On Thursday, February 7th, we published a feature on a barista in Seattle named Matt Watson. Mr. Watson is the author of a blog called Bitter Barista. At the time of publication, he was an employee at All City Coffee, in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle.
We're champions of baristas – our three-plus years worth of published content offer ample proof of this – but about a week ago a few folks brought this website to our attention, due to its unfortunate exploitation of the outdated snarky barista archetype.
Sprudge.com has a long, rich history of writing about those who write about coffee, from personal blogs to The New York Times, from Tumblrs to famous food writers. We felt that covering the Bitter Barista fit the established editorial purview of our website, so we decided to learn more.
As we prepared the feature, we asked ourselves two key questions:
1. “I wonder who this barista is.”
2. “I wonder where this barista works.”
In our original post we wrote that “we uncovered the answers”, but that was a bit of hyperbole. It took exactly one Google search to find Mr. Watson, who repeatedly mentioned his identity as the Bitter Barista under his personal Twitter account – he even listed it in his Twitter bio. For example, have a look at these two key Tweets, both posted on January 30th:
The story was public, the blog was public, and Mr. Watson's Twitter account was public. It was easy to find out who Mr. Watson was because Mr. Watson made no effort to be anonymous. He openly advertised his identity on Twitter, which makes it public information. We decided to report these readily available facts.
Sprudge writes about coffee news, and this particular bit of coffee news went viral after Mr. Watson was dismissed by All City Coffee. The feature was picked up first by Seattle CBS affiliate KIRO and has since gone on to be featured by several news sources, from Gawker to the Associated Press, the Seattle Times to Eater National.
You might think we'd be stoked about all of this, but we are, in fact, not stoked at all. We don't take any gratification in seeing someone lose their job. There's been some misconceptions as to our efforts to “get Matt fired”, but at no point throughout the whole rigamarole have we been in contact with the ownership, management, or suppliers of All City Coffee.
Rough days at work? Of course. Upsetting interactions? Absolutely. Need to vent sometimes? That's universal. But rape jokes? References to violence and animal abuse? Endangering customers with food allergies and dietary restrictions? Not one word of this was presented as satire by Mr. Watson to his readers, customers, or employers until after our story was published. You can call vitriol “satire” after the fact, but that doesn't make it any less hateful.
We have no desire to police the internet or censor thought, although we do agree with our friends who felt that Matt Watson was attempting to exploit an outdated and frankly offensive stereotype for personal gain. We believe everyone has the right to say anything they want, so long as they understand they do not have freedom from consequences for doing so. You reap what you sow – you're allowed to write what you want, and others are allowed to comment on it. If you want to dish it out, you've got to be able to take it.
This is, of course, a two-way street, and the last few days have made that abundantly clear to us. For more on the name-calling, personal attacks, and threats of violence we've received, please check out our post on “Some Of The Hate Mail We've Received Since Publishing Our Bitter Barista Story“.
Coffee is an industry driven in large part by baristas, from those working in the trenches to those who have risen through the ranks to form their own companies, source beautiful coffees, build remarkable espresso machines, consult, teach, inform, guide, and advocate for what great coffee is and what great coffee can be. We're lucky to know and work with many baristas, and we'll continue to advocate for them and their efforts in what we consider to be a special, valuable, vibrant, remarkable, and growing culture.