What follows is only my opinion and does not necessarily represent the view of or an official statement by the SCAA. I have posted this elsewhere and if doing so is a breach of etiquette, I apologize. I feel like a larger context would be helpful to the conversation.
The SCAA was conceived in opposition. Like all opposition parties, the alliances within were tenuous, fragile, and often in conflict. Then, as now, the individuals involved found it difficult to agree on definitions of and assessment practices for quality. These were and are strong, independent, entrepreneurial personalities. They were never short on opinions and they argued a lot. In 1983, the SCAA's first year as a chartered organization, a governance policy dispute among the founding board members led to a vote among the membership that in effect removed Ted Lingle from that first board. These are the conditions in the foundry where audacious ideas are given form and brought to life.
But the impassioned diversity of ideas among SCAA's founders converged into a unity of voice when they spoke of who they were not. They were not the NCA. Some of the history that led to this vehement opposition has been recorded in various places, though never in great enough detail for me. To my mind, it can be traced all the way back to the first world war, or further for those truly fascinated by the threads in history. But that work is for another time and place. I only mention it here to establish the context.
In my opinion, to understand the intensity and variety of reactions to the alliance between ACE and NCA, one must understand this: the SCAA was conceived in opposition. And in fact, few people understand this as well as Susie Spindler.
In the 1980's Susie worked for the Coffee Development Group (CDG). The CDG was arguably one precursor to the SCAA and, indeed, partnerships between the two organizations were discussed as SCAA was being founded. Funded by the International Coffee Organization (ICO), the CDG was charged with increasing coffee consumption in the U.S. through marketing and education, and the idea of quality coffee was a component of these programs. In a very real sense, the CDG bridged the gap between the world of the NCA and the world of the emerging SCAA. Despite opinions to the contrary at the time, the CDG was neither fully immersed in coffees 'old guard,â€? nor was it a knee-jerk member of the opposition. These are Susie Spindler's roots in coffee and, in my opinion, allow for a balanced, diplomatic, and realistic view of the coffee industry as a whole.
In politics, policy is driven by the fringe and tempered by the center. It is just silly to imagine that politics could be absent, or should be absent, in any industry. We are an industry with a long supply chain and multiple stake holders with competing interests. Politics are pervasive. Those who lament politics in any organization or industry cannot be excused their intentional naiveté anymore than a congressman lobbing the same accusation across the aisle can be excused his insincerity.
Those who can function, or at least communicate, on both sides of the aisle without compromising their principles tend to be the people who get real work done, the people who convert the barking from the fringe into functional programs. I consider Susie Spindler one of these people. Those who imagine Susie would allow CoE to be compromised by an alliance with any organization simply do not know Susie, her history with CoE, or her history within the coffee industry. I can think of only a handful of people as well suited for 'missionary workâ€? in the commodity world. I would say the same about the ACE board.
As an association, the NCA has openly recognized the vitality and, I would say, their dependency on the specialty sector and the quality coffee imperative. Though we represent only 15% of the volume of coffee, roughly speaking, within the entire U.S. coffee industry, we represent 40% of the total value. The NCA asks 'gourmet coffeeâ€? questions in their annual consumer survey. They have steadily added specialty coffee topics to their various educational program curriculum. And now, they have not only endorsed the concept of an alternative market structures, but essentially acknowledged the true value range for green coffee.
It hardly matters whether you see this as the glass half empty or half full. Have we influenced their segment of the industry or have they infected ours? The fact is that there is no longer an 'usâ€? and a 'them.â€? The 'two party systemâ€? within the coffee industry disappeared some time ago. The 'oppositionâ€? is unidentifiable because the coffee industry, like coffee itself, exists on a continuum. Most people interested in coffee can readily identify companies at both ends of the spectrum and they are light years apart. On one end are the companies we admire and the coffees we crave (in several cases, sourced or roasted or brewed by people who post on this forum). We can all name them. These companies, passionate coffee consumers, many SCAA programs, and ACE/CoE define 'true north.â€? Without them, our compass will fail. You can judge them by the company they keep if you want to, but in my experience, it is their passion that rubs off on those around them, and not the other way around.
As for the obsession with 'personality conflicts,â€? well, of course there have been conflicts and disagreements, and some of them have been petty. Susie and I had one disagreement a few years ago that I think I handled poorly. But I think the point at which a disagreement in principle can be dismissed as a 'personality conflictâ€? is difficult to judge if you were not in the room, and even then it might be hard to tell. To me it is a pointless exercise. The outcome, whether the result of a stubborn unwillingness to compromise or an intellectually honest disagreement over standards, structure, or process, was an unfortunate distancing between two likeminded and complimentary industry groups. This should be remedied. But at the same time, the CoE alliance with NCA should be celebrated.
Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters