Coffee Conscience – Trabant is all that


Sep 09, 2007

Within the walls and halls of specific cafes around Seattle, around the country, and even Canada, something verging on a Revolution in mind and action is occurring. This revolution is based on paying attention to the finer details of coffee preparation, but it also includes pouring time, energy and resources into developing awareness and formulating action around social and cultural issues–issues that we might ordinarily think go beyond the role of the traditional coffee house. Developments in this direction are happening with remarkable intensity, and cafes focused on this are beginning to show up everywhere, while some old favorites are transcending their previous practices to emerge anew. Its not just those of us who love great coffee who stand to benefit either. It is the whole world. The coffee individualists who carry the banner for this new movement are usually well-informed. In addition to cafe operators, their number includes baristas, equipment developers, and commentators. The most active of these are totally engaged. They are pushing the boundaries at all levels, including the standard ones around coffee preparation, equipment and new culinary experiences around coffee. But there is even more to it than this.

At the forefront is a new kind of social awareness and feeling of responsibility–which strongly advocates that doing the right thing means taking action directly in a personal, in-touch way when the cause is worthy. Even artisan roasters like Philip Meech, who craft coffee on a smaller scale, return almost breathlessly from their trips to origin. Roasters like Philip are determined to develop direct contact with farmers and growers for premium coffees and give back in meaningful ways to the people in these places. Through their actions they are acknowledging the poor families who actually grow, pick and wash the coffee, but for the most part remain hidden from view. These are the people who can most benefit from a fair deal.

Before now, it seemed like many if not most players in the specialty coffee industry leaned heavily on abstract idealism to demonstrate good intentions. In some cases it was implied that coffee consumers at all levels of the distribution chain could “buy their conscience clear” through the purchase of certain labels and brands. But regardless of the relative merits of the Fair Trade mark or an organic certification, many people realize that to create truly, positive change, they must do more than just change the fashion of their purchasing choice. Most people recognize that creating meaningful social change, whether locally or globally, requires considering and acting on issues as Citizens first, and giving a rest to the more passive consumer relationship to the world around them–at least at first.

The good news is we are actually beginning to see direct and personal involvement in just this way. Individuals are questioning the solutions to issues of social inequality surrounding coffee sourcing in poor countries. They are acting in discreet, meaningful ways, usually starting with direct visits to plantations. Here they personally witness the quality of life for the workers in these places. They are able to assess for themselves without a heavy corporate agenda or filter just how much potential for economic improvement and opportunity is really possible for these people.

Smaller retail operators especially are getting in on this. In some cases, they are learning as much as their roasters about their coffee sources. Retail operators are even following the trail of their coffee suppliers into the heart of black gold country to make person to person contact directly. These individual encounters expand our collective consciousness to what’s really going on in the coffee growing regions of the world, so we can understand and act too. They help everyone envision change.

The operators and staff at Trabant in Seattle follow this path–the path where part of the personal satisfaction and feeling of success comes from paying attention to detail and working to make a difference on all the levels. In addition to attention to social and environmental concerns, Trabant prepares amazing coffee. Better coffee is the flip side of the revolution in improved coffee operations and culture. Maybe a better cup comes as payoff for being more mindful of the coffee community at origin. In any case, whether brewed or extracted as espresso, Trabant consistently seems to get that much more from the coffee they’re serving. Trabant happens to be an early adopter of the Clover brewing device. And, the shop in the University District also serves as a sort of beta test site for the innovative brewer, so they are well versed in the nuances of the brewed coffee palette.

Trabant has also outfitted their espresso machine to eliminate variables that cause inconsistency, like brew temperature instability. One of the most notable aspects of Trabant’s operation is how articulate Michael and his entire staff are around the equipment choices they’ve made. It seems everyone at Trabant can speak to how and why they are using their machines the way they do. Their philosophy of leveraging the context of coffee to create a slightly better world and crafting a much better cup is evident everywhere you look.The

Trabant style of operation is the Good Way for our industry. Slayer applauds the good work with special recognition (if not a one million dollar grant).


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