Coffee: A Matter of Spirituality

And more on Columbia City and Moneytree.

Re: “Hot and Frothy” by Jonathan Kauffman (December 3)

So I read the article and still would like to know: How exactly is cupping “hot air”? Local coffee roasters are at least trying to get people to understand where the drink is coming from. No harm in that. Sure, there is some pretentious air to it, but cupping promotes the slow, careful consumption of straight black coffee. What’s wrong with trying to take back the idea of how coffee is supposed to be consumed in a world with 20-ounce quad-shot white-chocolate frappucinos? I applaud Victrola and Stumptown for fighting the good fight. —Nick

What a wonderfully insightful article. Your descriptions, observations, and even arguments are spot-on. Of course, I disagree with the conclusion.

Cupping is just a way to taste coffee consciously. We can learn to be conscious about many things; by attending a salt tasting, for example, one might learn about the differences between sea and mined salt, between fleur-de-sel and Sicilian sea salt from Trapani. Or one might attend a lecture on music, learning the difference between Bach and Beethoven or New York vs. L.A. punk. Or one might learn about visual art or Mexican food or wild food plants.

We don’t need a reason to exercise our senses and our minds, it’s part of being a curious, intelligent, sensing human being. That’s all cupping is, to learn to taste coffee with consciousness; it’s entertainment, it’s exercise, it’s education. It’s an end in itself; I do it for fun, as do many of the folks who come to my company’s cuppings every week.

As you’ve noticed, we coffee people aren’t a cynical bunch. We’re not trying to pull the wool on anyone, we’re just trying to share something that we love.— Peter Giuliano, Counter Culture Coffee

I enjoyed your article on coffee cupping, but as a graduate of a Victrola four-session cupping course, I have to admit that my taste buds will never be the same again. Perry and his co-workers at Victrola taught us the importance of freshness, that is, the days from roasting to drinking. Store-bought beans just taste stale. I find myself grimacing a little at the end of the cup, so I’ve decided that $9 a half-pound for the Santa Ana Bourbon Varietal is doable, even if I don’t bother to “cup” it every morning! —C.E. Berglund

Writer Jonathan Kauffman seems to have enjoyed his cupping sessions at the various “third wave” roasteries he visited, but he still feels that Seattle’s “coffee elite” are going too far with their rhetoric and promotion of terroir. Mr. Kauffman divides his own terminology between the spiritual—”religious,” “prophet,” “aesthetic meditation”—and the sensory, and he appears to conclude that both are taken too far because the average coffee drinker won’t experience “the poetry of the tasting note” with a morning jolt of caffeine.

But—what about taking the focus off the coffee drinker and the U.S. marketer? When the third-wave approach focuses on “relationship coffees” and “taste of place,” it promotes the small farmer and the local economy in a poor country like Honduras. Mr. Kauffman states that “Noble’s [Wine Aroma] wheel helped make possible the explosion of the American wine industry by providing a vocabulary all drinkers could use.” Think of the benefits to both Colombia and the United States if an explosion of small coffee farms, each known for its unique terroir, displaced the production of cocaine. This is exactly the approach—with different agricultural crops—that has been proposed to curtail the production of opium in Afghanistan.

Some people like their spirituality in church, some outdoors in nature, and evidently some in communion with a cup of Yirgacheffe. Could it be that the Seattle hipster paying $30 a pound for an organically grown estate coffee is practicing the Golden Rule more effectively than the person in the pew or the bicyclist on the Snohomish Centennial Trail? —Susan LeFevre

My wife has my permission to kill me if I ever take coffee drinking this serious. —Jeff

Re: “Cleaning Out” by Aimee Curl (December 3)

Your distinction between soulless “yuppies” or “stroller-running types” and the wise veterans of the good old days in Columbia City is a wishful conjuring of cliché. The connection between the Business Improvement Area fees and the real-world negative effects of gentrification is tenuous. Renters are going to be priced out of their apartments because their landlord will have to absorb an additional fee of $83/month? You [may] want to dig a little deeper.

As for the idea that “it’s up to the individual to keep things up”—well, that didn’t work out so well in the early ’90s when the Columbia City business district was boarded up and crime-ridden. It was cooperative efforts among neighbors and business owners that made Columbia City what it is today.

Which brings me back to the cartoon “yuppies” you have running around Columbia City, bugging business owners like Mr. Soreano with…business. Look closer and you might find young people who have found in Columbia City one of the few places in-city where they can afford a first home. Or renters who dig the neighborhoody feel and diversity of the place.

Gentrification is at work in South Seattle. Many businesses and residents old and new, rich and poor, will benefit by it. Others surely are feeling its pinch. The proposed BIA is a modestly-priced trash clean-up initiative. If you want to tell a story about suffering and displacement, it’s out there, but you’ll need to work a lot harder than this. —John Hoole

Re: “The Demon on the Corner” by Mark Fefer (December 3)

I can’t understand [Moneytree CEO Dennis] Bassford’s confusion. Payday lenders do target and exploit low- and moderate-income communities, and they do so with a business model that traps people in debt. An APR of 391% is not a “good” alternative to 503%—and 391% is the average APR of a payday loan, not the max. I can agree that greedy banks are a problem, but that doesn’t excuse the outrageous rates and business model of Moneytree and other payday lenders. —Margaret

There was a time when I didn’t have a checking account. I cashed my paycheck and used money orders to pay bills. I found I could survive using check-cashing services. However, there is a stark difference between surviving and succeeding.

It took membership in a credit union for me to get on the right path to reach my financial goals. I found that the credit union provided tools and resources I needed to go from surviving to succeeding. The Bank on Seattle initiative is providing the same support to everyone in Seattle. We are creating options for those who previously had few. —Meagan Colbeck, Verity Credit Union

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