Monday, February 13, 2012


Hello, World

Hi. Welcome to Morning Dial In! You might be wondering what you're doing here, or what I'm doing here for that matter. It might seem like this blog is about coffee - and it is. But that's not entirely what it's about, and to be honest with you, I'm not even sure that it's the focal point. What this blog is really about is an experience - it's about us learning about and trying something new. But before I get into that, let me introduce myself a bit more and talk about how I got into specialty coffee. I'm a college student living in Los Angeles. About a year and a half ago, I discovered a new coffee shop in Pasadena called Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea. A Chicago-based company, this was Intelligentsia's third foray into Los Angeles after opening shops in Silverlake and Venice Beach. It was great - good coffee, nice staff, they served drinks in mugs so you could stay and hang out for a bit. I started going every weekend, then a couple times a week - pretty soon, I was there just about every other day.
I've always been a bit of a coffee junkie, but I'm new to this world of specialty coffee that Intelligentsia touts. But what is specialty coffee exactly? Truthfully, I'm still figuring that out too. I can tell you that diner coffee is probably not specialty coffee, nor is the coffee you stock up on when it's on sale at Target. Some people would call Starbucks specialty, but I probably wouldn't. I suppose specialty means different things to different people. For the purposes of this blog, however, I'm going to define specialty coffee as coffee that's not treated as a commodity. (We'll explore this concept in more detail later.)
I'd like this blog to be a forum where we can explore in more depth the world of specialty coffee. What I'm particularly interested in learning about is how specific factors contribute to what we ultimately experience when we enjoy our coffee. I'm not as concerned with how we drink our coffee (espresso, cappuccino, latte, brewed coffee, etc.), but I've gathered that different preparation can yield drastically different results.
What I'm really excited about is how we get to take this journey together. Remember, this is as much a new experience for me as it is for you. Something that I haven't mentioned at all is how we're going to do this. I'd like to test a hypothesis that the best way to experience something new is to just dive in - so that's exactly what we're going to do. That being said, we don't just want to experience the coffee, we want to understand more about it. That means lots of research. We're going to be reading books and researching the interwumbles, but perhaps most exciting, we're going to be hearing personal stories - we'll be interviewing coffee professionals and talking to "caffeine addicts" and exploring why we drink coffee.
Basically, we got a lot of cool stuff going on. I'm super excited because I'm a nerd for coffee, but if you just like the occasional latte or even if you can't stand the stuff, you're going to want to stick around for more.  I’d love it if some of you shared your experiences with us as we take this journey.  I will end ever post on this blog with a question (denoted by the color orange) that can fuel some conversation.  So without further ado...  What are some new things that you want to experience?
James Hoffman, to me, perfectly embodies what a blogger should be. Based on how he writes and what he writes about, one can deduce that he's fairly internet savvy.  While this certainly isn’t a requirement in today’s Web 2.0 society, I can appreciate following someone who knows his way around the internet.  A seemingly irrelevant detail to his writing, Hoffman’s savvy allows him to better find topics to discuss or repost on his blogs. His prose is succinct but his thoughts are detailed, complete. Hoffman is, without a doubt, a coffee expert and an even bigger coffee geek. A resident of the UK, he won the national Barista competition in both 2006 and 2007, and went on to win the World Barista Competition in '07. He writes two blogs simultaneously:  one Blogger, one Tumblr.  I like both of them but for different reasons.  Let’s tackle the Blogger first – posts consist of graphics, polls, opinions, and explanations of all things coffee.  The content would be of interest to anyone who drinks coffee or finds science remotely interesting. He recently uploaded an unlabeled line graph and challenged his readers to figure out what was being graphed (the rate of bean mass temperature increase during roasting, in case you were wondering). But Hoffman doesn't just blog about coffee stuff that he finds cool. He posts what he does to encourage thought and discussion about coffee, and he does a pretty good job of that. His readership spans from coffee professionals (including the heads of roasters and retailers) to average Joe's like you or me just trying to learn more about coffee.  The site’s Technorati rank is 8041, which is fairly respectable, I think. is right in there with two Top 100 blogs – one about food and the other about baseball. I was initially kind of shocked by the number of comments Hoffman receives on many of his posts (sometimes upwards of 50 comments), but I've realized that his blog is as much about his readers' comments as it is about his comments.  He includes two widgets on the blog – one that lists recent comments from readers and a “Popular Threads” list that includes some of his most commented on recent posts. I'm new to Jim's blog, but I've become inspired by how he connects with his readers. I hope to accomplish something similar here., in contrast, is devoted to all things not coffee – in fact, he titles the blog “not about coffee.”  On his Tumblr, Hoffman writes about the effect of a life of exercise on your muscles and reducing the “digital clutter” in his life.  It’s difficult to gauge the popularity of Hoffman’s Tumblr as Technorati has no data on it and he hasn’t enabled comments, but I get the feeling that his Tumblr in no way receives the same traffic that his Blogger does.  In fact, the Tumblr feels like more of a diary, as if Hoffman’s saying, “This one is for me.”  His posts consist of musings more than anything.  More importantly, Hoffman isn’t afraid to share his personal opinion about something on his Tumblr while he seems more impartial on the Blogger.  Here’s a quick example:  On Tumblr, you’ll see Hoffman write something like this, “…I believe in paying for things I like and services I appreciate.”  Hoffman is clearly articulating an opinion here.  He’s imploring (wait for it, high school English buzzword coming…) ethos, implying that something is probably wrong with us if we don’t pay for things we like and services we appreciate.  (How unethical of us to use readily available freeware alternatives!) He even includes a link to a pay service, as a call to action, in case we’re overcome with shame and must spend money on a useless tool that will be obsolete in a week.  Obviously, I kid James Hoffman. I genuinely have a lot of respect for him both as a coffee professional and as a writer of things coffee and not coffee on the internet.
I’d like to revisit the content of Hoffman’s Tumblr for just a minute.  You might be wondering why I spent a good chunk of this post reflecting on a blog that doesn’t even have to do with coffee.  Well, my reasons are two-fold:  1) Hoffman’s Tumblr and this blog are more alike that you may think, and 2) To illustrate the power behind the connectivity of the internet.
Let’s remember that while I’ll be talking coffee in every post, this blog isn’t actually about coffee – it’s about experiencing something new.  For me that something new happens to be coffee because it’s something that I’ve recently become very passionate about.  But this approach to experiencing something new, I hypothesize, can be applied to anything.  Hoffman, on his Tumblr, is constantly writing about applying new techniques to his habitual regimens and tweaking his workflows to discover new ways to experience what he already does. He recently wrote about reducing “digital clutter.”  He has deleted his G+ and Facebook accounts and trimmed down his RSS feed because he found that rather than helping him concentrate on what he likes, they were just getting in the way. Already he’s seen the difference as the focus has shifted to what really matters to him.  Like Hoffman, I’ll be experimenting with new experiences, trying to find what works for me.  I hypothesize that it can work for you too.
The second reason why I wanted to profile Hoffman’s personal blog is that I wanted to shine a light on the shear power and beauty that is the blogging community.  I wanted to show you that even though at first glance looks like it has absolutely nothing in common with my blog, they’re actually quite similar.  I’m going to attribute this to the fact that James Hoffman and I are similar people.  Maybe not in profession or life experiences, but we both have a passion for coffee.  Through this shared interest, I was able to find a creative outlet unrelated to my original search that was exactly what I was looking for.  Were you expecting that?

When you're reading about specialty coffee on the internet, or anywhere for that matter, you're bound to run into scientific terms, industry jargon, maybe little to no personality, and overall fairly "flat" writing.  In my experience, authors writing about coffee are more interested in talking about the coffee itself and its characteristics, rather than their thoughts or revealing their personality.  At best, they might post about how they believe different methods affect brewing.

So as I perused the internet for some evidence of voice in coffee writing, I initially came up dry.  There's a great blog called Dear Coffee, I Love You, but even DCILY tends to write about coffee and coffee products and coffee professionals and all other things coffee in a fairly dry tone.  By the way, there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I kind of prefer it personally.  But other people may like or expect to see some show of personal thought or opinion when reading blogs.

However, I did find a recent post on DCILY that I wanted to profile for its voice.  It's about the return of 2008 WBC Champion Stephen Morrisey, and you can find it here.  The title of the post initially grabbed my attention - "The Quiet Sound of A Flyingthud." What the heck is a flyingthud? Turns out, that's the pseudonym under which Morrisey writes on the internet.  I'm still not entirely sure what that means, but I can tell you that when I hear the sound "thud" I'm definitely not thinking "quiet."  The post, written by "bwj" is littered with other dry humor.  He begins with:
"While everyone was fawning over the New Year return of James Hoffman..."
In the world of specialty coffee James Hoffman is kind of a big deal, bwj completely belittles the coffee community's obsession with Hoffman.  The implication is that Hoffman simply isn't worth fawning over.
As he introduces Flyingthud's return to blogging, bwj writes that Morrisey is writing again:
"after nearly 20 months of silence."
Oh my goodness! Twenty months of silence?! It's almost like he died! Oh wait, Morrisey is just as active in the coffee community as he's always been.  bwj is bringing attention to this fact, highlighting its sheer absurdity.  There's a wonderful image that bwj includes further into the post:
"Like a small gift left unopened behind the Christmas tree..."
I really enjoyed this analogy that he makes in reference to Flyingthud's return to the internet.  I felt this sort of mild excitement when I learned that Morrisey was once again blogging, and it seems like bwj felt similarly.  There's this sense of joy that you get when you realize that there's one more little present that you forgot about.  Have you recently discovered an unopened gift behind the Christmas tree?

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