Convince Me Otherwise

UPDATE : Convince Me Otherwise: Follow-Up Post.

Disclaimer: My thoughts and opinions are not affiliated with any cafe or company that I work for other than Why Not? Coffee. All viewpoints are taken from the eyes of a Seattleite.

I have a feeling that this post is going to rub people the wrong way; so I’m not going to bother trying to blur the lines and just say what I have to say. I generally stand by the principle that I won’t complain about something unless I’m willing to actively do something to change it.

I distinctly remember opening a Barista Magazine and reading one of the Specialty Coffee Assosciation of America’s (S.C.A.A.) Barista Guild of America (B.G.A.) advertisement on my first break after getting hired at my first quality focused coffee bar; the thought of joining the organization hasn’t crossed my mind since.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Seattle has the highest concentration of baristas in the United States. So I find it extremely odd that an organization based solely on unifying baristas has completely neglected it’s largest market. Although the barista community varies in quality and dedication levels, this is still the home of more baristas than anywhere in the U.S. How is it that an organization dedicated to serving that niche has successfully avoided supporting the community that benefits the most from their presence? Granted, the B.G.A. has helped build communities in other parts of the United States. The only time I’ve ever seen the B.G.A. in Seattle is during CoffeeFest or when someone gives a damn enough about them to PAY THEM to “sanction” us as knowing what we’re talking about and trying to actively do what they should’ve been doing in the first place. It makes me wonder if the BGA just claims events that other people have done the grunt work for, or if they are actually facilitating in community building.

I like to think I keep a somewhat close eye on trends and events going on in specialty coffee around Seattle the past couple years, and I can honestly say that I’ve seen the B.G.A. here a handful of times; Coffee Fest and the LA vs. SEA Latte Art Throwdown, although the Coffee Fest Seattle barely counts because they make their appearance and act like they are constantly supporting the Pacific Northwest coffee community while everyone else is visiting. I also don’t feel that latte art throwdowns are really promoting the community or the profession, more so making baristas feel like they are getting “bang for their annual buck.” I don’t care about who pours the best swan or rosetta; it means absolutely nothing for the day-to-day community.

Most reasons people tell me that I need to join the B.G.A. is for the skill-building workshops and certifications. My cafe is a skill-building workshop and I try and hone in on various skills everyday; except I get paid. As far as certifications go, I don’t need to pay someone money for them to tell me I’m a “certified barista.” Sorry, but I think it’s a bullshit ploy to get more money, kind of like B.G.A. sanctioned events. I feel it’s a safe assumption that anyone at a competition or S.C.A.A. event more than likely already has access to the tools and people that the make the B.G.A. “function.” I think it’s pompous for an organization, lead by another organization that pushes educating the public, to charge people to BETTER REPRESENT COFFEE. That’s should be a service the BGA owes to it’s community, not it’s members; especially at a conference or competition.

You might be furious at this point, and I’m sorry if you are. But the only reason, as it stands right now, that I’d join the B.G.A. is to become an ACTIVE and SUPPORTING chapter representative for the Pacific Northwest. Otherwise, i might have to create an organization for the Seattle community that actually will do something. Barista Guild of Seattle? A group of people actively dedicated to supporting the community in Seattle. Join now for $185 and I’ll even give you a shirt and a pat on the back. Be sure to renew every year. Want the B.G.S. to “approve” of what you’re doing? Send us $450 and the B.G.S. will show up with a checklist, sit in the back and do nothing. Want other people to know you’re cool too? The B.G.S. sends out e-mails to your colleagues that lets them know of you’re induction into the Cool Kids Club (aka B.G.S.)! Mention this blog and get a $50 discount.

Why Not?

Big thanks to Sarah Dooley, Sam Lewontin, and all the cafes on the Dis-Loyalty Card for being awesome and taking the initiative to do something to help our coffee community. YOU ALL ROCK!

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34 Comments on “Convince Me Otherwise”

  1. 06/01/2010 at 12:06 pm #

    The gist of your blog post seems to be that you don’t see value in a BGA membership. That’s a personal assessment, and in that, it’s a fair assessment.

    Where you fail is in the points you make.

    “PAY THEM?” Who is “THEM?” Are you saying that someone is pocketing the money? Where do you think that money goes? Sanctioning fees has little to do with “knowing what we’re talking about.” The “BGA just claims events?” “Claims?!?” Nobody from the BGA goes around in a hostile annexing of barista activities. That’s bullshit, Alex.

    Whether or not the BGA Barista Certification program has teeth remains to be seen, but have you taken a close enough look at the program to have a thoughtful opinion? The statement, “I think it’s pompous for an organization, lead by another organization that pushes educating the public, to charge people to BETTER REPRESENT COFFEE.” First of all, it’s “led,” and second of all, “pompous?”

    Do you know what’s “pompous?” To sit back and blog about all the ways the BGA sucks, and then to end the blog by writing, “But the only reason, as it stands right now, that I’d join the B.G.A. is to become an ACTIVE and SUPPORTING chapter representative for the Pacific Northwest.” So you think the BGA is lame, but you’d happily accept an elected position. Do you see how backwards that is?

    I’m not furious by any stretch. I am a bit flabbergasted by this blog entry though. The BGA is certainly deserving of some criticism, constructive or otherwise, and the organization has much development ahead of it. I’m just calling you out for the fact that your blog entry here is a pretty crappy attempt at criticism, and displays a lack of depth.

    I think you can do better than this, dude.

    • 06/01/2010 at 12:26 pm #

      I really appreciate you jumping into this, Nick.

      I admit that in not being a member of the organization, my views and opinions are skewed and I am more than willing to accept that this post could be 100% useless and I’m open to all critiques.

      I know that no one is pocketing money. They way I understand it, the BGA sanctioned events just add a sense of legitimacy to an event. The only times I’ve seen this done, is when someone, or a group of people, have already worked on event planning; the who, what, when, where, why, how. I haven’t, personally, seen an event that was initiated by the BGA from start to finish. I feel the event organization and planning stumbles into the idea of getting BGA on board, and mostly because there are no other options.

      Shortly after my disclaimer, I stated that I only complain about something if I’m willing to do something about it. The only way I can do something to change the things I don’t like about the BGA is to join; but since the “benefits” of joining aren’t worth the membership fees, then my only option to have my voice heard was to write a post to see if other people agreed. I’d gladly join the BGA if they made some small changes to the structure and if they did, then I wouldn’t even be interested in being a chapter representative, I’d be a proud shirt-yielding member who’s enjoying his happy Seattle coffee community.

      • 06/01/2010 at 12:49 pm #

        Like I said, the BGA is not beyond reproach. There’s quite a bit of criticism that would be fair, with none of it really being the fault of the current leadership… there are some fundamental problems with the organization’s purpose and value proposition that are practically built in to the Guild’s DNA.

        The main criticism of the BGA is, simply, it’s hard to derive value. I’m a BGA member because I’ve decided that I can’t not be a BGA member. Like me, a lot of people who join do so to support the building and development of the BGA, and for their own satisfaction in just being a member of the only such organization out there. There’s another group that joins because it sounds like something that they should join, and hopefully after they join they’ll understand it better and learn more about the value of membership. That latter group is unlikely to renew if they don’t discover what that value is, one way or another. Addressing this will require a complete overhaul of the BGA’s foundations… basically, dismantling it completely and building the value almost from scratch.

        What’s very important to remember is that the BGA is made up of baristas just like you, Alex. The BGA leadership… is made up of baristas just. like. you. They’ve just chosen to step up and assume some responsibility and help play a role in molding and shaping the Guild now and in the future. They are all… ALL… volunteers.

        Point is, when you write in criticism of the BGA, it’s important to understand one simple truth. When you speak or write of “the BGA,” you’re actually referring to one of two things. Either the institution of the BGA, or the people of the BGA, be that the leadership or the members, and either particular individuals, or all of those individuals as a collective group.

        In order to know what’s institutional and what’s the fault of people, you have to learn more about what it’s doing, don’t you think?

        At the risk of sounding patronizing, Alex, you have potential to become a real leader in this community… don’t squander that with shoot-from-the-hip blog bullshit like this entry. I think you can do better.

      • 06/01/2010 at 1:11 pm #

        Thank you for the more constructive criticism.

        I guess my problem is in the membership value. I think there are far too many baristas who join, and remain members, on principle and fantasy of what it could be. Is that helping or hurting? I always felt, from the outside, the members who renewed memberships were getting value out of the BGA and it’s current “DNA,” not giving false hope to the existence of said organization. I agree that the BGA needs vocal members, and that comes to my 2nd point of the post; Seattle is neglected by both the organization and its leaders who seem to have adapted a, “they’ll be fine,” attitude towards our city’s community. Yet, is more than willing to critique anything we do; as are most people to do to anything. This is where push comes to shove for me, if the BGA were to make any actions to try and help unify Seattle in ANY WAY without being paid for “sanctioned” events; I would more than gladly support the organization through purchasing a membership.

  2. Brian Clemens
    06/01/2010 at 12:21 pm #


    Great post and thank you for getting many who will read this to think! I sure hope that member of the BGA (myself included as of last month) don’t just “pay their annual dues” and call themselves a member of the Barista Guild of America. Before I comment on your post, I’ll let you know why I joined. I joined to be a supportive and active member of the BGA here in AZ. We have what Phoenicians would call a “growing coffee community” that I would equate to a seedling that hasn’t gone through photosynthesis just yet. Yes, shops are popping up. New names in coffee are being brought in – but rather than an appreciation for the coffee and craft, we have “shop baristas” rather than “craft baristas”. Each of these “shop baristas” adheres to their shops standards and rarely push themselves to learn more about the coffee – roasting, origin, farm, varietal, etc. and also rarely push themselves to learn more about the craft. We have a lot of “shop baristas” who work their shift and earn a paycheck. They do little for the furthering of the coffee industry here in Phoenix. They don’t team up with other baristas in the valley and experiment with brewing devices, extractions, temps, milk, etc. So, just as I’m starting up a very small coffee consulting company this summer, my other goal is to begin developing a coffee community in which baristas collaborate, share, learn, and educate. My worst nightmare for Phoenix coffee is to wake up ten years from now and see only 2 or 3 specialty coffee shops having the same company name. In short, the reason I am a BGA member is to foster a better coffee community here in Phoenix and be an active member. Do I NEED to be a part of the BGA to fully represent Specialty Coffee here in Phoenix? Do I NEED to be a part of the BGA to be recognized as a part of Specialty Coffee? NO and NO!

    It will be interesting to see what type of discussion your post fosters. I’m very interested in this statement/question: “It makes me wonder if the BGA just claims events that other people have done the grunt work for, or if they are actually facilitating in community building.” I wonder if more community building happens through people like you, Alex and Luis Till/Chris Tingom here in Phoenix OR if more community building happens through a large organization. I can look at our government and large corporations and see all of the excess and waste, yet hear their claims and I only hope that the BGA does not parallel these two groups.

    Alex – you’re the man! Thank you for your solid work in Seattle and your commitment to quality, community, and furthering this industry and the barista profession. Keep at it man!

  3. 06/01/2010 at 12:36 pm #

    I apologize for any grammatical errors and/or typos that deeply offend anyone or their degree.

    Please forward all concerns regarding such to my SPAM e-mail.

    • Brian Clemens
      06/01/2010 at 12:41 pm #

      But my degree is not in English, rather is in “Barista” has been conferred by the BGA. Oh damn! 🙂

  4. 06/01/2010 at 12:47 pm #

    What surprises me most about your post is the anger at this organisation.

    The trade of the barista is not one met with a great deal of respect in the wider world. It isn’t really seen as a trade or craft, and for the vast majority of people who work under that title it isn’t.

    Some people do want to change this. To do so requires a number of things: community, cohesiveness, resources. This is unlikely to happen very fast with a volunteer organisation such as the BGA, but that is ok – I still have hopes for what can be achieved.

    Sanctioning jams (I wish there was a better word) is a small step towards the three things necessary (community, cohesiveness and resources). No one is pocketing funds, instead a group are trying to create momentum.

    As for certifications – any qualifications worth is measured (I believe) in its value to an employer. This is how qualifications work in other industries. However, qualifications like this have a chicken/egg problem in gaining momentum. It isn’t about telling you what you do is right – it is about giving an employer a better idea of what you know, what kind of training you’ve received and your potential value to their business. Nothing to do with pats on the back. Are you worth the extra $ you’d cost over an unqualified barista?

    Is the BGA perfect? Of course not. Is it above criticism? Of course not. Is complaining like this likely to elicit useful change?

    It is a volunteer organisation working hard to help shape a craft into something we can all be proud of. The best way to have some influence on how it changes – volunteer your time too!

    • 06/01/2010 at 1:16 pm #

      My views and frustrations with this are purely based on my Seattle experiences with the BGA. You have more than definitely touched base in more cafes that had BGA members/representatives than I ever will; but if you walk into almost any cafe in Seattle and ask the barista about what the BGA is, you’ll get a funny look 98% of the time. Don’t you find it weird that “98%,” of baristas in Seattle don’t know about the very guild built on promoting what they do and helping them grow? Regardless, why is the BGA doing so little in Seattle, it’s largest barista market? Our chapter representative hasn’t changed in years and my guess is because of the lack of membership, therefore only hindering the lack of leadership. It’s a vicious cycle and this blog was meant to only point out my frustrations with that cycle.

      Perhaps this post, angry or not, is what some people around here need to be convinced that the Seattle coffee community does matter.

      • 06/01/2010 at 1:28 pm #

        When you say that Seattle has more baristas – I am assuming you mean that it has more baristas who are serious about what they do. (Seattle being only the 15th largest metro population in the US. I would guess there are more people in the NY or LA metro area who make coffee for a living).

        For an organisation trying to increase awareness of the craft across the whole of the US surely it makes sense for them to concentrate in other areas first? With extremely limited resources are they more likely to elicit change by focusing on an already evolved coffee culture, or other places? These aren’t snarky questions – but genuine ones. If you don’t have a product to sell, but instead are trying to accomplish the change in mindset of a craft, then market size doesn’t really matter.

        The fact that a large amount of baristas in Seattle don’t know about the BGA is quite depressing. Not because the BGA is failing, but because anyone with an interest in looking outside of their immediate community for learning (which is very important if you don’t want to get left behind) should stumble right across it on the internet – either via the SCAA or just Google.

        As Nick says above – there are other things certainly worthy of discussion and value is certainly one of them. Several years ago a few of us tried to set up a UK barista guild. We never felt we were able to offer sufficient value to those joining, especially when the prospective numbers were so very low. That is worthy of debate and discussion, criticism and suggestion – because at the end of that there might be some very useful and effective ideas.

      • 06/01/2010 at 1:38 pm #

        I agree for the most part.
        But it’s, again, a vicious cycle. There is currently an organization in place that supposedly helps solve some of those issues. But baristas in Seattle don’t look outside of their immediate community for learning because of the fact that they are still searching FOR their community. If the BGA were to test out different approaches of engaging baristas and their corresponding markets in Seattle, that would give them a large database of information on how to approach other markets in other cities; while efficiently doing so in a fairly concentrated area. Could one of the reasons that Seattle currently lacks innovation in coffee right now be largely due to the lack of community supporting that very concept?

  5. 06/01/2010 at 1:32 pm #

    Let me state up-front that I was once a member of the BGA Task Force that organized the Barista Guild of America and then was elected as a Director on the BGA Executive Council. I served in that position until July 2006 when our term ended. I did not seek re-election like my peers for two reasons: 1) we did not successfully fulfill our promises and goals to the membership, and 2) I was not interested in seeking election to a “higher” (read: SCAA Board of Directors and beyond) post.

    One thing to bear in mind is that the BGA has always been a volunteer-based organization. Meaning an organization that is administered and executed by baristas like us who do not receive monetary compensation for their efforts. This situation has led to more than one instance where the real world needs of the leadership overshadowed their responsibilities to the BGA, resulting in disappointment by the membership.

    Another problem the BGA faces is its “ownership” by the SCAA. When the founding members of the BGA created the framework for the guild, they went to the SCAA and essentially tethered the guild to the SCAA believing that the SCAA would offer great benefit to the guild. Over the years, the SCAA has put forth resources towards BGA efforts but the Executive Council lacks the autonomy to control the guild finances and, therefore, control the destiny of the BGA. It is a situation that will continue to hinder the BGA until the guild can have autonomous control of its financial resources and operations.

    I think you touch on a number of points that are well founded as criticisms of the Barista Guild of America. Does the “sanctioning” of events truly bring about legitimacy to said event? Maybe. Otherwise, you’re doing a lot of work while the SCAA gets the credit (and the cash).

    That said, I believe that membership in the BGA is more about faith than real world benefit. For your money you get a membership card with a number and a few other “perks” that, most probably, you will never take advantage. Maybe there will be an event or happening that you can qualify for a discount, maybe not. Either way, it’s really about the belief that the BGA can eventually benefit our community. Membership today is about attempting to demonstrate solidarity than anything else.

    Today, after having been a member of both the SCAA and BGA, as well as serving on committees and councils, I no longer hold active membership to either association. Of late, I have been skeptical of the direction the respective boards have guided their member-based associations. Though I must say that the efforts that I have observed by Heather Perry and her administration this past year or so I think are promising for the BGA.

    It’s difficult to argue the point for certification in our craft – especially when that “certification” currently holds no value. As an operator today, if a resume came across my desk with the credentials of “BGA Certified Barista, Level X”, I would be amused. I almost would certainly give that person an interview or trail just to see what a “Level X Certified” barista was all about. Would that person have the chops to work our bar to our standards?

    And in the end, that’s what I think can be exciting about the certification program. Heather and Lucey’s program seems quite ambitious. They want to develop a program that will deliver baristas with quantifiable and expected levels of technical ability and service skills. This can be very compelling for the serious operator.

    Imagine a situation where a “Level X” certified barista comes to apply. In the ideal world, we would already know what to expect from that person. The skill level and the understanding of service would be inherent in that certification. Suddenly, as an operator, I no longer need to teach a set of skills because I know this person has those abilities based on the certification. My company can now save on training costs – a quantifiable benefit to the company. A certain level barista can, ideally, expect higher compensation. These are potential benefits to the certification program that are quite compelling indeed.

    However, the BGA still has a long way to go. They need to develop that program, nurture it and create it into the powerhouse it could become. Until then, operators like myself will view the certification with skepticism but curious optimism.

    Until then, the only thing I can do is encourage you to get involved. Working in the BGA/SCAA can (and will) be an exercise in serious frustration and stupidity, but the potential for improving our community is great and you’ll typically work along with some really great and talented people in our craft.

    • 06/01/2010 at 1:47 pm #

      Thank you for this.

      But I think there’s a key part that’s being forgotten in this:
      “It’s difficult to argue the point for certification in our craft – especially when that “certification” currently holds no value.  As an operator today, if a resume came across my desk with the credentials of “BGA Certified Barista, Level X”, I would be amused.  I almost would certainly give that person an interview or trail just to see what a “Level X Certified” barista was all about.  Would that person have the chops to work our bar to our standards?”

      We’re assuming the BGA is already a recognized organization by all of us “cool cats.” When I, personally, say that I am dedicated to educating consumers, that means colleagues at all levels as well. I don’t see how creating a “Certification Program” that tells your colleagues already personally motivated to pursue specialty coffee is helping build community, especially when they’re at SCAA conferences. People there, for the most part, already get it.

      SHOULDN’T THE BARISTA GUILD OF AMERICA BE USED AS BOTH A LIASON TO SPECIALTY COFFEE AND ITS CONSUMERS; AS WELL AS BE USED TO BUILD TECHNICAL SKILLS??? Otherwise it’s a big ego-stroking contest of who knows more. That doesn’t seem too productive.

      • 06/01/2010 at 9:17 pm #

        I guess the bottom line is that recognition of a certification program has to start somewhere, and perhaps the best place to start (or at least a place to start) is with the “cool cats” – people who can recognize the quality and validity in a certification programs’ graduates. And remember, while I may currently be skeptical of the skill levels of anyone claiming to be a “BGA Certified Barista” – that alone is enough to warrant a further look into a candidate, landing that person an interview and/or a trail at my company. Which is more than what the average applicant can claim, so already there’s some value in the BGA Certification – and I’m skeptical…

        Truth is, a certification program usually only holds validity for those within a craft or industry. I went to NYU Film and hold membership in the IATSE (a union) which means nothing to people who watch movies and are fans of movies. However, it holds significance to those in the know and those in the industry. Same goes for the CIA Graduate or ACF Certified Master Chef. What do these accreditations mean to the consumer? Not much, to be honest. It doesn’t guarantee that the next guy walking into the restaurant is going to have the most incredible meal of his life. It just means (hopefully) that the person preparing their meal has some level of craft and skill to execute that meal.

        I’ve been in the business for a few years now and both the BGA and SCAA have very little to do with “building community.” The true community building is done on our own, within groups of individuals coming together. Certainly, the SCAA/BGA can and has provided a framework for the gathering of like-minded individuals, but the community is built one person at a time. When I look back upon my own experiences, the SCAA was not the reason I made friends. For many years, my closest friend in the business, Nick Cho, was not because the SCAA/BGA mandated that we become friends, but rather because we were two people who shared common interests and goals. Other friends like Andy Newbom, Bronwen Serna, Miguel Meza and Sandy Hon came about because of common interests whose friendship outlasts any “official” function within the SCAA/BGA.

        It seems that you (like many others) are looking for the BGA to be that liaison between specialty coffee and consumers when that real liaison is you and us: individually.

        I don’t discredit the notion that much of what happens within our industry is fueled by egotism and politics. It’s a major reason why I’ve pulled away from “official” posts within the industry. I’d rather focus on craft, product and customers – on being that liaison between what we are doing professionally and the consumers whom we meet on a daily basis.

        Bear in mind that the Court of Master Sommelier program did not achieve it’s status in the minds of oenophiles overnight. Sommeliers have been practicing and defining their craft for generations. Currently, the BGA is still in its second generation of leadership, the certification program is just getting off the ground and there is much more work to be accomplished before the BGA certification program can rate anywhere near that of Master Sommelier or ACF Certified Master Chef.

  6. Keith Mrotek
    06/01/2010 at 2:16 pm #

    I find your complaint quite valid, and have concerned myself with whether or not I should renew my BGA membership this past month.

    I decided that it was in my best interest.

    I first (seriously) got in to coffee in 2008, in my city of Minneapolis, MN. at the SCAA expo. For me, it was a revolutionary experience. Unlike Seattle, Minneapolis is a very Poor market for high-end, boutique if you will, coffee. Edwin Martinez once mentioned to me, that Minneapolis has the largest quantity of roasters per capita. I haven’t validated this fact, but I find it quite intriguing that such a dense region, and city could be so lacking in progress. But hey that’s the mid-west for ya.

    In my struggles to find progress in Minneapolis, attending the SCAA and spending quite a buck on attending BGA and RGA sanctioned courses, I found myself both captivated and extremely energized to be involved in the industry as a whole. Having the expo in Minneapolis helped me to understand that there is an industry out there and that it’s alright to be passionate and involved. previously, I had no other reason to love the coffee industry or coffee in general as I hadn’t been exposed to what it can offer.

    I find it a truly enlightening experience.

    I’ve continued to be a BGA member because of the value that I find in the coffee industry, the potential value to employers that I find in skill building workshops and Barista Certifications, and the power of a unified group of professional baristas/education to small town and underdeveloped cities (in terms of awesome coffee).

    Not everyone can afford to travel to SCAA expo and for that I find it important to support the BGA for the sake of their skill building workshops and to get more members involved in creating a more craft oriented profession, out of this “job” that we have. I think that is found in numbers. not numbers of members per se, but numbers of individuals moved by coffee. I think that is difficult if not impossible with out education.

    Overall, I think the industry in the states and abroad needs more heavily involved members focusing on the greater industry, and the benefits of the promotion of education and transparency (due to the coffee industries inherent ability to portray dishonest, subjective preferences.)

  7. Kyle Glanville
    06/01/2010 at 2:17 pm #

    You see no benefit to certification? A framework for defining what tools are in a baristas’ toolbox?

    I see this as being hugely beneficial, particularly if the certification can cover a lot of ground.

    Becoming a Q Grader, NYBOT certified cupper or master sommelier are major accomplishments indicative of a lot of hard work and personal investment. Hopefully the barista certification will strive for those heights and help guarantee the most dedicated of the bunch competitive wages and higher status in the coffee pecking order. Seems like a worthy goal to me.

    • 06/01/2010 at 3:45 pm #

      I agree with your points here, Kyle.

      My point is that the system and “certification” mean nothing unless it’s recognized. It won’t be recognized unless they are actively telling people about it, and they can’t be actively telling people about it unless they actually show up or make their presence known. (And that’s even assuming the program is flawless and the value of membership actually amount to something more than a card and e-mail.)

      • Keith Mrotek
        06/01/2010 at 4:56 pm #

        Is the Q grader certification advertising to you?
        the NYBOT?

        I don’t know that advertisement is necessary.

        maybe they should charge 2,000 dollars for the courses and have a better curriculum? a paid staff?

  8. 06/01/2010 at 3:25 pm #

    I just want to clarify one point here…. It seems like your primary complaint about the BGA is that the organization isn’t paying enough attention to Seattle – and given how important Seattle is to speciality coffee, this is a bad thing (and is disrespectful – explaining a lot of your anger).

    Is that correct?

    • 06/01/2010 at 3:42 pm #


      The BGA is paying NO attention to Seattle. I don’t think that Seattle, or any city for that matter, is more important than any other; especially when I’m referring to the community aspects here. It would be pretty hypocritical for me to say that, don’t ya think?

      Seattle is more conscious of it’s coffee consumption, in general, and therefore could benefit more from the presence of an organization that actually did what the BGA says it aims to do. <—All in regards to Seattle.

  9. 06/01/2010 at 4:15 pm #

    Sorry for being dense… but I’m not following your answer.

    It sounds like you’re saying it’s NOT true that your complaint is that the BGA is not paying enough attention to Seattle – but rather that it’s paying NO attention to Seattle?

    • 06/03/2010 at 12:39 pm #

      Sorry for the delayed reply, to more or less answer you’re last question, yes. I clarify some thoughts throughout this post and the follow-up post (link at top). I’m still very interested in your opinion though.

  10. 06/01/2010 at 6:18 pm #

    Why don’t you join, run for office, and raise the value of the BGA for your Seattle community from the inside?

    • 06/03/2010 at 12:45 pm #

      Because I’m already busy enough running around trying to support the community as is, in addition to my other jobs. It’d be nice to have the BGA’s support.

      It’s more of a fundamental issue in my eyes; if they don’t want to help me, why should I stop my own community building projects to give them over to the SCAA/BGA? The only reason I need to be so heavily active in trying to build community is because there’s no one doing it in the first place. There happens to be an organization already in existence that says they do that.

      • 06/03/2010 at 12:48 pm #

        Correction: There are other people in Seattle trying to help build community. I’m not the only one.

  11. 06/01/2010 at 6:36 pm #

    Alex, let me start off by saying thanks for your post. I believe it has some good thoughts and merits, and some things I will try and clear up a few things. Not just as the BGA’s Vice Chair, but as a BGA member first. I think the overall thing I hear you saying is that you don’t see any BGA related action in Seattle, and you think you should, if you’re going to pay for a membership. I think I also hear you saying you don’t see any value in a membership, nor do you see the certification or labs as having value to you. I hear you saying you don’t see value in “sanctioned BGA events.” So, now that I understand where you’re coming from, let me try and address this very valuable thoughts.
    First off, you feel like there’s nothing for you from the BGA in Seattle, and there should be. Let me say, I agree there should be. I am well aware of the number of quality shops and baristas in Seattle, and the area around there. I want you to realize that the BGA is volunteer operated. No one on the Executive Council derives income from this, nor are doing this to pad our resumes. We all have become a part of leadership because we want to make these situations better. Anthony Rue, of Volta Coffee in Florida has brought up the same valid issue of not seeing very much BGA activity in his area. And it’s true. But the reason it’s true is that no one in that area has taken a more involved role in assisting the BGA. Now, Josh Boyt from Dillanos, has taken the initiative to make things better in your area, and he has the desire to help bring a better BGA presence to that neck of the woods. I’d like to see someone from Anthony Rue’s neck of the woods step up and help down in FL.
    But again, we’re all volunteers. We’ve really tried to invest in Chapter Reps who could take on roles of handling their whole region, but the main problem is, as noted by Jay and Nick (good to hear them see eye to eye on something again), we’re all people with full-time jobs, families, and lives outside of coffee, as well. And the SCAA can’t afford to pay any of us, or anyone else to do this full time. So, we rely on chapter reps to create events, labs, and culture that helps build a better community with the goals of the BGA, which are to see all baristas more valued, respected, and skilled.

    Now, to the point you don’t see value in a membership. First off, let me recap most of the benefits as a BGA member. If you’re a competitor, you get a 50% discount on registering to compete. If you want to attend any of the awesome labs during SCAA’s Expo or any of the regional Skill Building Workshops held around the country, you get a discount on all your classes. Any of the Certification labs, or the Level examinations? Discounts or free. There are also discounts in the SCAA’s Store for apparel, resources like books, videos, tampers, etc. Then, there’s the members only events held at regional competitions or at Expo, such as the Q&A with WBC Champ Stephen Morrissey. There’s also discounts from companies and shops such as Espresso Parts, and PT’s Coffee Roasters.

    Then, there’s the BGA Certification that you didn’t see value in. Do you see value in gaining more respect for what you do? Having your customers take you more seriously for what you do, understanding at some point in the future, that you’ve went through accredited training courses to show we care about giving them a higher quality product, something that takes more work than the barista that pushes buttons down at the, ah, you know. I tell people all the time, when I take my car to get repaired, I look to make sure the mechanics are ASE Certified. I don’t have a clue what that means, but I know that they’ve gone through an accreditation program, and earned their diplomas through lots of additional training. I know the shop is a better shop because of it. And I know that at some point in the future, customers who come into our shops can and will understand the value of these classes. It will be a great asset for shops to be able to communicate to their customers, for baristas to share, and out of that, they will gain respect they don’t normally get that often.

    I helped not only write the structure of the BGA’s Certification, but have written a class, too, and am fully invested in the Certification because I know it will pay off in the future. We’ve heard for years people wanted a uniform certification program, and that’s what we’ve accomplished. What so many great coffee people like Sandy Hon and Trish Rothgeb have wanted for years, it’s come to pass. And it’s a solid program for building better and higher quality barista skills, covering all aspects of coffee and espresso. At SCAA’s Expo, the BGA Milk and Latte Art lab was led by Scott Lucey, and station instructed by amazing latte artists such as Sammy Piccolo, Dan Streetman and Colin Whitcomb. These are solid labs, and as part of the certification, they really do create a higher quality coffee professional.

    As per your thoughts that the “sanctioned” events don’t have merit, I can’t say I agree with you. When a jam becomes an official BGA event, it gains all the support of the SCAA, both financially and time-wise. It gains the assistance of Marcus Boni. It gains better lab content through the labs we in the BGA have worked so hard to create, the SCAA has worked hard to put into classes, PowerPoint presentations, handouts, exams, etc. It costs lots of money to put all these things together, to get these classes organized, and to pay people to help promote them. I will say this, a common complaint has been that the cost of putting on a “BGA” jam have been too much, and it’s one I, personally, have been working on for a year now, coming up with lower costs for doing these. One jam’s cost went from $1000 down to $250, mostly by cutting costs, but the SCAA still has to stay running as the governing organization, and if you think they’re making money hand over fist, you’re crazy. We are working to make any of these items more accessible to all. It benefits us all. Remember this is for us, by us.

    Let me wrap up by saying this, thanks for your thoughts again. I can tell you that all on the Executive Council, as well as several Chapter Reps, including some out of the country like Baca, have been talking about this all day, and we do care about your opinion of the BGA. We are all baristas. We are all working to make the BGA a better place. We spend hours each week all working on how we can make this as beneficial and accessible to as many baristas all across the country. Not just in Seattle, but in Decatur, AL. My personal goal for the BGA is to see it build a better barista community that fosters growth in their shop and career. To see baristas gain the respect they deserve, to see baristas push themselves in a constructive way. The Barista Camp coming up in the Fall, is exactly what I see the BGA as being all about. Community, higher quality, upper level education, and a place to give back to the barista community as a whole.

    Which brings me to my question to you. How can you get involved to better the situation. I first joined the BGA because I wanted to help make a difference. I was asked to come onto the BGA EC to help with Certification, again, to make a difference. It has personally costs me thousands of dollars over the years. It has cost me hundreds of hours of my time. And it’s been worth every minute of it. I’ve been given much from other people in the industry, from many different companies, and as such, there’s a responsibility to give back, to others coming up in the coffee career. I have an obligation to pass on what’s been passed to me. So, what can you do to help? I know your work, respect it, and think you have a lot to give to the Seattle community. Just like Sarah Dooley does. So, thanks again for the thought-provoking blog, and I look forward to seeing you get involved in solving the problem.

  12. 06/01/2010 at 9:25 pm #

    Allow me to continue on a different tack…

    There was talk in the thread about membership and whether or not people holding membership for “cool factor” is detrimental to the BGA.

    Let us face facts:
    Membership numbers is of UTMOST importance to any organization such as the BGA. It is what legitimizes its existence. The SCAA would not (and should not) bother to provide financial support and personnel if the BGA had little or no membership. Bear in mind that the SCAA necessarily is looking to the BGA to provide some sort of return on its investment. Whether that return takes the form of membership dues, sanctioning fees or credibility due to its certification program, the SCAA (and the BGA) needs to see something in return for its efforts.

    I think that by keeping these thoughts in mind, it will help you understand the operational situation of the BGA. Operations of the BGA is more than just happy idealism.

    • 06/03/2010 at 12:23 pm #

      I’ll ask in fear of what might come out of it, but is the SCAA then helping or hurting the development of the BGA? Would it be able to grow both in ideals and members if it didn’t have to answer to the SCAA? Or is the SCAA legitimately a key role in the BGA? I’m not a member, so I don’t know.

      • 06/03/2010 at 8:57 pm #

        Hmmm, the SCAA… does it help or hurt the BGA and its future? That really is a question I wrestled with while on the Executive Council. As a business owner, I’m all for autonomy. I like being able to make decisions and operate my company as I see fit, and working within the constraints of an organization such as the BGA/SCAA was difficult.

        The problem is that the BGA is tethered to the SCAA. The Founding Fathers of the BGA set it up that way and I don’t know if it’s possible to separate the two. To my mind, the separation of the BGA from the SCAA is the ideal path for the guild. It also is the most tricky and treacherous – financially.

        Not being tethered to the SCAA would allow the Executive Council to exercise their judgment without deferring to the demands, wishes and whims of the SCAA.

    06/02/2010 at 12:18 am #

    Hey Alex,

    We’ve had this chat on more then one occasion. It’s perhaps one of the few unfinished conversations we continually build on. I’m pretty sure I do not blame the BGA for my ignorance. I’ve been a fan of the idea behind BGA for some time, only recently becoming a member for a second year. I was convicted to become a member and gain a voice. Another avenue towards getting “connected.” My small fee and number associated me to more information then I was getting via independent searching alone. I’m a person of source, much like you- hungering for information through the night and into the morning. Alex, the BGA didn’t have to tell me how to rally a coffee community but it didn’t stop me. Cam Kellet, gave me my first organized coffee experience in the CEL. His 5 part day was an introduction to a lot of possibilities. I’m a “copy-cat” of good ideas, with a twist. Every experience builds on another, hopefully getting better and better.
    I’m pretty sure some of BGA’s efforts and accomplishments, much like yours and mine go back to the drawing board time after time. We build on each other. We learn from individuals, BGA or non-BGA.
    There will always be obvious goals and obvious lacks…we experience that every day. Balancing the way we share information, what we share, it’s factual content atop continued education.

    Such talent lies within your youth! On one hand I have a peculiar envy for your energy and freedom, on the other- my worry is that your voice might loose validity with a focus on what is not being done through one avenue or another. Nobody wants put out your “flame”. I don’t think that is possible. I would however conclude that your energies would be best utilized making a difference through action my friend.
    (ps, pretty sure i made some grammatical error- be forgiving:)

  14. tim dominick
    06/02/2010 at 7:09 am #

    Guilds date back nearly 1400 years and have always been in existence to provide a progression of quantified skill sets to to a confederation of workers. Certification of skills are the core of what a guild offers it’s membership. Community, peer review and an opportunity to build trade solidarity sit close to the core. The ultimate goal of a guild is to advance their craft. They aren’t built readymade and they don’t gain validity overnight.

    The barista guild is a fledgling group that has just begun a vast undertaking. It is quite a pile nebulous concepts at the moment. This can be viewed with disdain or it can be looked upon as an opportunity to shape a movement. The choice is entirely up to the beholder. I can’t convince you to join or participate but I can offer you my perspective on what a guild has done for me.

    I’ve been a Roasters Guild member for the past 8 years and it has made a huge impact on my understanding of the craft. Here we have a group that was founded by people who were at the top of their fields, well beyond the need for basic roasting labs and introduction to their peers. They looked beyond their own needs and saw an opportunity to advance the craft of roasting. In 11 short years this group has gained validity in the industry and while their own certification program is far from complete, there is a body of work that will extend a roaster’s understanding of the craft.

    The heart of this group is a mass of dedicated volunteers. This is where the community flourishes. In my early days of roasting I volunteered out of necessity. I couldn’t afford to pay $100 to take a craft roasting lab so I showed up, willing to scrape cupping glasses and weigh green coffee. My supposed perk was a chance to sit in on the lectures, cup the coffees and my supposed ding was having to clean up afterwords. The class came and went, I learned a little bit, then we got to the task of cleaning the room. I found myself scraping cups and dumping spittons with Peter Guliano and Mike Ebert. Frankly, I learned more in that 45 minutes than I did in the 3 hours of lecture and lab time. I still believe this to be the essence of a guild and it is what keeps me coming back as a volunteer.

    You might posses skills well beyond what the current labs offer. In that case, teach them or volunteer your abilities to develop a more advanced lab. These are both great ways to push yourself and the result is a greater personal understanding of your craft and you’ve helped to further the collective understanding in the process. This is where the community flourishes and it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with elected office, $45 bucks or a membership card.

    It is far to easy to play the cynic and sit back asking “what will this group do for me?” It is a greater challenge to jump into the fray and decide to make something happen.

    “There are going to be times when we can’t wait for somebody. Now, you’re either on the bus or off the bus. If you’re on the bus, and you get left behind, then you’ll find it again. If you’re off the bus in the first place-then it won’t make a damn.” Ken Kesey

  15. 06/02/2010 at 8:37 am #

    Great thoughts by everyone. I am an SCAA member and BGA member, own two espresso bars and a wholesale roasting company since 1999. I hold lead instructor credentials, am BGA Level 1 Certified, and volunteer at any event I can get to. The BGA and SCAA have provided my company a framework to build a knowledge base and skill set for my baristas from scratch. My company is based in a Canadian city far removed from espresso/cafe culture and lacking a pool of highly trained baristas. Every highly trained barista in our city was trained by me using SCAA and Barista Guild standards. I am lucky to have volunteered beside and worked under some amazing baristas at BGA and SCAA events, and to have learned enough from them to pass along. That’s how I am building a coffee community where I live.
    Recently I drove 3 store managers 8 hours to participate in the skill building workshops in Detroit, and feel I received full value for the money I spent. Last, a point some have touched on but I really want to stress, the BGA is an organization run by volunteers. I have volunteered at events in Manhattan, Anaheim and Detroit, but am completely humbled by the effort put in by BGA executive council. Heather Perry, Jason Dominy, Anne Nylander, Scott Lucey, Heather Ringwood plus many others work like dogs for free, and they have my unconditional respect and admiration.

  16. Brian Clemens
    06/02/2010 at 1:10 pm #


    I feel my response yesterday was a little premature. Instead of directing my energies towards the benefits of being a part of the BGA, I went on a tangent about Phoenix and our barista culture down here. I hope that the tangent painted a picture for what is going on here, but will be concise today with my response as to why I think you should be a member of the BGA.

    Rather than list each individual benefit of being a part of the BGA, because I truly don’t think these will drive a person to join, I want you to think of the BGA as a greater community, somewhat like a “club” of sorts. In high school I was a part of many organizations, one of which was a part of Kiwanis. Kiwanis is an international service organization that through their members gives a total of 18 million hours of service to individual communities worldwide. Kiwanis is the greater structure with individual clubs/branches in local communities. Kiwanis is the support system, gives the tools, but Kiwanis as an entity does not do the service to the communities, the individuals do. I can see why many responses here talk about the BGA as people, not a system or business. If we see the BGA as a network of people we are more likely to come alongside, join, and give our helping hand.

    Alex, I know you already do give much time, energy, and effort into building a better barista community/coffee culture in Seattle. I’m not going to say that you should join or need to join, that is something you’ll decide for yourself, but I do want to remind you of something that was said during the USBC in the final round. While announcing all of the sponsors for the event, Heather and Stephen were talking back and forth. For the sake of misquoting, I will paraphrase something of great value that Heather said: None of the competitors made it here today on their own. They’ve worked alongside a roaster and received support from their family, friends, and shops. We need to recognize and thank those who have help us get to where we are today.

    This has stuck with me because as you know, I work extremely hard, sometimes too hard causing myself little time of reflection or “me” time. I know that you work extremely hard also. Remember that any success there is to be had, any accomplishment ALWAYS comes from teamwork or at least a support system. My reason for joining the BGA is to be a part of this larger support system and network. I understand it has its flaws, but I’m willing to give all that I can to further specialty coffee here in Phoenix and I know being a part of the BGA will help me accomplish this in more ways than I could imagine.

  17. Alex Brooks
    06/02/2010 at 10:45 pm #

    Seems to me that the number of baristas (read: People that will be in coffee for the rest of their foreseeable career) that will remain baristas is quite small. Being a barista is an entry-level job in the coffee biz, isn’t it? It’s at least the most common… Or did I miss something?

    I guess my point is this: This industry will have to become MUCH bigger to justify all the effort of forming a dedicated barista guild. Maybe just put together an “Artisan Coffee” guild until we get our feet underneath us? Bring farmers, green buyers, exporters, importers, roasters, QC, chemists, engineers, manufacturers, and baristas together? But we already meet once a year… at the SCAA… In fact, the SCAA is the guild we all want. At least, it’s the closest thing those that want a guild can get. The barista community is constantly proving that it can’t form as permanent a union as something like the roasters guild. Roasters generally stay roasters. Too many of us are upwardly mobile, that is, constantly seeking something more than barista-hood. It’s those very baristas who should be leading the BGA, if we could just get one of them to slow down and do the barista thing for just a minute longer.

    Guilds seem like a great idea. Certification seems like a great idea. But I’d wager that certifying in much else beyond basic preparation ideas would be extremely difficult, as not one of us works the bar in the same fashion. Not one of us uses the exact same brew recipes. Not one of us has the exact same standards for when to dump and start over. Guilds *are* by definition a bit intimidating for the newbies. They are also commonly plagued with petty politics and puerile poppy cock (or so I hear). Either way, there are PLENTY of ways to go about gathering information on coffee for anyone of the English-speaking world. Blogs, forums, etc., etc. Either way, if you can’t muster up the guts to march into a barista jam all by your lonesome, you won’t be working on my bar.

    So, to me the guild is unnecessary. I was a member for two years. I was young. Impressionable. Hopeful. It net me 3 months of frustration with the renewal, and a couple of laminated pieces of paper. One of which didn’t even fit in my wallet until I cut it. Pretty funny/pathetic really.

    We’ve got a great community. Here in the PNW, anyways. I’d imagine in NYC, CHI, and in a few other hot spots, the story is the same. You don’t need a coffee community to be a coffee dork. It comes naturally to me. I grew up in a place that for all intensive purposes was a coffee black hole, and still for the most part is. Know what I did? I moved to my community. Even back home though, all I had to do to reach out was jump on twitter/facebook/whatever coffee forum was out there to catch up with trends.

    In closing:

    The BGA only owes those who have paid into it. The opportunity to learn about specialty coffee is practically smacking the demographic that might be interested in the face. We, as current baristas, are doing everything we can to promote what we love; no guild will help those who are actually capable of changing things. It won’t make us any more or less (well maybe less, what if we don’t align ourselves with BGA standards?!) likely to be excited to have a coffee conversation with a customer or a new hire. We’re doing pretty well at growing this community without a guild. Lets just keep it going.

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