccino with all steam wands cleaned and left unused after 10:30 in the morning are the U.S. norm we can start feeling superior. 

  5. Emma says

    While it’s true that this sort of thing may be a necessary evil, Mr. Jones’ point stands, in that it is a depressing and demeaning one.

  6. says

    “You’re right – we intentionally chose not to include your involvement with these organizations, because when you blog, you do so with your own independent brand and not as a representative of them. Frankly, we didn’t want to drag their reputations into it.”

    True, my views don’t in any way represent those of the organizations I work with. However, by using the headline you have and referring to me as an “outsider,” you’ve attempted to paint a picture of me that invalidates my opinion as someone “outside” and beneath the industry—which I am very much involved in.

    “which is the same way NBC uses Nespresso and DaVinci Gourmet…”
    Sure, and I’ve had great conversations with those concerned about that as recently as this week. Their perspectives are great and they’ve definitely challenged my own views. But it doesn’t mean I’ll agree whole heartedly and refrain from having opinions on the matter.

    “If anything, Francesco is the one who is using Green Mountain, not the other way around. He’s using them to get pay-yay’d so he can go back home and open the first real specialty coffee roaster in all of Italy.”

    Touché.

  7. Edwin says

    I would venture to say most of Green Mountain Coffee’s growth with K-Cup (which has been astounding by the way) is developing new specialty coffee market share rather than taking existing specialty coffee market share from somewhere else.  I see K-Cups as a great thing, for everyone except the environment.  Every Keurig machine that is purchased means someone is significantly improving their coffee experience.  Either because they’re getting better quality coffee or they’re getting a comparable coffee brewed fresh.  And by fresh I simply mean water or brewed coffee aren’t flowing through or resting too long in dirty equipment.

    The bigger they make the pie the more approachable an excellent coffee experience becomes to the average consumer.  Clearly the lead value in Keurig is convenience because as you’ve pointed out Brian it is not price.  I’ve used your single cup cost comparison a lot http://www.dearcoffeeiloveyou.com/love-keurig-nope/ and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

    To give some perspective, when GMCR (r stands for roaster) began their journey with Kcup about 5 years ago they were primarily a roaster.  Today over 80% of their business is Keurig and they probably equal Intelligentsia’s annual revenue in about 10 days.  This has been a market developing mechanism!

    And now with new products on the market like Baratza’s dose by weight grinders and literally hundreds of batch roasters being manufactured and sold each month globally, demand for specialty will continue to increase as people can come closer to experiencing something exceptional.  Is K-Cup exceptional in the cup?  In my opinion, No.  But it is far better than what most drink today.  And for that I give Francesco two thumbs up and wish him the best.  But next time resolve to saying  ”it makes a good cup”, or even “great” rather than saying “the best”.  Unless that is truly what you believe.  There is a big difference.  

  8. Jordan says

    Brian,

    You’re right – we intentionally chose not to include your involvement with these organizations, because when you blog, you do so with your own independent brand and not as a representative of them. Frankly, we didn’t want to drag their reputations into it.

    You did, in fact, repeatedly criticize Francesco, both in your editorial and in the Twitter post attached to it in which you called his involvement with Green Mountain “sad”.

    And no, you’re not “wrong to feel that way”, and your decision to get all woebegone and “disheartened” about something you feel is beneath you is completely your own. But you’re a blogger, and this website regularly concerns itself with the way coffee is portrayed by the media – that means your content is fair game. Our decision to feature your op-ed had very little to do with defending anyone. It offered us an opportunity to talk about the compromises, big and small, that so many, many people in our industry make – some even for the greater good, a category into which we feel Francesco firmly falls.

    The line between taking syrup money and taking k-cup money is perilously thin, in my opinion, and who the hell are you to criticize him for it in the first place? At-home coffee products have used phrases like “coffeehouse flavor” and “just like a cafe” for decades; it’s really nothing new, and your opinion of humanity must be pretty dim if you think a single soul is going to look at that k-cup and genuinely think to themselves, “gee-whiz, I pop it in the machine and now I’m a real barista!”

    If anything, Francesco is the one who is using Green Mountain, not the other way around. He’s using them to get pay-yay’d so he can go back home and open the first real specialty coffee roaster in all of Italy. It’s the same way the mom and pop you worked for used the $.75 syrup up-charge to keep the lights on…which is the same way NBC uses Nespresso and DaVinci Gourmet… 

  9. says

    Thanks for posting this Sprudge. I think it’s a great topic that should be discussed openly and I would love to hear other’s opinions on it.

    I know it’s very easy to take a knee-jerk reaction and defend a fellow barista, but I was by no means criticizing Francesco. I did read your interview as well as watched other videos with him including the ones leading up to the WBC. The contrast of Francesco’s passion for great coffee and his presence in the k-cup ad is what I found so heart breaking, am I wrong to feel that way? My commentary is on the predatory nature of companies like Green Mountain Coffee who are trying to exploit barista culture for their own commercial gain selling glorified instant coffee.

    I find it hard to compare adding syrup to a well made drink with advertising k-cups as “brewing like a barista.” That’s a much larger stretch and a much bigger compromise—something that I fully understand, even as an “outsider.”

    Also, while this “graphic designer” may not work bar currently, I once spent 4 years behind one making vanilla lattes to help a mom & pop shop pay their rent. I’ve also spent the last 3 years brewing, learning, questioning, and sharing great coffee with those “inside” and “outside” the industry. Apart from DCILY, I’ve dedicated much of my own time and money to the specialty coffee industry, including helping organize Coffee Common events as well as working with the Nordic Barista Cup—a reality that Sprudge has intentionally obfuscated in their editorial.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *