Breaking news coming out of Oakland today as Blue Bottle—one of the “Big 4” roasters in specialty coffee—has announced that effective immediately, they are withdrawing from participation in the Specialty Coffee Association due to the SCA’s decision to host World Championship events in Dubai as well as the controversial Deferred Candidate Policy (read more about the decisions and what they mean here and here). They join Counter Culture as the only two of the Big 4 to come out publicly against the SCA’s recent decisions, but Blue Bottle is the first to resign its membership.
In a phone interview yesterday, Blue Bottle founder James Freeman tells Sprudge, “After surveying our own staff, there was overwhelming agreement that the SCA’s response has not been adequate. So we’ve decided to withdraw our membership from the SCA and not participate in any SCA events, and not pay them money for anything until hopefully they come to their senses.”
To reach this decision, Blue Bottle higher-ups sent out a company-wide survey, with a vast majority of the 68 responses being in favor of withdrawal from the SCA. In that same survey, a majority of respondents also stated that they found SCA to be very important to their overall professional development. And while the conclusion jibes with Freeman’s own inclinations, he made it clear that this move is not a function of his own feelings but that of the people’s comprising the company. “It’s not just my opinion, it’s nothing unilateral,” Freeman tells me. “It’s our community speaking very, very clearly and consistently to us that they don’t want to be part of this decision the SCA made.”
Blue Bottle further clarified its position in a statement made today on their official website. In it they detail an attempt to reach out to SCA and encourage a potential change in venue, saying, “We also offered our financial assistance to move the competitions to a location where our baristas could be assured safety.” Moving forward now for Blue Bottle, not participating means, amongst other things, not financially supporting any baristas in competitions. Freeman is quick to note that this does not mean his staff cannot participate at a personal level—as competitors, judges, or volunteers—but simply that Blue Bottle will not be providing the sort of backing—monetary and otherwise—that the company would give under normal circumstances.
The withdrawal from the SCA is not permanent, or at least Blue Bottle hopes not. They plan to return to the fold once the appropriate changes have been made. “The SCA has done many good things for the specialty coffee community that have been benefitted many of our people as well as many people in other coffee companies,” Freeman states. “Once they’ve realized the error of their ways and we’re not associating with a regime that people in our community don’t have faith in, then we’ll be happy to rejoin… We’re not going to spend our money until we see change. Then we’ll happily spend our money.”
Blue Bottle is not the first coffee company to resign their SCA membership over the selection of Dubai as host city for World Championship events and the Deferred Candidate Policy, but with 48 cafes internationally and two more still in the works—and now the international backing of Nestlé—they are certainly the largest, with a founder in Freeman who is no stranger to the national news spotlight. Blue Bottle's decision today dovetails alongside ongoing mainstream coverage of Deferred Candidacy in publications like The Advocate and New York Magazine, stories that have brought the issue of the SCA's Dubai decision to a growing mainstream audience. With nigh on 50 cafes, Blue Bottle's dues are only marginally higher than a brand with a single location. But for the SCA, the loss of Blue Bottle's membership may be the costliest yet.
For more information on Blue Bottle’s resignation from the SCA, please read this statement published today on their official website.