What Is Craft Coffee? / by Dan Mayer

It Is Bullshit.

A week ago I was at a Starbucks. This is something that happens on occasion, when my need for caffeine and my propensity for bad planning intersect. While I was waiting, I noticed a piece of promotional text on a window: Craft Coffee. Normally this sort of benign ad copy doesn’t register as something worth noticing, but when I looked around the Starbucks I saw the phrase and others like it multiple times on different signage. I found myself wondering… What is craft coffee?

I suppose the answer should have been obvious.

It is nothing. The idea of craft is meant to conjure up an image of an individual person honing a skill beyond proficiency to something like art. It is more than employment, it is a labor of love, perhaps a quiet passion, a complex, subtle task that requires years of study and practice. A craftsman is more than some person with a set of tools; She is a person who has a deep emotional relationship with what she makes.

Whipping up your decaf soy pumpkin-spice latte is not like that.

The message a retailer is sending with the descriptor craft is that there is something pre-contemporary about the product they sell you. This cup of coffee harkens back to a time when people really cared about quality and took pride in their work. When they treated each other fairly. Before the computers came and we all forgot how to pound a nail.

“The old ways are better.” That’s what it sounds like when some fabricated version of the past is being used as a branding device.

This is fraudulent. It might even be a little bit dangerous. Because when ad copy is telling us that things were better back in the old days, it’s preventing us from thinking about the coffee we’re actually about to pay for. Or the machine that makes it. Or the media we’re about to absorb while we slurp it up. Craft conjures a hazy picture of Daniel Day Lewis toiling as a cobbler instead of the exhausted twenty-three-year-old who had to wake up at 4am to be ready to make your mocha.

It could be that the current political climate is so heinous that I’m getting paranoid. Sure. But when I hear anything about how the old ways were better, I’m reminded of Make America Great Again and related spasms of irrationality. The old ways were not better. People didn’t care about each other or their work or their community any more than they do now. Their hatred of the other and fear of modernity were more openly expressed.

And the craft coffee wasn’t better. It was worse.