A Note from Ric Rhinehart

Dear Coffee Professional,

You’re hearing a lot about unification.

You’re attending webinars and in person meetings; reading articles, letters, e-mails, and social media posts and discussing unification with your fellow members in all of these forums. You’re engaging with staff and the Board, gathering information, asking questions and reviewing the benefits and challenges and reflecting on your business. As SCAA’s Executive Director, this inspires me. Thank you for your due diligence and for participating actively in this opportunity to be a part of history.

The very reasons that drove the SCAA and SCAE boards to consider this possibility are in front of us today. Coffee is by nature a global product, and at the SCAA we have been engaged with the entire value chain for nearly three decades. That value chain is threatened on all sides, and if we are to continue to drive the value and values of specialty coffee, we must confront the threats. The boards of both organizations have voiced their strongly held belief that we are far better equipped to face those threats as a united association, that our resources are greater, our voices are louder, and our economic impact is more profound.

Last year in Atlanta, Georgia, the annual gathering of the volunteer leadership, committee and council members, board members and staff of the SCAA took place in July across three memorable days. This meeting, the Strategic Leadership Summit (SLS), is dedicated to furthering the volunteer work of the organization and coordinating it with the staff work executed along with the vision of the board. Each year this gathering produces not only a tremendous amount of work, but reconnects the active volunteer base with the leadership and the staff in profound and moving ways. On this occasion, the more than 150 people involved were asked to join a deeper conversation around the value of unification with our counterparts from Europe as a path to more effectively addressing the pressing issues the global specialty coffee sector faces.

Over those three days, all of those involved had the opportunity to offer their best thinking on the concept, and an expert group of meeting facilitators worked diligently to craft a safe, open and inclusive environment where all ideas were heard and considered, where all perspectives were able to be fairly viewed, and where the board and staff were able to gain tremendous insight into the hopes and dreams that those present have for our industry and our association. All of this open, transparent, and inclusive work led the board to seek professional guidance on exploring the feasibility of such a unification, and the value it could deliver.

The board, working in tandem with representatives from the SCAE, issued a request for proposals for a consultancy to conduct a feasibility study, and in August of last year engaged with a group of highly qualified specialists in strategic management, a second group of trade association specialists, and a legal firm specializing in non-profit structures. These consultants immediately set to work in three distinct work streams. First, they surveyed SCAE and SCAA members to get a sense of the membership’s position on this question. The response was overwhelmingly positive from both groups. Next, they studied the experiences of dozens of other non-profit organizations that had faced similar situations to ours, and analyzed the best practices that led to success and identified the cautionary notes that were harbingers of failure. Finally, the legal team dug deep to explore the best structures available to drive forward an internationally focused trade association aimed at impacting the world in a positive way.

The boards of both associations worked through the details of the path forward recommended by the consultants, adapted some key concepts and structures to meet the unique needs of the specialty coffee community, and put forward a plan to unify in a manner that could deliver exceptional value to our members, and that could create the possibility of confronting the impacts of climate change, economic imbalance, labor shortages, dramatic demographic shifts and other near and long term threats to our existence as an industry. That plan was reviewed, revised, questioned and ultimately ratified by both boards of directors in their individual board meetings. In May of this year, the SCAE membership voted overwhelmingly to move to a unified organization, and now the SCAA membership has the opportunity to do the same.

The world is a constantly changing place, and we must always adapt to those changes. There are those in our community who would stop in place, unwilling or afraid to confront those challenges. They have worked to drive fear, selfishness and misinformation into this voting process. Don’t let them. This is your association, and you have told us over and over again that our core values revolve around inclusiveness, sustainability, respect for the producer, stewardship of our environment and a willingness to position specialty coffee as a unique product that connects rather than divides us.

A vote for this unification is a vote for a better future. Thousands of volunteer hours from both organizations have been devoted to making it a reality. A vote for unification is a vote of courage, a vote of belief in what we have built together, and a vote in support of leadership you have elected to serve the organization. A vote for unification is a vote for access to new markets to source and sell products or services, and a vote in favor of a sustainable global value chain.

This process has been inclusive, thoughtful, open, transparent and aimed at a better coffee world since its beginning – it is nothing short of inspirational. I hope that you share in this inspiration and feel the potential it represents for the future of coffee, so that you may confidently vote to approve SCAA’s unification with SCAE.

I encourage you to click here to cast your vote now.

Respectfully,

Ric Rhinehart
Executive Director, SCAA

My Perspective: Ted Lingle — Founding Member and First Executive Director of SCAA

Dear Friends:

The proposed merger between SCAA and SCAE is an important next step for both organizations. I am very much in favor of this merger, as I believe it will have a positive outcome. Here is why:

1. The North American “coffee revolution” that a small group of people helped start and manage more than 30 years ago has morphed into a “world-wide movement” that touches the lives of coffee consumers around the globe. Nowhere is this more prominent than in Asia, which I consider to be the “last coffee frontier” and is now the fastest growing coffee consumer segment in the world.

2. The people who now carry the torch we lit so long ago, the instructors who teach the programs SCAA and SCAE helped develop, are now asking the question about why they need two credentials, SCAA and SCAE, to present virtually the same curriculum in order to offer certification programs to their students. In effect they are asking why can’t SCAA and SCAE cooperate as they have so successfully with the World Coffee Events program, which began as the World Barista Championship in a corporation co-owned by SCAA and SCAE.

3. The proposed merger is not as much about forming a “world coffee organization” - we don’t need or want to compete with the ICO, as much as it is about maintaining the core principles that motivated so many of us when we first got involved in specialty coffee: “quality is sustainable;” “standards through education;” “equity along the value chain;” and "equal participation by producers.” If SCAA and SCAE take the lead in moving this agenda forward forward, these core values will become a permanent part of the coffee industry.

4. Mergers are not easy and I admire the resolve of both SCAA’s and SCAE’s Boards in wanting to try. I believe there are two major hurdles to overcome: 1) governance; and 2) revenue sharing. It’s one thing to make verbal commitments, but it is quite another to actually give up both “control and financial resources.” However, SCAA and SCAE have done a remarkably good job in expanding the World Coffee Barista championship into an international event that encompasses a wide range of professional technical skills that has attracted thousands of young coffee consumers to our industry.

5. There is a huge risk in taking no action on this issue. The need and demand for a unified program is so great in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, India, and the Middle East that some group will figure out how to do this. When they do, there is no guarantee that the same core values will remain as integral parts of the specialty coffee industry, which would be a significant set back for the coffee producers on which our industry is entirely dependent.

So I’m asking you to vote in favor of the merger. I believe it will be a significant step forward over the long term.

Thanks,

Ted Lingle

A Perspective From Drewry Pearson, SCAE Past President

I have not wished to engage in discussions involving the vote of SCAA members regarding Unification with the SCAE. Despite the fact that our company, Marco Beverage Systems Ltd, has been a member of the SCAA for a number of years, I do not wish to stand accused of being an outsider interfering where not wanted.

However, I believe that I need to address one important point that is being argued against Unification, which is the point that BREXIT endangers the Unification and thus the future of the SCAA. This I believe does not match up to the facts and further is being used as a means to instill fear in the opportunity as well as divert attention away from the very real advantages and ultimately necessity to speak as one consistent and coherent voice in support of Specialty Coffee worldwide.

These are the facts regarding the SCAE exposure to Brexit.

1. The SCAE is a UK registered company limited by guarantee. As a result the SCAE reports its accounts in £ Sterling. This does not mean that its receipts, payments or bank accounts are only in £Sterling. While it may be a misunderstanding, it is mischievous to infer that because the accounts are reported in £sterling that all the transactions are in £sterling.

2. The income and expenditure of the SCAE is widely spread both in its source (primarily education, events and membership) and in its geography, of over twenty five countries.

3. Receipts in the past six months have been 85% in €euros and 15% in £Sterling. Payments have been 65% in €euros and 35% in £Sterling, indicating a future net benefit from the effect of BREXIT.

4. Opening up this spread we find further that while 85% of the receipts are in €euros that the source from which these euros are derived is wider still….as follows

Source of Income Europe Rest of World

Membership 68% 32%
Trainers 40% 60%
Education 36% 64%
Events. 75% 25%

5. The SCAE has three working bank accounts which today held the following disposition of its cash;

a. Euro Account 79%
b. Sterling Current Account 3%
c. Sterling Saver Account 18%

6. In addition to this, the SCAE continues to experience healthy growth. The growth is primarily based on membership fees, education income and events which generate positive cash flow and thus creates cash as part of this growth.

• Increase in income 2014 (£2,491k) to 2015 (£2,882) was 12%
• Budgeted income 2016 is £3,508k, up 22% on income in 2015. Results to date are in line with budget.
• Membership revenue increased by 19% in 2015 and is in line with a budgeted increase of 28% for 2016.

7. Ironically much of this information was presented for any member who wished to attend and ask questions at the SCAE AGM, held on the day of the BREXIT result. As usual few questions were asked and none that I remember related to BREXIT.

For these reasons I believe it is clear that the SCAE finances are healthy and robust. They are also well diversified to deal with negative impacts, including BREXIT.

Best regards,
Drewry Pearson, SCAE Past President

The Benefits of Unification: A Perspective From Heather Perry

On Tuesday, July 5, SCAA members will have the opportunity to vote on whether we should unify with the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) to form a global specialty coffee association. This is the culmination of many years of investigation, dreaming, and planning by hundreds of SCAA members, volunteers, our councils, our board of directors, and our colleagues at the SCAE. It’s been years in the making, from our early global collaborations like the World Barista Championship, to our Strategic Leadership Summit last June- where we began to sketch out what a global unified organization should look like, to the plans being put forward to our membership in the vote starting on Tuesday (July 5th). Many members have taken advantage of the ability to see the path we’ve taken by visiting scaaunification.org frequently and weighing in with questions and comments. It’s been quite a journey. The SCAA board on which I serve with 12 other coffee professionals has been there all the way, poring over details, and ensuring that any unification serves our members first. We, together with the leadership of the SCAE, came up with a plan that we believe serves the members of our organizations, and finally puts specialty coffee where it belongs—on the world stage.

Last month, the SCAE membership had an election on whether to unify, and voted overwhelmingly to join with us to form a global coffee organization. Their members—baristas and roasters, farmers and coffee people just like us—voted to transfer their memberships to a global coffee organization if we met them halfway. They have extended their hand—our decision now is, do we shake it?

Ultimately, that decision comes down to how it benefits our membership. Since we believe that our first and only responsibility is to our members, this must be a benefit to every member in order for us to endorse the plan. Based on feedback from our membership- including a membership survey executed in 2015—we designed a plan to serve our membership better. The SCAA board voted unanimously to endorse the plan and send it to a member vote because we believe it gives the members the following benefits:

  • Since our members value a shared, global community, unification of the two associations reinforces the existing, diverse, global specialty coffee community and strengthens the bonds between coffee professionals.
  • Retailers—especially smaller ones—will benefit by increased access to knowledge, greater consumer awareness of specialty coffee worldwide, increased access to better coffees, all leading to more prosperity for their businesses.
  • Unification will enable greater collaboration, especially with the Guilds, across new geographies. We are worse off when we build walls, barriers, or isolate ourselves.  Members will see the results of belonging to a cause that is global and personal at the same time.
  • The unification will formalize the alignment of the two most impactful coffee education programs in the world, the SCAE Coffee Diploma System and SCAA Pathways, bringing a single curriculum to the world and uniting a dedicated group of educators, authors and developers.
  • We’ll be able to dedicate more resources to coffee research, strengthening academic ties and delivering more scientific, economic, and sustainability research to our community, answering the questions that remain mysteries in specialty coffee.
  •  We’ll be able to dedicate more resources to local events, increasing opportunities for diverse coffee professionals to come together locally, at the same time that we are increasing our influence globally.
  • Our new association will be ‘One member, One vote’, empowering individual voices in deciding the direction of our community.

Our board and councils have studied the economic impacts, staff resources, and potential benefits of the unification, and we feel strongly that this is a unique opportunity to bring the global specialty coffee together. Great coffee is dependent upon a global, grassroots network of people in many countries, and we feel strongly that our association should reflect that diversity and connection.

We’re thrilled and excited to recommend to our members that they vote YES when it’s time to cast their unification ballot next week.

Sincerely,

Heather Perry
Vice President, SCAA Board of Directors

On Unification—The Path That Led Us Here

By Tracy Ging, 2nd Vice President, SCAA Board of Directors

The Specialty Coffee Association of America exists today for the fundamental purpose of recognizing, developing and promoting specialty coffee. Our current reality is that we strive to laud the art and craft of coffee to ensure its future for our stakeholders across the value chain. Our responsibility ranges from the producers on the front lines addressing quality and sustainability challenges to the baristas who draw upon their talent and knowledge to represent the face of specialty coffee to a growing consumer base and all coffee professionals in between. It is within this context and this sense of purpose to serve our members that we as an association found ourselves asking three key questions:

1. How can we best develop the global perspective to ensure the sustainability and availability of specialty coffee while supporting and promoting the local communities that so often ignite trends and drive interest in what we do?

2. Will expanding the scope of our association better position the association to improve the lives of the members we serve?

3. Can we provide more and better services to our membership and the industry at-large while remaining inclusive and attentive to member needs?

The Specialty Coffee Associations of America and Europe have long shared similar beliefs and sense of purpose, and over the past several years, it has become ever clearer that we also share these same questions. After years of collaboration and the mutual desire to better serve our members, we came together to address these questions (and many more) and began to explore a hypothesis that unification held the potential answers.

What became obvious in 2015 was that unification represented a viable opportunity. By combining financial and intellectual resources, effectively eliminating redundancies and inconsistencies between the two associations, more could be invested in programs, education, and events for members while amplifying the presence of specialty coffee worldwide. As this opportunity materialized into a goal, a working group comprised of board members from both organizations along with staff support, was tasked with the “how?”

The group was formed in June 2015 with a purpose to determine the feasibility and mechanics of such a union and has been working steadily since. Most importantly, we were tasked to give thorough consideration to matters of member value, organizational structure, tax, legal, governance, leadership and staff. In other words, our mission was to determine “how” to maintain focus on delivering more benefits to members as a unified organization while ensuring we still function effectively as an organization.

Of course, we needed expert guidance. There is an exceptional team behind the exploration to unify that helped guide us through a formal process while challenging us to address the more difficult questions:

  • Heart + Mind Strategies: A strategic consultancy with deep category and association experience to guide the process, conduct research and facilitate both associations’ collaboration;
  • McKinley Advisors: Association specialists with expertise in organizational dynamics and membership experience to explore potential structural alignment; and
  • Venable: A corporate and business law firm with expertise in tax, governance and legal structures.

These partners gathered input from our association leadership, volunteers, members and other stakeholders, as well as introduced models and best practices from other organizations. They helped us work through the pros and cons of different options, address cultural differences and envision not only how these two organizations could align efforts today but also what the future of specialty coffee looks like — what kind of organization is needed to serve that future.

The outcome of this work was communicated to the officers of both SCAA and SCAE throughout the process and the final outputs were reviewed with the combined executive committees in December of 2015.

Major Considerations

One of the first questions we considered was: do all of our stakeholders see a strategic opportunity as well?

Yes: In a survey conducted with both memberships in September of 2015, over 1400 respondents, equally shared, reacted overwhelmingly optimistic about the potential of unification.

 Then, we looked at what could be gained from unification:

  • Sustainability is not bound by geography. There are structural issues facing specialty coffee (supply chain vulnerability) that aren’t geographically specific and we could better advance advocacy efforts with a more coordinated approach.
  • We already offer overlapping events and education. SCAA and SCAE are proliferating events and education in areas outside of their respective geographies, which is actually creating confusion in the global specialty coffee industry – combining the two systems will eliminate the need to keep track of what carries over from one area to another.
  • We are pursuing the same goals. We are utilizing similar staff structures and comparable budgets to achieve similar goals, which could be streamlined to invest more resources in pertinent areas like research, standards development, and sustainability.
  • Our audience is already international. Nearly 40% of attendees at the annual SCAA Event and well over 20% of SCAA members are from outside of the U.S. — we are already a global organization, isn’t it time to start thinking and acting like one?

Guiding Principles

Once we determined the optimism surrounding unification and the advantages it would provide across the board, we turned our attention to the details that would be necessary to go through this process successfully. These imperatives included:

  • The model must support the realization of the association’s mission, vision and strategic goals;
  • Ensure effectiveness as a unified organization while serving local interests;
  • Welcome all members of the value chain, regardless of nationality;
  • Leverage the strengths of SCAA and SCAE today but not fear evolution to meet the needs of tomorrow;
  • Be financially judicious so costs to implement are commensurate with return;
  • The governing body (the board) must be representative yet remain nimble and effective;
  • Invest in enabling resources like staff and technology (i.e., it’s time for our associations to have solid human resource and information technology functions); and
  • We cannot stop the great work already happening — any step towards unification needs to be minimally disruptive.

Basic Structure

With that lofty mandate, we engaged in an in-depth process to create a collective vision, mission and values structure for delivering member value.

We then benchmarked the structures of other global organizations to evaluate which structure would best enable us to fulfill the mission and deliver on the vision we had constructed.

  • anything too centralized would potentially stifle movement
  • after considering the idea being totally decentralized, we quickly recognized we don’t yet have that kind of technological capability

It was clear we needed a certain degree of decentralization to allow for cross-functional, cross-cultural leadership that would focus on creating member value through events, education, sustainability, research and standards, and advocacy. We were looking for a structure that would enable the unified organization to develop the strongest voice and leadership possible to propel the specialty coffee movement. Which, ultimately, led us to this structure:

Challenges and Opportunities

There were some spirited debates after the basic structure discussion that yielded invaluable insights and the group focused on ways to amplify the opportunities and minimize challenges identified:

We remain highly focused on two areas of potential challenge, namely potential culture differences and loss of local effectiveness.

For possible culture differences, there were two aspects:

  1. Market Stage: different markets are in different stages of growth but we agree the imperative is to accelerate specialty coffee no matter the context;
  2. Operating Style: functionally, North Americans are a more comfortable advancing independently while our European friends prefer to build by consensus. Both approaches have value and happy mediums are good things.
  • Loss of Effectiveness: Currently, the board and executive staff have decision-making authority but as the organization grows we need more cross-functional, cross-cultural leadership and greater membership participation (one member = one vote), so this risk will be mitigated by increased decentralization. We’ve also established a structure of joint governance, which will expand the board of directors and include representatives from both organizations as well as the guilds:
  • Related to effectiveness, there is a concern about local activity. We recognize how important local connections and face-to-face events are. We also think local communities serve those interests better, so our role at SCAA is to aid local activity through events like Bloom, which we plan to continue and build as a unified organization.

Next Steps

The SCAA Board of Directors has reviewed the detail of unification and is confident recommending the move forward to our membership. We’re finalizing legal due diligence, a proposed agreement and by-law amendments, which will be present to the membership for vote. From there, if members accept our proposal, we would enter the implementation phase with a proposed launch of January 2017.

If not this, then what?

To illustrate this question I turn to my personal experience with this process. I joined the working group with the intent to make this work, but was prepared to pull the ripcord at any point that I thought it wouldn’t.  After the careful deliberation and analysis of the past months, I can confidently say I don’t have any major reservations. Throughout the process I’ve repeatedly asked myself, “if not this, then what?”  

In the face of increasing consolidation in the coffee industry, the potential for category dilution and a supply chain that is vulnerable to climate change and land and labor pressures, I see many advantages to working as a global collective. If unification was not on the horizon we would certainly continue to defend specialty coffee, build standards and definitions that distinguish us in the marketplace and make the necessary investments in the supply chain. 

If not unification, then we keep doing those things, but our efforts will resume in diluted fashion should we pursue that alternative as separate individual organizations. As for those three original questions: I and the working group can confidently say that through unification we can act locally and globally, provide more value to our members and continue to strive toward improving the lives of coffee people industry-wide. We are a global organization and our recommendation is to step more fully into that space so we can take advantage of the power and potential of our collective. 

For additional information, please visit scaaunification.org where you will find a detailed timeline, perspectives from our community and the opportunity to provide feedback or ask questions. We will continue to update this site as information becomes available and communicate with our membership through email, social channels and at live events.

A Sustainability Perspective on the Benefits of Unification

By Chad Trewick, Director

As a member of the SCAA Board of Directors, going through this process of exploring unification and alignment with SCAE has illuminated some elements of our work as coffee trade organizations that would be prioritized and quite strengthened by the alignment. As I am one of the board liaisons to our Sustainability Council, I think about what we have learned about sustainability priorities across both organizations and am excited about how theses prioritized efforts could rise to the surface as we work together and be unified and therefore strengthened areas of focus.

As a collective specialty coffee industry we are increasingly aware of the vulnerability of our access to our raw material: green coffee. The vulnerability stems, primarily, I believe from green coffee’s underlying economics being rather fuzzy and then subsequent values assigned to the product too often not covering production costs or supporting farmer livelihoods. Add that to abysmally low commodities market levels and perennial market volatility and you have a perfect storm   to serve as ongoing reminders of the hardships of coffee production; this is making alternate economic activities look super attractive to coffee farmers around the world and it will lessen our access to the supply we require to maintain our brands.

We need to focus our efforts as unified organizations on finding solutions to these complex challenges that jeopardize our access to high quality and differentiated raw material supply while we work to uphold dignified livelihoods throughout the value chain. We would all like to see specialty coffee be available for future generations to enjoy--both in producing and consuming countries!

SCAA & SCAE Unification | SCAA Member Sentiment Report

On October 26, 2015, a survey was sent to the SCAA membership (8,757 members received the email and 700 responded to the survey), to identify many of potential benefits and perceived challenges for the membership. This simple poll has helped us to better understand what is most important to you, our members, and also provided an opportunity for you to offer your best thinking and insights into the process as we move forward in our exploration. We truly appreciate your time and energy in responding to this simple questionnaire, and if you have further feedback we encourage you to reach out to us at feedback@scaa.org. An overview of the results of this survey can be found below:

SCAA and SCAE Unification Exploration | Your Hub for Information

Dear Member:

As you have probably heard by now, the SCAA has spent the past few months exploring the possibility of greater engagement with the global specialty coffee community. This includes the potential of unifying formally with the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE). It’s a long process that requires lots of time for research, consideration and interaction with our membership. Our ultimate responsibility is to you, our membership, which is a responsibility that we take very seriously. 

The amount of time necessary to explore this process presents a unique communications challenge: how do we practice transparency in the decision process and keep our members informed? After grappling with this for some time, a member made a suggestion: why not develop a microsite to capture communications, milestones, news and opinions about the proposed unification? We thought it was a great idea and today we’re happy to unveil the result of our work.

We want to encourage our members to follow along with the process every step of the way. We’ll be sharing board member perspectives, survey results, and communications about how decisions will be made. We thank you for your input, collective wisdom and for being a critical voice in the future of our organization.

Sincerely,

Andrew Hetzel, SCAA Board of Directors

Cooperation and Collaboration in the Realm of Coffee Education

By Andrew Hetzel, Cafémakers

Two years ago while working in Africa, a young barista competitor approached me and asked, “is making espresso in American different than it is in Europe?” “Perhaps,” I replied. “There are stylistic differences among cultures all over the world but it’s all essentially the same principle.”  “Then why,” she continued, “are there separate training programs and certificates for European and American baristas?” It was a very insightful question.

Rockstar African baristas were not the only ones pondering that thought. It was around that same time the SCAA and SCAE decided to jointly cooperate in the creation of an association chapter in the U.A.E., with coffee education and professional development opportunities leading the venture. The Middle East is a relatively new and developing frontier for specialty coffee that shows promise for the future. As the two associations had seen firsthand in quickly emerging Asian markets, collaboration is the best way to accomplish the common goal of making coffee better. 

On the heels of this, past representatives of SCAA’s Educational Pathways staff, committee heads, and the board of directors met with key personnel and volunteers from SCAE in June this year in Atlanta. The goal of the meeting was to create another kind of pathway; one that would allow students and instructors from either association’s program to participate in the other. The group quickly found that there were more similarities between the two education systems than differences. A translation chart of course curriculum and requirements was developed and will be introduced to all members of both associations in early 2016. 

As a result of this effort, both SCAA and SCAE members are expected to have better access to more content. Less time will be spent choosing one program versus another when it is clear that anyone in the advancement of coffee knowledge has access to both. Further still, the alignment of education programs allows the bodies that develop content for each association to reduce duplication of effort and free resources to begin and explore new areas of coffee education that were previously beyond reach. Both programs become stronger by working together.

Moving ahead in 2016, less time will be focused on the political divide of an “American way,” or “European way” of making espresso, and more time on what both organizations already agree is a better way.

 

A Message on Collaboration in Coffee from SCAA Executive Director Ric Rhinehart

Dear Member:

For the past eight years I have had the unique pleasure to serve as the Executive Director for the SCAA. This role involves many of the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities you might imagine, coordinating the efforts of volunteers, staff members and elected leaders. All are designed to ensure that we deliver on our mission: to recognize, develop, and promote specialty coffee. We work hard to stay true to our values and create opportunities for our members to thrive in the specialty coffee business.

One of the ongoing challenges facing us is understanding how we will continue our mission into the future. Change in the specialty coffee business is a constant. Consider the changing environment, a growing global market for coffee and the emergence of a new generation of coffee professionals. All these things and new technologies impact how we live, communicate, and connect.

We have fortunately had the opportunity to consider our future with input from a wide range of thoughtful, innovative, and inspiring leaders from every corner of our industry. As a result, we have brought forward some clarity that has led to action.

One of the first manifestations of this took place back in 2008. It became clear to us that the barista was the most likely point of contact with the consumer. We needed to focus on developing and celebrating the art and craft of coffee brewing.

A focus on the barista was the backdrop for the Barista Guild creating its program of professional development. It was also a primary driver for the launch of Barista Camps, a renewed energy around the US Coffee Championships and launch of the Brewers Cup. In 2010 it also spurred an alliance with the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe and the launch of World Coffee Events. Our leaders noted the growing international nature of our organization. They noticed participation of coffee people from all over the world in our events, our education, and in our volunteer corps.

In March of 2011, the SCAA Board of Directors formed an ad hoc committee to explore a more international engagement. Once again, a broad group of stakeholders assembled to contribute their best thinking on the issue.

The work of that committee is demonstrated in several places. This included the decision to shift the International Relations Council of the SCAA to a body owned by its participants. It also drove us to create an international education partnership program and establish SCAA certified labs around the world. We worked to provide more access to our activities and events for coffee people globally. Since then, international participation at our annual event has swelled to over 35% of attendees.

SCAA’s expanding contact with the global coffee community has driven us to focus on the fundamental basis for our industry: the coffee producer. A challenging combination of volatile markets, changing climate conditions, and shifting labor forces have brought new urgency to our members in every sector.

The Sustainability Council of the SCAA pushes for a broad-spectrum view of the issues. It seeks a renewed commitment to drive towards concrete solutions to the challenges of our supply chain on every front. Significant work in these arenas led to the incubation and support of World Coffee Research (WCR). WCR embodies our commitment to collaborate on fundamental science and agronomy that is critical to our future. WCR has grown to a global organization with collaborative partners in over 24 countries. We have also worked in tandem with the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) to advance development work in producing countries, most recently around gender issues in coffee.

Throughout this activity over the past years, two things have grown increasingly clear. First, we are at our best when collaborating with coffee people all over the world to foster an environment where everyone in the coffee value chain benefits. Second, we make progress only when we focus on delivering value to our members. The greatest strength of the SCAA is to bring members together to imagine, innovate and to generate activities that create an environment for specialty coffee to thrive.

Last week the latest of this kind of broad based, member driven, innovative thinking took place in London. The boards of directors of the SCAE and SCAA met together in a facilitated meeting. Their goal was to consider even greater collaboration and alignment on how best to face the challenges of the future. Challenges like how to ensure a supply of great coffee, deliver on member value, and embrace a new generation of coffee professionals and coffee consumers.

It was a meeting remarkable for its openness to a broad range of thinking. This was combined with an unyielding insistence on delivering on the commitments of each organization to their members. Emphasis by both focused on the need to act first locally and then globally. Much more will need to be done before the way forward is clear. I am confident that in the near future we will be able to look across the specialty coffee landscape and see the concrete results of our efforts.

We’re excited about the decision to explore our individual futures together. Through international cooperation and collaboration with a global outlook on sustainability and quality, we can take specialty coffee to where it belongs: a movement that transforms the world. As we explore, however, we know that our primary responsibility is to our members. The only way it makes sense to unify is if it increases the value of our association to those who drive it.

What we know so far is that:

  • International coffee standards, a global coffee system, globally inclusive events, better standards, and more publications are possible if we expand the scope of our association.
  • We have a stronger chance of making a difference in the lives of coffee farmers, entrepreneurs, baristas, tasters, experts, and many other coffee professionals by expanding our international network.
  • Engaging at the global level is our best chance at ensuring the future sustainability, viability, and availability of the coffees on which we’ve built our industry.

We’re at the beginning of this journey. We’re exploring at the moment, and we will have more to share as we continue to investigate. Your elected leadership will continue to be highly engaged in evaluating the outcomes of this exploration. As the possibilities become clearer, we’ll be sharing more detail about what the next steps look like.

In the meantime, please engage with others in the community on these ideas and we’d love to hear your thoughts. Your voice is always a welcome addition and you can always reach me at executivedirector@scaa.org or your president, Tracy Allen, at president@scaa.org.

Best regards,

Ric Rhinehart
Executive Director, Specialty Coffee Association of America