An Open Letter to Josh Ozersky

An Open Letter to Josh Ozersky

Tomorrow, September 29, is National Coffee Day. It’s a day that the specialty coffee industry celebrates with great excitement year after year—not just to revel in the world’s favorite drink, but also to seize the opportunity to educate consumers about how truly remarkable a beverage coffee is.

Roasters will discount their beans, shops will dole out free samples, and coffee bloggers will post all sorts of interesting tidbits today and tomorrow—click through some of the links on my Other Great Coffee Blogs page and I’m sure you’ll find a handful of these posts.

I’ll be taking a different approach, though, because I can think of at least one person who doesn’t share our enthusiasm—Time Magazine columnist and Grub Street founder, Josh Ozersky. Instead of writing a piece celebrating my favorite brown liquid, I’m writing a defense of it.

This is getting to be old news by now, but about a week and a half ago, Ozersky unleashed his righteous anger with the specialty coffee institution in an incredibly scathing article for Time entitled “The Perils of Coffee Snobbery,” in which he criticizes the entire industry for a video that was posted by the fine folks at Blue Bottle Coffee.

Before I go any further, I think it would behoove you to watch the video for yourself. The video is actually a promotional trailer for a book that Blue Bottle founder, James Freeman, and his wife, Caitlin, wrote about coffee. Personally, I couldn’t possibly imagine a more harmless production, but that’s just me.

Regardless, have a look, then read Joshua’s piece:

Dear Mr. Josh Ozersky:

It seems nowadays that, if you really want to get people riled up about something, just make a YouTube video.

Let me first say this: I get it. I really do. I understand your anger and frustration with the specialty coffee movement, the so-called “third wave,” the snobbery that is often in full swing in this industry—I wrote a piece on it myself once. What I don’t understand, though, is the sheer vehemence, insolence, discriminatory profiling, and even hatred that went into your article.

I fully support freedom of speech and the validity of your opinions and blah, blah, blah. If you were to have written an article that criticized snobbery within the coffee industry as a whole, I could have completely backed you up on it—because you’re right, it’s there (in the same way that snobbery is present in the fields of wine, model trains, cigars, comic books, music, movies, fashion, literature, cuisine, education, politics, etc., etc., etc.).

But to personally attack one man’s stature, physical appearance, penmanship, musical taste, style of clothing, his passion, and his career (“Freeman is a mellow weenie in architect glasses, the very image of a coffee snob.”), then to insinuate that the coffee industry is some sort of cult (“Their founder/high priest, James Freeman, is a genial and truly dedicated man, one whose dedication to coffee borders on the evangelical.”), then to liken specialty coffee lovers to the victims at Jonestown (“Their constituent communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, Brooklyn, Portland, and elsewhere drank the Kool-Aid a long time ago.”), then to go so far as to actually write “everybody wants to kill” like-minded coffee professionals—that is downright indefensible and reprehensible.

Much like Romney did in his now infamous “47%” slip-up (or, “honest opinion”), you’ve managed in one swift stroke of your quill to write off an entire industry because you’re either ignorant, blind, or just mean.

Or a truly disastrous combination of all three.

For one thing, in all your grumbling and griping you fail to recognize that “this coffee cognoscenti”, seriously, represents a fraction of a customer service industry that only wants to serve you and make you happy; you confuse real and genuine desire to be honest, open, and transparent for a “passionate political statement”; you mistake ethical and environmental altruism for “urban progressiveness”; you call out an entire industry for snobbery and preachiness while using TIME Magazine as a soapbox as a means to be a veritable slackjaw snob; and you trade in serious culinary journalism and critique for immature playground bullying.

And for what? As John Birdsall, from Chow, put it: “Going after Josh Ozersky’s trashing of Blue Bottle Coffee is like thwacking a low-hanging piñata filled with shit: Easy to hit, but the payoff isn’t terribly rewarding.”

It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Look, nobody is forcing you to buy Freeman’s book. Nobody is forcing you to throw away your Keurig and replace it with a professional pour-over bar. Nobody is forcing you to frequent the shops and roasteries that you so loathe. If all of us specialty coffee professionals and enthusiasts really bother you this much, just go somewhere else—somewhere you feel more comfortable and less threatened.

That’s the easiest solution. My suggestion, though, is rather than being so ignorant about all of this, have an open mind—try something new. Or, just chill out, man.

For you to broadly attack specialty coffee culture and personally attack James Freeman is like broadly attacking science, then personally attacking Stephen Hawking; it’s like denouncing the wine industry, then verbally abusing Robert Parker; it’s like making fun of Doctor Who, then giving a sci-fi enthusiast a swirly.

Coffee is just another field that people are passionate about and James Freeman is just another guy who happened to make a career of it; just like being a restauranteur is a hobby that you made a career of. So, what’s with the hate?

I mean, nobody in Roast Magazine is calling you out for being a fat, ignorant, carnivorous, bullying barbarian, right?

I’m certainly not.

Drew Moody
Founder, A Table in the Corner of the Cafe