Last weekend the team from Tamper Tantrum took over the Taylor Street café in midtown Manhattan and packed it with over 100 coffee professionals to mark their very first event in the United States. There are several coffee-based lecture series that now take place around the world, but Tamper Tantrum is one of the longest running and well known, especially in Europe where it was started.
What began as a podcast by Colin Harmon (of Ireland’s 3FE) and Stephen Leighton (of UK’s Has Bean) in 2009 has turned into one of the world’s premier live coffee talk shows. During each event Colin and Stephen turn over their soapbox to other coffee industry professionals who give 20 minute talks about whatever is on their mind. After each speaker has their say, a moderated discussion takes place allowing the audience to ask questions or share their own thoughts on the subject.
The speaker line-up for New York’s event was a balanced roster that included some very well-known industry veterans alongside others who were giving their debut public talks. But no matter their resume, everyone delivered spectacularly on a range of important topics that are often overlooked at coffee industry events that included diversity, employee power dynamics, going beyond quality, healthy amounts of ambition, cognitive bias, and Nick Cho.
In between the discussions taking place in the loft upstairs, a Chemex-sponsored brew bar had popped up in the café below where a team of baristas served coffee from a range of roasters that included Counter Culture, Intelligentsia, Neat, Madcap, Irving Farm and Nobletree. The space was cosy, but lively and full of diverse viewpoints that surely had everyone’s brain working overtime.
Based on the success of this inaugural US event, it likely won’t be the last Tamper Tantrum on this side of the pond. So if you couldn’t make the New York event, hold fast and keep a look-out for future live events. Also, all of the lectures in NYC were filmed and will be released for the public to watch in the coming weeks and months. If you’re new to Tamper Tantrum, there is an archive of great videos from previous events (including my recent favorite talk with former World Barista Champion, Stephen Morrissey), which you can watch for free at Tamper Tantrum.
Below is a short summary of each speaker and their talks that took place in New York. The grand finale of the day was a debate over the merits of coffee competitions—dead or not dead—which you will need to wait for the video to fully appreciate it and find out which side won.
Meister (@NotJustMeister) writes about coffee, debates others about coffee in her podcast Opposites Extract, and has been working with coffee in different capacities for almost 16 years, most recently at Café Imports in Minneapolis. During her talk, Meister discussed how we define ambition in the coffee industry, asking what motivates us and what really makes us special? After divulging that studies suggest that highly ambitious people aren’t happier and that less driven people are more content we should consider what type of ambition is healthy in an industry that doesn’t always provide healthcare and support for the high stress involved. Instead of looking at ambition as hero’s trophies, it should align more with your personal mission. So she asks us as individuals to determine our motivation in this industry and use that as a personal yardstick to measure success.
Michelle Johnson (@meeshal) is an independent coffee professional who lives in Phoenix and works at a creative firm between organizing community coffee events and writing from her perspective as a person of color working in the coffee industry, which has plenty of diversity challenges. Meesh used the opportunity to talk candidly with the audience about her personal experience as well as about the changes she hopes can be made quickly to create a more inclusive industry. She pointed out how progressive the industry is and how quickly it is currently evolving, which should make it much easier to implement real change right now. From changing how we hire to how we evaluate staff. Why do we need diversity, she asks? New and fresh ideas, perspectives and innovation to start. We were different a year ago and we will be different again next year. In the meantime, we should work to end stereotyping, implicit bias, tokenism and covert racism. She also argues for more diversity in hiring staff—pointing out that when the industry hires based only on experience, it perpetuates the white male majority within the industry. Instead, hire for personality and potential.
Jenn Chen (@thejennchen) is a coffee marketer based in San Francisco, who uses well-crafted communication to get a company’s message out to their audience online. She organizes coffee events around San Francisco with the Bay Area Coffee Community and has helped lead an important discussion about diversity and sexism in the coffee industry. At the event she talked about power dynamics in the coffee industry and how it affects the careers of those working in it. After defining what is meant by power dynamics, Jenn shared several anonymous stories about actual situations that workers in the coffee industry have to deal with constantly and could often be resolved with better dynamics among colleagues, employer & employee, customer & barista and peer to peer. She followed up the examples with tips that might have prevented them.
Colleen Anunu (@anunumous) is the Sr. Manager of Coffee Supply for Fair Trade USA and specializes in impact evaluation and market access strategies for coffee producers and roasters, emphasizing shared value, gender equity and farmer-first community development. Colleen wanted to talk with the audience about going beyond quality and challenging coffee professionals to also consider other things that matter in the industry. How do we trace coffee better and ensure that coffee is profitable in the long run? She asserted that we don’t know the true cost of coffee or the real investment needed to actually produce higher quality and further, that we often don’t know what the higher green costs or our relationships are actually doing for farmers. We should stop mythologizing our industry so we can make real change for growers. Colleen ended with some shared principles & values that she hopes the industry will commit to—actionable transparency, credible accountability and honest emotional equity.
Matt Perger (@mattperger) has won a bunch of coffee competitions (even when he hasn’t) and created a growing coffee knowledge empire called Barista Hustle where he shares information focused on his mission of consistency, accuracy and deliciousness. This isn’t Matt’s first Tamper Tantrum and this time around he talked about our shortcomings as human beings due to bias. He outlined very types of bias and how it affects us. Beginning with cognitive bias, i.e. the bandwagon effect. Anchoring bias, or placing too much weight on one specific detail. Saliency bias. Illusory Correlation. Congruency Bias. Confirmation Bias. Choice supportive bias, and so on. All of this was meant to show us that we don’t know what we don’t know and we’re sitting atop Mount Stupid. Matt then went on to discuss the need for real, balanced criticism to help the industry grow. Less back patting and more real talk. He suggested we stop giving empty compliments and instead help each other do better. We can choose to disagree, but we can never learn if we don’t know.
Nick Cho (@nickcho) is the founder of Murky Coffee, which opened in 2002 in Washington D.C. and emerged as one of the pioneering third-wave cafes on the east coast. Five years ago, Nick and his wife Trish Rothgeb co-founded Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters in San Francisco and Nick has continued to be a leader in the industry through his work on several organization boards, committees, and twitter. Nick’s talk began by asking the audience what the biggest problem is in specialty coffee. After pointing out all of the successes that the industry has had, like specialty coffee being trendy as ever and that the industry growth likely ensures that it’s not going anywhere soon. So what’s the biggest problem—Climate change? What could be bigger? Nick believes the lack of institutionalized education in coffee is the problem. We don’t have checks and balances. All the knowledge we have about specialty coffee could be taught in a few weeks. Nick believes we’re past the point of relying on blogs and forums and Twitter for knowledge and we need something more concrete. Next, he moves on to discuss the information gap in coffee companies, saying that if you’re a highly skilled expert in green buying or roasting or brewing, you need to have knowledge in the other areas to fully understand how to do it well. He argues that an orchestra doesn’t have three conductors, so a quality focused coffee company shouldn’t either. Could coffee degree programs create better coffee employees? Maybe. We all want to get better, individually and collectively. But what does that actually mean?