A reflection on Season 1: Community

A reflection on Season 1: Community
A shot I took outside the McCormick Place in Chicago.

A reflection on Season 1: Community

Three months ago, I opened the season with an essay on what community means to me and for paid subscribers, five lessons I’ve learned along my community-building journey. I had ideas for stories and interviewees, and intentionally, I did not do a lot of planning. I’ve learned that my work is best produced through what comes out of my research and interviews. I don’t have a research phase that ends when I begin writing; it’s continuous and constantly morphing.

The word “community” gets thrown around a lot in the specialty coffee industry. The idea of dedicating a season to this theme was born out of the many angles that the coffee community has. I could write a newsletter only about this topic and not run out of stories. People I interview will often cite “the people” or “the community” as one of their main reasons for staying in this industry. Community and industry can co-exist.

The insidious part of “community” is that it gets conflated with “family,” and we know how that can go in the US. In an actual community, there’s mutual aid. But if you run a business or nonprofit, you have to make money in some fashion to stay upright. I do believe it’s possible to build wealth and community in a capitalist society, but I think we have to do it intentionally, slowly, and with eyes wide open.

This is where it goes wrong for some companies (depending on your definition of “wrong;” some would say this strategy works.). In tech, there’s this notion that you need to “disrupt” an industry. I really hate that word. You go in, guns blazing, ready to mow down whatever antiquated system exists, then build your product on those ashes. The language revolves around decks and KPIs and numbers (quantify everything!). Coffee community members who were hired for their expertise and professional connections are then laid off and left to grapple with the whirlwind pieces. We all start from somewhere and there’s the option to join without destroying. I was a coffee enthusiast before I was a coffee professional. 

Local specialty coffee communities are hyper-regional and often volunteer-operated by an ad-hoc group of coffee professionals who dedicate time and resources to organizing events. The most common are throwdowns, but there are also panel discussions, speakers, and cuppings. The best communities encourage anyone to participate, provide a safe space for people to come together, and offer free-flowing information without expecting anything in return. The worst ones are gatekeeping and exclusive. 

My In Focus interview with Leaderboard’s cofounders, Suneal Pabari and Grant Gamble, demonstrated how one could build a successful online community that fosters a learning and curiosity-driven environment. Sooz Hammond of Being Tea shared how intentional slow growth and sliding-scale pricing can be valuable and rewarding for a tea community. In the same article, founder of The Color of Coffee Collective Keith Hawkins discussed how coffee is used as a vehicle to connect with youth in underserved communities. 

Longtime coffee professional Alexandra LittleJohn spoke about her sales experience in coffee: building connections with intentionality and genuine value was prioritized over the short-term “what can you do for me” hard sell mentality.

Social media makes it SO much easier to connect with someone in the community on the other side of the world. We’ve got community social accounts, advocacy organizations, and so much more. 

Don’t get me wrong: there are absolutely many ways this industry could improve. What keeps me in it is not that these things exist, but because the people in it are here to make it better. At Expo in April, I met several of my interviewees in person for the first time. Someone I spoke to about my coffee as a houseplant article showed me updated photos of their plant—now producing cherries. With every conversation, new connection, event, and meal, my well felt more replenished than ever.

This marks the end of my first endeavor at the seasonal format here on tanjennts, but it’s my hope that the theme’s undercurrents continue. Catch up on the past articles here. If you enjoyed reading this and would like to support future work like this, paid upgrades and comps are available. Forwarding and sharing are also appreciated.


article links, personal updates, and a plant feature

Our Campus. Our Crisis.
Inside the encampments and crackdowns that shook American politics. A report by the student journalists of the Columbia Daily Spectator.

Really incredible reporting by the student journalists at Columbia's Daily Spectator

Laura: I’m a senior; I’m supposed to graduate. I’m also a low-income student. A lot was on the line. My parents had been sending all these messages: “Please leave. You can’t afford to be there.” I’m really close to my family, so it was heartbreaking: “There’s other students there who have so much money, and that’s not you.” And “I’ve worked so hard at so many jobs for you to go to this school, and now you’re throwing it all away.” And “This is not going to matter. You being there or you being outside doesn’t make a difference.” But I asked myself, What am I willing to give up? If people in Gaza can keep giving up everything, it’s not a big deal to be arrested for a few hours.
The Kids Are Not All Right. They Want to Be Heard
What explains the student movement against the war in Gaza? Sometimes the correct answer is the one right in front of you.
What explains this growing student movement? Sometimes the correct answer is the one right in front of you. The students want an end to a war that has been executed with breathtaking violence and killed more than thirty-four thousand Palestinians, most of them women and children. Every university in Gaza has been destroyed or severely damaged. 

"What we're losing in the blinding whiteness of advertising" [Fast Company]

Still, it feels that our creativity in this industry can never become the purest version of itself until it can break out of its shackled ways of imagining and envisioning. Our creativity is what it is now because of a mountain of slanted choices—each vulnerable to the references, wording, humor, comps, design aesthetics, audience portraits, casting preferences, setting choices, stylistic choices . . . etc. 
Bookmarked with Sahaj Kohli
“We are allowed to evolve and grow beyond who we once were.” The author of the new book, “But What Will People Say?” shares her best therapy advice (and how she reads every single day).

"Brown Girl Therapy" is one of my favorite IG accounts for her perspective on what it means and feels to be a child of Asian immigrants.

Community care is about considering those in your reach. [...] This is tied to self-care because in collectivist cultures, how we feel about ourselves can be tied to how well we play the roles expected of us in our families, groups, and communities. So, other-care is a form of self-care because it can help us feel good about ourselves. But we are only as good to others as we are to ourselves so self-care is also a form of community care.
What Happens When a Romance Writer Gets Locked Out of Google Docs
In March, an aspiring author got a troubling message: All of her works in progress were no longer accessible. What happened next is every writer’s worst fear.
While it’s still unclear what exactly happened to Renee’s docs, or if it’s just a fluke, the effects of mishaps like this are complex. Even though it’s now commonplace, there can still be unease around letting major corporations store personal writing. For authors who write about sex, say, or queer people trying to find a voice, hearing that your content could be flagged as “inappropriate” can have a chilling effect. 

🛠 Current project: Planning season 2!

🔏 Last week, paid subscribers received a short letter about my Covid-induced brain fog.

A Covid-induced brain fog
A short letter to paid subscribers about my brain fog.

🍩 What I ate/drank/snacked on:

I made the pork congee from the Made in Taiwan cookbook. But since I was sick, I hit the congee button on my pressure cooker, and one hour later, I had a meal!
Calathea Roseopicta Rosy sits next to me on my desk. The back of the leaves is a deep purple.