What community means to me

A reflection on what the coffee community means to me.

What community means to me
Photo by Nahima Aparicio / Unsplash

What does community mean to you?

When I think of the word community in the context of coffee, I think of the people that make this industry so great. I think about the grassroots organizations that have risen and retired in cities, online spaces in Facebook groups, Slack, Discord, Instagram, and more. I picture the people who have inspired and encouraged others to grow and expect nothing in return. I also think about how cafes, if built into the community, can enhance it and foster economic and social growth in the neighborhood.

It took me a long time to feel like I was part of the coffee community. And when I say “community” here and throughout this season, I mean the people who work in and adjacent to coffee. When I started out, there were coffee celebrities (coffee-lebrities)—the rock star baristas who were shining at competitions. There wasn’t a specialty cafe that could be found in nearly every town. There were online (invite-only) forums of people already established in coffee, a forum or two of passionate home baristas, and…that was it. Instagram and Twitter hadn’t quite taken off yet, so here I was, trying to piece together what was happening in the industry through the pages of Daily Coffee News, Barista Magazine when I could find it, Fresh Cup, and Sprudge. 

Early on in my coffee journey, I had asked a cafe about pricing for a Baratza grinder—they offered to sell it to me at their wholesale cost. But I also had someone, under the guise of wanting to meet me, use me for an hour of free consult time to talk about how they could get more exposure in the Chicago coffee community.

Don’t get me wrong: I am all for community. I, too, am invested in this industry because of the community. However, I have seen the word get twisted into marketing fodder, a false beacon of light to signal and gain trust. At the moment, you can’t always tell who’s using it for marketing and who truly cares. It’s only when a few years have passed that you can check in and see if the company still follows through. I’ll get more into this in future articles.

It is hard to describe this kind of community to people outside the industry. 

I have met up with countless people in various cities around the world solely because they work in coffee. We’d never met in real life before, yet they were generous with their time and knowledge. I have offered and been offered couches to crash on. And this, to me, is what community means: mutual aid, solidarity, support, gentle critique, and a sense of belonging.

A dozen or more years later, I don’t have such a rosy outlook on the industry, but I am also not pessimistic. There are absolutely a lot of things that need to be worked on and gatekeeping information, workers' rights, and climate change are some of those many things. But these days, there are more specialty shops than ever, far more ways to connect to someone, and at least in parts of the US, way more diversity and spaces for people to come together, in community.

So, to gently kick this season off, I’d like to know what community means to you. I’ve created a discussion post where you can leave comments or anonymously contribute your thoughts (through a form).

👥 Discussion: What does community mean to you?
As part of Season 1’s topic about community, I am opening this post for the entire season to collect answers and host a discussion space around “community.” There are two ways to contribute to this discussion: 1. Log in and comment on this post. Feel free to reply to other


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