Coffee trade looks forward to times of change

A remarkable groundswell of coffee trade opinion has been triggered by the appointment of Lynsey Harley of United Coffee as the new UK Co-ordinator of the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe.

This elected position is one which rarely receives any interest from the beverage trade. The industry’s trade associations are fairly low-profile, and the image of the SCAE’s UK co-ordinator is generally not one which receives any media attention at all.

This year, however, there has been a quite unprecedented amount of interest in the election, almost entirely because one of the three candidates, Lynsey, is such a well-known barista, competition entrant, trainer, and advocate of industry training. The barista and roaster sectors enthusiastically took up the concept that one of their own would take up a position of influence in the industry association, and be in a position to bring about many aspects of change and progress in the industry.

The result was that baristas and roasters alike could be seen on social network sites exhorting SCAE members to take an active part in the election – a most unusual display of excitement around a trade association post.

The consequence – although we have yet to have this confirmed – appears to be that Lynsey won the poll by a landslide majority.

The reaction from the barista sector, one never known for its restraint in opinion, was unequivocal: “let the revolution begin!” was one comment on Twitter, although a slightly more restrained one, which probably encapsulates the view of many members, was: “it seems it’s time for a change, according to paid-up SCAE members”.

Lynsey’s stated intention in running for office was to organise events, talks, and education, and to ‘utilise the wealth of knowledge and expertise we have in the UK to bring the industry forward leaps and bounds’. This fits with the generally stated objectives of the SCAE, who will welcome such an enthusiastic recruit.

“Some of the plans are still to be finalised, but I have all the ideas ready to roll out,” she told Coffee House magazine. “The UK coffee scene is one of the best, if not the best, in the world. However, we need more events, education, etc, where like-minded people can get together, share ideas and make things happen. Too much of the current focus is on competitions, which are great and create a buzz, but not all members compete, and therefore we need to engage with other members and offer something to them which will keep them interested.“

In this, she has acknowledged that there are many different levels to the trade, from the ‘elite’ baristas and roasters to the everyday high-street coffee-shop staff, who have to be approached with equal respect. Not everyone wants to be a world champ, or a national competitor – many everyday staff simply want to be good and respected baristas.

“Making decent coffee is absolutely key to our industry, and that’s from Mr Smith my next door neighbour, my local high street chain, to the specialist independents. If everyone learns a little, makes tastier coffee, then it’s only natural that people will migrate towards the more speciality end, which would be a win for the SCAE.

“There’s a lot of myths out there about making great coffee, and the education will hopefully clear up a few of these.”

Lynsey is currently employed by United Coffee, headed by possibly the single most influential managing director in the UK coffee trade. To what degree will she be able to call upon the considerable facilities of United Coffee in doing the SCAE job?

“My boss is influential and is known throughout the industry. I have the full support of United Coffee to fulfil this role, and this was key to my decision.

“But I will have a committee in place to assist in the quest of taking the SCAE in the UK to a new level – this committee will be made up of a mix of people, from a whole range of companies and angles of the UK coffee industry… my aim is to unite the UK coffee industry.”

Her boss at United Coffee, Elaine Higginson, told Coffee House:

“I’m delighted that Lynsey has the opportunity to demonstrate her knowledge and passion for coffee and barista skill as the national co-ordinator for the SCAE. I’m confident that Lynsey, supported by her colleagues, will transform the UK chapter into a progressive learning and networking organisation that leads the way in Europe.

“Lynsey is energetic, no-nonsense and has a great palate and since joining United Coffee in 2010 has developed as an individual, as well as making a significant contribution to our business.”

One of Lynsey’s former employers, Marco Olmi of Drury Tea and Coffee, has agreed that he believes her to be the right person for the job:

“Having worked closely with Lynsey for a while, I think she is a great choice for SCAE UK national co-ordinator. There is no doubting her passion and interest in all things coffee, and I’m sure she’ll bring a fresh outlook to the post – she undoubtedly showed me a new perspective while she worked as our barista trainer!”

Probably a telling comment was one from a coffee roaster, who said on Twitter: “I guess we will re-join the SCAE now…”

And that, for all trade associations in the industry, probably says a great deal more than it appears to at first sight.

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