A few weeks ago I got to go to Vienna to conduct some research for my second year PhD paper.
For my paper I am investigating what allows resource-constrained individuals to be able to overcome their constraints and create successful innovations. The field that I’m looking at is the coffee-growers who supply the specialty coffee world. Most coffe in the world is sold as a strict commodity, with farmers just producing as many kilos as they can, not caring about the quality, and most buyers giving those farmers as little as they can get away with. However there is some that is sold basically the same way that fine wine is: the utmost care and attention, influence of terroir, buyers travelling the globe to find the best crop, the grower is treated as a valued partner instead of a cog in the wheel of some global commodity chain. So to find people to interview I traveled to Vienna during the World Barista Championships. What a strange thing that is.
You have no idea what a big deal this is until you are there. These are people who train for months to serve their 3 different drinks as 7 judges rate their every move. There is really no way to describe it.
The great thing is that coffee growers, buyers, national coffee boards, micro-roasters, and exporters were there and I got to talk to people from: Uganda, Columbia, Honduras, Ethiopia, Norway, Canada, Brazil, Yemen, India, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama and where ever else I forgot.
And – as you may presume, the average person who attends a competitive coffee serving competition….is not your average person. You would be easily forgiven if you were to have confused the event for some kind of Global Hipster Gathering. Every time you turn around: waxed-moustache, full-beard, ironic-tee-shirt, skinny jeans, yellow socks, pink Toms, hemp messenger bag – and that was just one guy. I’m sure they were all a bit devastated they couldn’t bring all their retro-cameras and cruising bikes with them.
The other very surreal thing about the trip is that I met up with friends from Edmonton while there. The Canadian National champion is from Transcend Coffee, so quite a few of their crew was there – so I got to see old friends. The weirdest was spending time with James – as he’s someone that I pretty much saw a few times a week all the years that we’ve ever lived in Edmonton – and then we moved almost two years ago and I haven’t seen him since.
Then he popped in here for a visit on his way to Vienna, then two days later I met up with him there – and we spent some time hanging out, exploring Vienna – as if it were normal.
Vienna is a pretty cool city – lots of interesting things to see – also a lot of strange things: