“Shut Up and Drink Your Coffee”

Tony Konecny didn’t ask for it, but I’m rushing to his defense.

A couple weeks ago, the Tonx Coffee co-founder took to his company’s blog and wrote “a contrary view in the collective quest for the perfect cup” entitled “Brewing Perfection.” I really encourage you to read the piece for yourself, but, in summary, Konecny wrote that way too much time is spent fussing and obsessing over the minutiae of coffee brewing and not enough time is spent simply enjoying coffee for the simple pleasure of enjoying coffee.

Within an hour of its posting, this harmless opinion piece created a social media firestorm. Specialty coffee professionals all over the country were crying foul, taking a lot of personal offense to the article, spewing vitriol against the article and, to a certain extent, Tony himself in tweet after tweet. And I have to wonder why. I mean, the article was innocent enough; it isn’t filled with hate or malice, it doesn’t discount the industry at all, and it doesn’t attack anybody personally. But, for some reason, that piece really touched a nerve with an awful lot of people.

In my opinion, that piece offended so many people because it hurt their massive egos, knocked them off their pedestals, blemished their vanity, and upset their delusions of grandeur. But, hey—that’s just me.

It seemed as though I was one of the few that wasn’t offended by the piece. In fact, I rejoiced in its publishing because I agreed with everything it said. And, wouldn’t you know it, when I tweeted my agreement with the piece, industry professionals attacked me; attacked me personally, to boot! One coffee professional (who I will not name, because I’d like to think I’m a person of integrity) even told me that my love and appreciation of coffee wasn’t as valid as his, that it is “less than,” because I’m not nearly as obsessive with the science of coffee brewing as he and his type are.

It’s no secret that specialty coffee has an image problem with the general public. It’s certainly evident, just in the media, that baristas and coffee shops are viewed in a negative light. Click around the Internet—it isn’t difficult to find any number of graphics, text, memes, or videos that display disregard or prejudices against baristas and the specialty coffee industry as a whole. Gauging the reaction that Tony Konecny’s article received, it’s no wonder that the industry is such an easy target for lampooning.

The sort of personal attacks that were slung at me and the sort of snobbery that exists within a very small (but extremely loud) fraction of the specialty coffee industry is exactly the reason I approach my favorite beverage with a simple motto: “Shut up and drink your coffee.”

Now, I realize that’s an unpopular sentiment and I can see how it can be perceived as harsh, flippant, or dismissal; I hate to get all hippie dippy on ya, but I, frankly, find that motto very zen, very reassuring, and very peaceful; it takes me out of my own head and reminds me to live in the present. It reminds me that the simple pleasure of enjoying a really great cup of coffee is every bit as rewarding as the pursuit of a really great cup of coffee. It does not, however, discount that pursuit.

I feel the need to make that statement bold because, if nothing else, that’s the point I want to drive home with this article. There are those who enjoy drinking coffee, and then there are those who enjoy obsessing over the minutiae of preparing it; but there’s a third type of person that falls directly in between—those who geek out over the minute details, but are still able to sit back, relax, and simply enjoy a cup of coffee.

It’s so easy to get lost in the minutiae of coffee; hell, it’s easy to get lost in the minutiae of any interest and take it so far that it starts to alienate people. When I tell you to “Shut up and drink your coffee,” I’m not insulting you and I’m not dismissing your interests—I’m warning you not to lose the plot. It’s the same as saying “Don’t miss the forest for the trees.” HasBean founder, Stephen Leighton, famously coined the expression “Life’s too short for bad coffee;” I say, “Life is short, so enjoy your coffee.”

Benjamin Hoff wrote it this way in The Tao of Pooh: ” While Eeyore frets, and Piglet hesitates, and Rabbit calculates, and Owl pontificates, Pooh just is.” That’s the way I want to enjoy coffee: not with my intellect, not with head knowledge, not with charts and numbers and facts and figures, but with my very being. (and I’ll address this more in a soon-coming post entitled “The Tao of Coffee”)

I don’t believe that a person who obsesses over numbers enjoys coffee more than a person who isn’t a coffee geek; I don’t believe that a person who doesn’t obsess over numbers enjoys coffee more than a person who does. I do believe that there is a happy medium—a place where both of those people can relax and drink their coffee in harmony—and that’s where we should reside. On a personal note, that is the philosophy of this website. The Table is a place where anybody is welcome and all are encouraged to “feel free to pull up a chair.”

That’s the point that Konecny made in his article, and it’s really discouraging that so many people completely missed it.



  • I think it’s comical that people actually got upset over that post. That was one of the most benign controversies I’ve read on coffee on the Internet over the past 15-20 years.

    Too many people with too much vested interest in the illusion of perfection, which itself should theoretically be unattainable.

    It’s this manic silliness that causes publications like the Wall Street Journal to ask blissfully ignorant but idiotic questions such as “What is the future of coffee?” to a James Freeman. You ask a veteran winemaker about “What is the future of wine?” and they’ll look at you like a mentally handicapped child.

    Because coffee, like winemaking, is not rocket science. It’s been with us for a millennium (or more). It’s not following the programmed obsolescence model of smartphones and tablets, despite the excitable types who just discovered decent coffee and think they’ve invented something brand new. (“Oh, what a good boy am I.”)

    To be short, yes, just shut up and drink your coffee.

  • Todd

    I’ve been so happy that competition is over and I can just make a cup and drink it in the mornings without having to analyze every detail of it. If I make a mistake – I don’t care. I finally get to sit down and enjoy my coffee in the morning without trying to dissect how to improve the aroma, the acidity, the body, bring out more flavor, make it more balanced, and criticize everything that’s wrong with it. I’m sitting here right now just drinking my cup of coffee, enjoying it, and I’m happy about that!

  • barkingburro

    Coffee Controversy

    Drew, I cannot take side with anyone who used personal attack or was disrespectful. I do, however, disagree with Konecny. I also disagree with your interpretation of his message, while agreeing in general with your statement. All of this will be explained below, but this controversy is so full of interesting areas to explore… where to begin? Let’s do this by category…

    IT’S THE INTERWEBS (the place where nuance goes to die)

    My immediate take-away after reading your description of the Twitter flaming is that you probably underestimated the ease with which the medium selects and magnifies the lowest level (or lack) of critical thinking. Anything posted on the internet that is designed to challenge one’s preconceptions tends to be received with mob mentality at best, and, as in your case, irrationality and flaming. Twitter doesn’t encourage useful discourse–quite the opposite. Now, that doesn’t excuse the coffee professionals taking it poorly, but you might consider only using Twitter in the future to express simple thoughts that do not require much referential or critical reading for context: “have a biscuit”, “nice chew toy you got there”, “those are my slippers”, “I’m having lunch now”… that sort of thing.

    COFFEE AND AUDIO

    Time and again, I keep seeing parallels between coffee and audio. In both worlds, the majority of consumers imbibe a ridiculously inferior product, while the more elite practitioners seek to educate the masses on the better stuff out there that would rock their world if they could only experience it just one time. In the case of the never-ending quest for perfection, both worlds place the highest value in the source material, with decreasing effectiveness attributed to components downstream in the process chain. For example, in coffee brewing, attempting to extract goodness from a poor SO or a poor roast will only be met with failure; in audio, if you have more revealing playback equipment, you’ll only hate a poor recording all the more due to flaws in the recording being emphasized. Whereas a decent roast will taste better than a poor roast even on more middling equipment or techniques; likewise a good recording tends to shine over mediocre ones even on lesser equipment. But getting more to the point of this article, in audio there are of course diminishing returns with more expensive playback equipment, just as in coffee brewers. And there are pundits in the audio world who confessed that once they finally dropped-out from the rat race to possess the most accurate high-end equipment, and stopped listening for every minor flaw in their playback chain, they actually started to enjoy music once again.

    DREW AND KONECNY AREN’T SAYING THE SAME THING

    Drew, I disagree with your interpretation of what Konecny said:

    “Konecny wrote that way too much time is spent fussing and obsessing over the minutiae of coffee brewing and not enough time is spent simply enjoying coffee for the simple pleasure of enjoying coffee.”

    I believe Konecny had a significantly different message, best shown by this quote:

    “No amount of fussing, no fancy “perfect coffee” contraptions, no calibration tools, no deep finesse, will move the bean outside of its now established bounds. Those that claim otherwise are either selling or sipping some snake oil. We often project onto the black box of our beans a potential that isn’t really there, chasing dragons that no longer exist.”

    And, in his conclusion:

    “Coffee appreciation, or even full-on coffee connoisseurship, shouldn’t require knowledge of all the esoterica of machinery or all of the minutiae that obsesses us as professionals. The “don’t try this at home” message implicit in so much of this has held back great coffee from taking its rightful place in the American kitchen and left the door wide open for convenient capsule coffee quackery to dominate.”

    Drew, I think you are more akin to the ideas I expressed in my audio analogy, above–namely that obsessing over perfectionist details gets in the way of enjoyment and ultimately fulfillment. But that is clearly not Konecny’s thesis. He is stating that the obsessive perfectionist efforts in coffee are detrimental to ushering the masses forward toward a significantly higher-end experience–not because the masses will obsess over the details and be distracted from true enjoyment, but because the esoterica and/or complexity (as Konecny perceives it) will scare away the average consumer.

    SO WHERE DO I AGREE OR DISAGREE?

    I mostly agree with Drew’s statement. But, as I said, that was not Konecny’s point. And on that point I think Konecny has failed to make his case. He is naysaying all overcomplicated or esoteric methods and devices without proper delineation. He draws no line with which to judge, offers no examples. He further compounds his lack of focus by offering a statement that no brewing effort can make a difference that exceeds the basic boundaries of what the roast is capable of providing. He then implies there may be professionals who claim otherwise. Really? Yet the statement is practically a meaningless tautology, because it does not reflect the reason why people “obsess” over brewing technique. They just want to bring out the best the bean has to offer, and to do it consistently.

    Drew, in my coffee journey, I have noodled over and experimented with many parameters and at least seven brewing contraptions, always trying to get the coffee to taste right. As my manual process improved, I also improved my bean sourcing, until only the best of both would satisfy me. I ended up with a CafeSolo and a carefully timed and executed process to bring out the flavors I could appreciate the most. And one fine day I sampled some coffee on a Trifecta MB, and it was a revelation. Because the latter contraption was also far easier to use and clean than my CafeSolo, purchasing the Trifecta was a no-brainer. I now enjoy absolutely wonderful coffee every day, thanks to the esoterica brought by one company, who also happened to hit the bull’s eye when it comes to convenience.

    In choosing labels such as “esoterica” and “high-tech gizmos”, and in dismissing the “glorification of overly elaborate brew methods” while praising the “underlying simplicity of brewing”, I think Konecny’s thesis is undone. You see, to even the average consumer, your basic pour-over is fraught with the kind of “minutiae” that makes it unacceptable. And in order to get a truly decent result from a semi-automated drip machine, you have to be very selective and well-informed by true coffee gourmet evangelists, not your average consumer reports hacks who know nothing about what tastes good. Konecny is not only missing the opportunity to clarify what he thinks are good and bad examples that forward the cause, I feel he misses the mark entirely when he makes the broad generalization that the basic coffee brewing process is simple, ergo inherently acceptable to the average consumer. The process may be simple, but you have to get it EXACTLY RIGHT. We’re talking dosing, grinding, and brewing. And for that you either need to train yourself in the minutiae of precise execution or buy a sophisticated esoteric machine that does it for you. Konecny does not appear to even remotely acknowledge this.