Convince Me Otherwise: Follow-Up

Convince Me Otherwise- Follow-Up

Taken from orginal 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 am absolutely thrilled with where most of the discussion has gone regarding my critique of the Barista Guild of America (BGA.) Over the past 24 hours, I’ve had many conversations, phone calls, e-mails, text messages, and even tweets with feedback on what the BGA has done for them; both positive and negative.

Before I jump back into this discussion, I’d like to point out a few things. I am absolutely infatuated with the idea of an organization like the BGA. I’d be a hypocrite to tote community every other day of my life; but then when it came to the greater communtity scoff at the idea. That was not my goal of my last post. I feel a large number of people jumping in on the discussion completely missed my original point. The Barista Guild of America has done nothing in Seattle to promote a barista community in the recent years. This wasn’t an opinion, it was a fact that I was presenting. Also, all of my views of the BGA were, as stated, from the eyes of a barista in Seattle. I tried to write that post as an “average” Seattle barista; someone who doesn’t pay for their own travel in coffee, doesn’t volunteer to judge competitions, isn’t socially networked or active online, and also not engaged in the overall coffee community. If the BGA is having a hard time convincing me to invest, then it’s a no brainer as to why practically no one else in Seattle cares.

BGA Membership isn’t for everyone. It seems to me there are 2 types of members for this guild and I’m going to try and dissect them to the best of my knowledge.
The first type of member seems to be the barista who’s passionate, energetic, loves the industry, is heavily involved in the greater specialty community and has a supported role in either their company or in the general area. These baristas are proud card-carrying members who are both pushing and developing the guild in it’s current state above and beyond wherever the rest of the community is. (Sidenote: You’re only as strong as you’re weakest link.) Through renewing membership every year, the first type of barista sees value in the current guild and what’s to come. The second type of member appears to be the baristas who may or may not be just as passionate and involved in the larger community, but see value in what the guild COULD become in the near future. I don’t want to discourage anyone from joining or renewing, but I want to simply question the status quo. I personally feel that joining or renewing a membership with the BGA because you “like the idea,” is simply hurting the sustainable side of the BGA more than you think. If there’s a large part of members who only join because they simply “can’t NOT be members,” isn’t that giving the organization false hope? I personally feel that the membership base of people who actually are supportive of it’s current state is much smaller than people in the SCAA or BGA think. The organization recently had elections for Chapter Representatives and it’s Executive Council; after a week of ballots being e-mailed to members the BGA posted a tweet that read, “Have you voted..yet? Less than 20 people have voted! Come on…” From the outside looking in, this is not a good sign. The BGA seems to only be focused on membership recruiting and renewals before their actual potential role in the barista community. WHEN DID WE START PUTTING QUANTITY BEFORE QUALITY? Of all people in coffee, I’d think the BGA Executive Council and Chapter Reps would know that quality, for the most part, speaks for itself; no need for elaborate “Members only” shenanigans to entice people to join.

As far as Seattle goes, we don’t become members of organizations that we don’t stand behind; or at least I don’t. If the BGA were to give me a reason to become a proud member that would benefit the family of baristas around me, I’d fall for their ploy. But since there is no activity in Seattle, ever; then this “average” barista is going to save his $45 to walk over to the Elysian’s Brew pub to get a pint, or 10.

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17 Comments on “Convince Me Otherwise: Follow-Up”

  1. 06/02/2010 at 1:39 pm #

    I will ask you these 2 questions: What is it that you want to see out of the BGA? And what would you do the help make it happen?

    I heard it described today by Mike Ferguson, someone who’s been a leader in our industry for year, and someone who still kicks coffee a$$ to this day. He basically said the BGA is like Costco. Sure, you pay $50 a year for a membership. And sure, if you just go into Costco and walk around and leave, or don’t even go there at all, you’ve wasted your $50, and won’t see the value in it. But if you go into it knowing you will get your full value out of it by taking advantage of the benefits of membership throughout the course of the year, you will gain your money back and then some. I know I do. I use Costco for my gas, saving 20 cents a gallon some times. I saved $5 on a video game I bought recently. On and on, over the course of the year, I’ve gotten my value, because I’ve understood the benefits and how to make best use of my $50.
    With the BGA, to get full use of your membership, you WILL need to take advantage of the labs offered, the jams, and the members only events that are more suited to help build a better community and relationships within. You WILL need to help with organizing events, using the SCAA’s backend support. You WILL need to help foster community online and in your area. You WILL have to be active. Over the course of the past couple of days, I’ve read all the back and forths, and my favorite quote was from Chris Baca who said, “My decision to renew my membership and accept this spot came from the realization that I DON’T need the BGA, the BGA needs people like me.” And he wasn’t being egotistical, he was stating that he understood the importance of giving back to baristas who don’t have access to the same resources as everyone else, people who live in Portland, Seattle, Chicago, LA, etc.

    So again, what are your answers to the two questions posed above??

    • 06/03/2010 at 3:27 am #

      I was thinking about the Costco analogy today while on bar and realized the best way for me to answer that part is; if the nearest Costco is out of state or even multiple states away, is it still worth it to the consumer to purchase a membership?

      I’d also like to point out that in the larger cities you referenced; “Portland, Seattle, Chicago, LA,” and that each of those have a strong representation from a specific roasters who have many resources that are influential in the industry. Except Seattle, the city that I’ve chosen to live in and write about.

      Seattle has dozens of companies all fighting for their voice to be heard, and all bombarding our consumers with confusing information. A lot of customers understand the culture and support it all around Seattle, but a large majority are still confused but with a slightly higher general understanding of coffee than some other cities. (Safe assumption?) We all have our own agendas and we’re all struggling to have our own voice heard; we barely have time to help our own companies, let alone strengthen the entire community. That’s where we NEED an organization to help unify us, the problem is there isn’t one present in the city to help us join together and help turn the random notes on the page into a symphony.

      • 06/03/2010 at 3:30 am #

        Yes, I said it. We NEED an organization like the BGA in Seattle.

  2. 06/02/2010 at 1:44 pm #

    What would you do TO help make it happen? Not “the” help make it happen. Sorry.

  3. 06/02/2010 at 1:50 pm #

    And Mike Ferguson has been a leader in our industry for “years” not “year.” Geez, I gotta start looking over these before I submit….

  4. 06/02/2010 at 2:07 pm #

    Thank you again for all of your input. A lot of the information you’ve provided is something I think needs to be presented openly more often.

    The BGA, as it is right now, seems to be focusing on expansion; but this seems to be spreading it’s resources too thin. I want to see the Barista Guild of America engaging baristas. Not specialty coffee baristas, not the competition baristas, not highly active vocal baristas; the profession of being a Barista at all levels. There is a huge potential for baristas who DON’T have a supportive environment; i.e. corporate coffee, middle-of-nowhere coffee, and even local businesses in large cities like Seattle, Portland, Chicago, LA. The BGA should be used as a tool for all baristas to learn, and I truly mean ALL. The certification program would be much more versatile, accepted, and recognized if it wasn’t only running in these small circles of “cool kids.” Why aren’t there BGA events lead by all of these amazing volunteers and leaders that engage ALL baristas in ALL markets; including worst baristas in the area. Who cares how we get the information out there, it’s about making people think it’s not “just a cup of coffee,” right? Seeing as the organization IS led by the SCAA, it provides a nice, non-aggressive introduction into the SCAA and specialty community that actually fosters a baristas skills and encourages them to pursue coffee excellence.

    To cut to the chase, parts of the BGA would need to swallow their pride, restart from the beginning and do it right; whatever that might be. It would need to lower it’s standards, engage everyone in coffee (not just the people who already get it) and start actively, barista-by-barista, build a coffee community. If you can honestly tell me there’s hope of that, I’m on board.

  5. Brian Clemens
    06/02/2010 at 2:25 pm #

    There’s plenty of hope in that, the hope lies in members being active and pursuing these changes. The BGA is not going to change things from the outside in (non-member voicing concern), rather by the inside out (member brings up concern, outlines a plan of action for said concern, gets others on board, and changes things from the inside out). There’s hope because they’re many young, energetic, passionate, and most importantly gifted people such as yourself Alex who are involved, but if they can focus some of their involvement within BGA events/the inner workings of BGA towards improvement, we can bring this organization a long way, just as we can bring our coffee communities a long way. It can’t be done alone.

    • 06/02/2010 at 2:31 pm #


      You make a great point that I failed to clearly make. You can’t rely on people’s involvement to be inspired by how much they want to change what you’re doing. If that was the case, the BGA would have no consistent message to unify the community,…oh wait.

  6. 06/02/2010 at 2:35 pm #

    “The BGA, as it is right now, seems to be focusing on expansion; but this seems to be spreading it’s resources too thin.”

    Again Alex, we need all the help we can get to make the BGA what we all want it to be. It is a work in progress, and again, because it’s volunteer-run, we need all the members we can to make this thing work. Spreading it’s resources too thin is less than 12 of the people doing all the work for 450 people. So, we DO need more members willing to step up and help us with the mission we have to see the BGA as the source for building a better barista and barista culture. And lowering standards is not an option, and is counter-productive.

    • 06/02/2010 at 2:50 pm #

      I understand that lowering standards might not be an option for an organization as grand as the BGA, especially with it’s relationship to the SCAA. But I strongly feel it’s NOT counter-productive. Counter-productivity is working on higher level barista certifications when the basic levels haven’t even been reached by even a small minority of baristas, let alone baristas that happen to be members. My feedback is meant to broaden the views of the BGA to encompass building the profession, not everyone in the profession wants to be a professional.

      When I first started in coffee, there’s no way in hell you could’ve got me to an event like that of a BGA certification course. It’s simply too intimidating; members only alone is shutting out people. Basic certification should be a service the BGA provides to baristas EVERYWHERE, especially at such a young stage of recognition. The venue for such certifications can’t solely be at specialty coffee events either. Again, that “specialty coffee members only” part is not going to bring in new baristas to the craft. Most baristas are inspired by, other baristas. When I was working at a crappy cafe when I frst started in coffee, I walked into a less crappy cafe and drooled with jealousy over what they could do. Now and days, I walk into coffee bars like 49th Parallel’s, Intelligentsia’s, and Stumptown’s and continue to drool with envy. But it all starts somewhere. If the BGA were to be OPEN and SUPPORTIVE, and lower its bottom line standards, to include those outside of specialty coffee, it might have a chance at boosting it’s membership, therefore inspiring more baristas and barista leadership, and it would play an integral role in the coffee community.

  7. 06/03/2010 at 9:23 pm #


    From my viewpoint, all the factors have been presented regarding the BGA, now it’s time for you to understand them cohesively.

    First off, the BGA is a volunteer-run guild. No one gets paid, financial resources are thin and the twelve people involved in the administration of the BGA and its regions are working real-world jobs, dealing with their families and life in general while trying to run the BGA with varying degrees of time and commitment.

    You are stating an expectation and since we can presume that as a paying member you would have expectations regarding the service of the BGA, those expectations are well founded. However, the SCAA does not really give the BGA operating capital. The BGA Exec Council does not have the authority to spend money at will (presuming they even have a budget to work with – we did not in the past) or conduct business at their leisure. Whatever the BGA wants to do, it has to run by the SCAA. It’s a time-consuming, restrictive and exhausting process.

    You want value for your membership. You’ve already stated that the value is demonstrated by greater focus of the BGA in the PNW, specifically Seattle. Consider the situation of the BGA and it’s unlikely to happen any time soon. That’s the reality. Your BGA Exec Council and Reps are working for free, in their spare time. While they want to serve, the BGA and its members do not pay them a salary or compensate them for their BGA-related expenses – meaning that their really not beholden to your demands – no matter how passionate you are about them.

    In the other post, you facetiously (or not) discussed starting a Seattle-based barista group with dues of $450/year. Presuming that you actually executed that notion, have you thought about how much it would cost to actually conduct business? How much it would cost to stage an event? How much time it would take to organize, operate and administer?

    The ideal that the BGA should offer certification to everyone is laudable, but how are you going to execute? Who’s going to organize and arrange the course, test and class center? Where’s the equipment going to come from? Or the smallwares? Who’s going to teach the class and administer the examinations? How many people are qualified? Where do they live? How will they get to the test center? Where will they stay? Who’s going to pay for their travel and hotel?

    This is much more involved than calling a group of baristas together for a Thursday Night Throwdown. It’s intensive and requires planning, forethought and financing. Even if you could get ten baristas to fork over $450, you would easily plow through that capital in one event.

    As you said: “not everyone in the profession wants to be a professional” – true. But then why bother with those who have little to no interest in being a professional? The BGA is a professional guild. A guild of professional craftsmen. There’s no place nor need to spend resources serving those who aren’t serious about our craft. You want to build our profession? Then focus on those who want to be a professional. It’s a waste of time, energy and resources to do otherwise.

  8. 06/04/2010 at 12:35 pm #

    Jay, great summation, and great understanding of our situation. We’re doing the best we can with what we have. We all want the same thing. We all want the “Alexes” of the U.S. to see and partake of the value that’s in the BGA already, and what it can offer in the future.

  9. James Whitney
    06/05/2010 at 7:45 pm #

    I think a few of the commentators on the blog are failing to see where Alex is coming from. I think the point is that some one is selling you a product that on a baristas salary is pretty expensive and return the buyer is receiving…. pretty much nothing. In my community we have Olympia Coffee Roasters who does a weekly cupping with an educational focus that ALWAYS leaves you feeling like a better barista. If i had to pay $45 a year to visit those cuppings i would do so without hesitation. You might say that OCR has more resources than the BGA and you would be correct, but OCR openly invites all baristas from all shops and educates them without asking anything in return. At this point i feel like i should inform you that i do not, nor have i ever, nor am i aspiring to work for OCR. Actually up until a few days ago i worked for their biggest competitor in Olympia. And knowing that, they still invested in me as a member of the coffee community for the betterment of our culture.
    So far reading this blog, nobody has informed me what exactly my membership dues would give me. I thought this discussion was about value. So far the best defense of the BGA is a post describing how crippled they are by lack of money. I will say this if Alex had $4,500 to work with he would not blow through it in one event. My experience in the northwest has been that baristas and shops are thirsty for community, and willing to donate time and machines and most importantly information. I think that the mindset of the BGA seems to be that money and plenty of it, is the most important key to creating a sense of community among baristas.

    SO HELP ME OUT HERE>>> SHOULD I OR SHOULD I NOT JOIN!? If i do, what will my enrollment fee entitle me to besides feeling super cool, which i already accomplished yesterday when i bought a dopetastic blue vintage clip on bowtie at the thrift shop for $1.99 plus tax.

  10. 06/06/2010 at 1:51 pm #

    Personally speaking, if you need an external organization to create “community” in your own community, then you’re not trying hard enough.

    No area of the nation needs the BGA to create community for them. The BGA can be a catalyst to connect baristas from across the nation with each other in larger gatherings (as many of us experienced at the SCAA/USBC, especially between 2004-2007), but to expect the BGA/SCAA/NCA or other group to do that for you in your hometown is a bit reaching and unrealistic considering the parameters that the BGA has to deal with, as has been laid out on this blog.

    Should you or should you not join? If you’re looking for a panacea to create community in Seattle via the BGA and that’s the sole value to you for membership then the answer is a resounding “no.” The BGA is not for you. If you’re interested in supporting the larger community with an eye towards national events, some minor membership discount/benefits and the potential to grow a national organization, then perhaps membership is right for you.

    I think the Olympia Coffee Roasters example is an interesting and curious one. By no means do I intend to diminish what they are doing for community in Olympia but I presume that the people behind the programs are actually being compensated by their employer for their efforts. They work at the leisure of their employer and at the demand of their employer – much like the rest of us with our own jobs.

    While you might consider this a minor distinction between those operating the OCR programs and the BGA, it is one of the biggest obstacles facing the BGA, its Exec Council and their Representatives. Until the SCAA/BGA can find a way towards actually compensating the people involved and thereby creating a measure of expectation, the situation will not change rapidly. Again, those serving the BGA do so as volunteers, in their spare time and without compensation. It is a minor yet major distinction between the two entities.

    James, I like your optimism, but I hardly believe that you could stage a serious barista jam or certification session without plowing through $4500. Consider venue rental, equipment sourcing, tables, chairs, milk, smallwares, electricity, personnel. I challenge you to sit down, make some phone calls and come up with a game plan to see exactly how much it costs to stage a two or three day event. Don’t forget coffee, meals, cups and all the other miscellany that goes into staging an event.

    In addition, your comments smack of simple ignorance. Let’s pretend that you could arrange for the Seattle community to donate everything. How about the instructors and proxies for the certification classes? How are they going to get there? Again, consider the current gripe being touted here: that the BGA is ignoring the PNW. Then consider that the Exec Council and Reps are from elsewhere around the country – how are they supposed to get to Seattle? Who’s paying their airfare, transportation, hotel and meals? Are you raising the funds to bring them out? Or are you expecting these barista volunteers to pay their own way?

  11. James Whitney
    06/06/2010 at 4:42 pm #

    If my comment smacks of simple ignorance it is only because im simply ignorant. I’m on here to learn, so I really appreciate people like you replying to my post. OCR’s master roaster is paid during the cuppings as they take place during his usual work day. I wasn’t offering that example as a blue print for what the BGA should be doing. I was offering it as an example of the fact that people in my own community are already creating and growing the coffee culture in Olympia and Seattle.
    You keep referring to hotels and food and what not. I can tell you that if you called me and asked me to bring a pasta salad to a coffee event i would do it. And Seattle is such a talent rich community that you dont need to bring in out of town professionals. If i was a member of the BGA and i was scheduling an event in Seattle i doubt that i would be shipping in baristas from out of town and paying their way. i think of my self as very lucky to live in such a talent rich area. And if people aren’t willing to reflect the BGA’s willingness to volunteer in their own actions, then we will never see the progress we desire, at least not from the BGA. thanks for the awesome discussion. I guess the BGA doesn’t create community, its a by-product of community and a unifier of communities. Am i wrong? If not I wouldn’t mind being a part of that.

  12. 06/06/2010 at 7:52 pm #

    One of the beautiful things of organizations like the BGA is that you make of it what you can. In many ways, it can be whatever you desire. Of course, there are certain limitations that are difficult, if not impossible to overcome.

    And you’re right, people are creating community in Seattle, Olympia and the PNW. That’s where the community building emerges: from the ground up. Rely on your local people to build that community you desire.

    I do keep referring to hotels and whatnot – because I’m familiar with what it takes to stage an event. The example mentioned earlier was regarding BGA Barista Certification and if you wanted to bring that certification class to Seattle then all of the above would apply – even the datum regarding hotels and travel, because while there may be great talent in Seattle, I don’t recall if there are any certified instructors and/or people qualified to administer the BGA examinations. For those people, the factors of travel, hotel and expenses applies.

    I don’t know if I would agree that the BGA is a “unifier” of communities, perhaps more of a connector of communities.


  1. Convince Me Otherwise | Why Not? Coffee - 06/03/2010

    […] Why Not? Coffee Seattle's coffee culture and more… Skip to content HomeCafe ReviewsDis-Loyalty CafesSeattle CafesNEW!EventsCoffee ExchangeSprodownContact Us ← Sourcing Milk Like We Source Coffee Convince Me Otherwise: Follow-Up → […]

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