WBC Tokyo 2007 – The night before – humility and quality behind closed doors

July 30, 2007

I left Seattle at 2:50 p.m. on Friday the 27th and arrived in Tokyo Narita at 5:00 p.m. on Sat. Didn’t sleep at all on the plane and for some reason despite being up for well over 24 hours, I couldn’t sleep. The next morning I was up at 6:30 a.m. Tokyo time and off to Kyoto and Nara City the two previous capitals of Japan. I was hosted by Toshiko Nakanishi a long time friend of the family. I met her two sons Masato and Yasuto and their spouses Michiko and Yoko as well as her husband Hiroyuki. Anything less than a bow was lack of respect and a hug or kiss is a major intrusion of personal space. Toshiko and Hiroyuki graciously hosted me in their home and showed me the sites in Nara which was the capital about 1300 years ago. The park conaining the oldest Buddist temple was also full of hundreds of deer that would eat right out of your hand. I returned to Tokyo on a Shinkansen train going over a couple hundred km/hr. In just a couple days I’ve learned much about the culture that should prove usefull while meeting old and new Japanese customers.

After checking in and unpacking at the hotel, I went downstairs for a drink and followed the arrows to what took me to a meet and greet party for barista’s and trainers. I had the priviledge of meeting Tone Elin Liavaag of Solberg who does Public Relations for Solberg & Hansen in Oslo. We have some coffee on a boat as I write this going to the Coffee Collective in Denmark in a joint container with 2 CoE lots S&H aquired. Fortunately for me they agreed to share a container which cut my freight bill from the drymill to the port in half. This is not something that could have easily been planned, but in the small world of specialty coffee, good relationships go a long way and this seemed to effortlessly fall into place. Tone seems to be 100% commited to whatever project is at hand. And at this moment I think they’ve probably picked up a number of other CoE lots since the Guat auctions. While talking with Klaus I had to make the effort to tone down my excitement about their interest in visiting us next harvest. There are many reasons coffee people want to visit origin and I suppose they’re all probably pretty good. Having worked with a myriad of roasters it’s pretty exciting to come accross a great match. More often this requires some initiative to get things going, but is very worth it for everyone starting with those picking the coffee to those who enjoy it in the cup. While the “picker” and end consumer may know the least about the rest of the chain, the impact seems to be the greatest for them. We feel priviledged to be working with the gang at the Coffee Collective as they’re passion is contageous, inventive and commited. I was very impressed with Klaus not only tonight, but this year as he’s completing 12 months of being in the spotlight while keeping a cool head. I believe a part of this has to do with his trips to origin and taking on a deeper understanding of the amount of work that has to happen before he can practice his craft and pass it on. As our coffee makes it’s way through the chain it is not a relay race where we compete on time, price or efficiency, rather taking the time to do what it takes, to do it right. And sometimes this means being willing to pay for shipping an entire container with a very small select microlot tucked in the very back. The drymill managers jaw dropped while the logistics manager smilled and said “yeah that sounds like Peter Dupont” (but in spanish). There are many things that are costly that people pay for in specialty coffee especially when there’s high public visibility and the opportunity to demonstrate the great lengths a company will go to get the very best. However what speaks volumes to me is when this is done behind closed doors with out requiring impressing an audience to justify it. These types of acts are great ingredients for long term relationships.

The room was mostly full of national barista champs and their trainers. I didn’t know most of them. Met Heather Perry who is the U.S. barista champ and had a great talk with Pete Licata of PT’s who is somehow working with her. Also met Vinicius Rojo who does high end catering mostly with fine coffee preparation in Sau Paulo. Althoug not cometing, he certainly had personality and showmanship to entertain and educate a diverse crowd. Silvia Magalhaes the Brazilian champion of Octavio-Cafes is from a family who grows coffee. ALOT OF IT!… and roasts for export to U.S. as well as local consumption in BRA and is in the process of opening a 4 story coffee museum! Sounds like a place I will have to visit some day. Unfortunately a few folks including Federico the Argentine barista champion and Bruce Milleto from Bellisimo, never saw their luggage arrive.

Over all the tone of the group seemed to be a nice balance between enthusiastic and humble. I’m hopefull this will continue the next 3 days. Klaus gave the group some practical tips like “don’t change your routine at the last minute” and “don’t say something you’ll regret” as the cameras will be rolling thanks to Bellissimo.

all for now….

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