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10 Reasons 10 SCAA Presidents VOTE NO On Consolidation

vote-no-mugJune 30, 2016

This is Donald Schoenholt, co-founder of SCAA, and founder of Roasters Guild. By now you know that there is an SCAA and Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) consolidation vote scheduled for this coming week. I am writing to you for a group of 10 SCAA Past Presidents. We’d like to talk to you about our coffee association and its future as we believe you don’t understand that you are being asked to destroy SCAA. We think you should vote “NO” to that.


The trade stands on the shoulders of folks that pioneered specialty coffee, and the birth of SCAA. Right now is the most critical time for the members since the founding of the association. If you choose poorly you will lose your trade association.

The subject is complex. We can’t cover all the aspects of it in this conversation. We offer you 10 of the most important points to think about.


You and your trade association have ignited  specialty coffee associations throughout the world. We think the focus of the association should always be on you, the SCAA members.

The Board wants to be of world importance. That’s nice, but what’s in it for you? Nothing much; except probably dues and fee increases after the 1st year. The top Staff will rejoice. They may all get raises.


Those favoring merger talk a lot about unifying standards and teaching practices but, universal norms only flatten the specialty coffee world destroying the wonderful diversity of exceptional farming, processing, roasting, brewing practices and cultures throughout the world. To put it in another way, we are diminished when Sumatras are judged by Costa Rica cupping criteria. The benefit of globalization should be in sharing knowledge, and discoveries, not in imposing international norms.

In a world where all are equal, only the mighty thrive. It’s the diverse nature of specialty coffee on all levels, and only that that guarantees the success of the little fellow. Diversity is our friend. Big businesses labor when they are faced with a diversity of products to develop,  manufacture, distribute and market. A cataloged, categorized, quantified specialty coffee world plays into the hands of big institutions alone.


SCAA is not an institution as others we know. It is an extension of us, our hopes and dreams for our families, our businesses, and the future of coffee. If that seems overly sentimental to some, it isn’t to you and to us. It’s very personal. What we want for you is an association whose 1st priority is the support and service of you, the members.

Around the world specialty coffee people look to SCAA as the world leader in specialty coffee education, networking, and promotion. As good neighbors you and I share our knowledge with them through our trade group. At the same time we celebrate the unique cultural perspective that makes us American in character as well as in name. You will lose out when the focus leaves North America, unless there are safeguards to protect you built into the deal. They aren’t there now.


The UK decision to exit the European Economic Community (BREXIT) changes the viability of consolidation with SCAE. The Board has ordered updated financials, as if getting an update will give them powers to see the extremely uncertain world financial future. They might as well use tea leaves.

The Board believes BREXIT is no big deal. We believe this opinion is unique in the world. Turn on the TV. The European model of a new world economic order is failing. Now is not the time to throw in with that sinking ship.

You should keep your SCAA, and offer the Europeans a good deal to join your trade association, The Specialty Coffee Association of America, led by America, and benefiting your members at home and abroad, as you have for years past.


Vote for Consolidation as presented and SCAA will cease to exist. There will be no more SCAA. It will be replaced by something else; something foreign. There will essentially be a new trade group. It will not be American in character, temperament, or name.


The SCAA Board is not sinister. The Board is just wrong. We don’t know if unification is a good idea or a bad idea. We know the Board did this badly. They started by talking about the idea secretly, and then doubled-down by going about it foolishly. There was a nod toward transparency, but no actual openness. The provided information has left out just what the deal is and how it will work, and what happens if it doesn’t work. Here’s a case in point; there is no written Exit Plan for SCAA, if a year or three in, the merger is a failure. If we want out what will the dollar cost have been all-in from inception to withdrawal?

It’s all just one big marketing plan; a grand house blend of jargon, graphics, money, and little substance. They have done it all with mirrors. They may not have intended it but The Board has come off as all-knowing, inflexible, intolerant and conceited all at once. The result is that we must all question what we are being told.

This business of voting on July 5th is dumb. Your leaders are taking you down this path too fast without giving you the chance to digest information that was presented too late to be properly vetted. Being in the dark makes me nervous. How does it make you feel?

You don’t even know how much of your money has been spent on consultants, financial advisors, travel and other expenses in the last years to bring this merger about. We can only guess, and wince.


We think that if unification is a good deal now it will be just as good in a year from now. We believe the opportunity to lose the deal to another is limited, and the need to give this idea more study, and get it right is compelling.

We want your businesses to thrive, and your trade group to move confidently into the future. You can’t get there using unwarranted and dangerous haste. Things are moving very fast now, and we believe that you need to take a breath. Recall the fundamental goals of the association that we built together, and move, after a season of knowledge gathering and reasoned open discussion, with steadiness and caution into a new place, if that is what you decide, and not just hold your nose, and jump into an unknown ocean.


The Board points to past voter turnout and says you don’t care about your future. They think that gives them the right to do whatever they want. We believe that most of the time you are just too busy making a living to give thought to their decisions. Well, this time is different. The consequences are too big for you to leave the decision to them.

The Board is counting on your apathy. They will win a low turnout vote. A big vote will swamp the Board organized few who will vote for unification.


You don’t often get the chance to save the world. Here’s your chance. Each of you holds the destiny of your trade group in your personal hands. So vote. Vote your conscience, and we will be satisfied. We believe in you, as we always have, and we will celebrate your decision, whatever it is.

We wish each of you the best of good luck, and good coffee.


Donald Schoenholt
Founding Father SCAA & Roasters Guild
SCAA Lifetime Achievement Laureate

And in Alphabetic Order:

Dan Cox
SCAA President 1984, 1985, 1986
SCAA Lifetime Achievement Laureate

David Dallis
SCAA President 1994-1995

Leonor Gavina-Valls
SCAA President 1985
SCAA Lifetime Achievement Laureate

Paul Katzeff
SCAA President 1984, 2000-2001
SCAA Lifetime Achievement Laureate

Becky McKinnon
SCAA President 1998-1999

Danny O’Neill
SCAA President 2001-2002

Grady Saunders
SCAA President 1993-1994

Linda Smithers
SCAA President 1997-1998

Gary Talboy
SCAA President 1987-1988

Further Reading:

Cui Bono?, Coffeeman’s Diary

Globalization Blues Part 2. T& CTJ 04.16, P38

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I don’t know if Leonard Nimoy was a coffee lover. Possibly not, but as I have been writing about globalization in recent months Mr. Nimoy, and his alter ego Mr. Spock keep coming to mind. I find myself remembering my youth in a coffee galaxy where the American small roaster community was within a hair’s breadth of disappearing. Today the independent small roasters are conquering , and they are owed recognition for having saved both themselves, and the good name of American coffee, and brought it to world prominence. It is something that the leadership of SCAA should be cognizant of as they consider merger with the European trade group SCAE.

The farm families are our friends. The local communities that are models for the new century’s agrarian community are all around us. Innovation, as the development of the Panama Geisha, and exemplary farm communities as La Vos on Lake Atitlan, and La Minita in Tarrazu are architypes of best origin practices. Still, innovation and invention that ignites trends in coffee consumption come most often from activities in destination countries. It may have been a sometime American beer brewer who threw the King’s tea in the harbor of Boston instantly making coffee The American beverage, but it was an American roaster who adapted Chinese rice paper to make a filter for drip coffee. It was an American roaster who innovated flavored coffee, and an American roaster who took a beverage for the infirmed and turned it into the Latte we know today. Along the way small independent American roasters created a market for the $4.00 cup of coffee where less than 20 years before it was two-bits.

That $4.00 cup changed the economy of coffee. It permitted roasters to talk high quality to ever economically squeezed retailers convincing them to buy better grades, brew with less water, and reap the financial rewards of a better tasting brew. The retailers responded with a new menu of coffee beverages, and the reintroduction of both new and age-old brewing rituals. It all succeeded, and roasters sought ever better beans and encouraged farm families to grow ever better beans. A small roasting retailer from Rhode Island taught us to care about our farm brethren. A small roaster in Vermont brought the K-cup to market and changed the world by creating a new brewing category, while raising the consumer price of coffee to over $30 a pound. SCAA 2nd Vice President, Tracy Ging, wrote yesterday, about, “the local communities that so often ignite trends and drive interest in what we do.” When I read her words I immediately thought of the community of small independent American roaster and retailer entrepreneurs who brought  goods to market and created consumer interest where there was none before.  It’s those folks who stepped up and created the new American coffee industry with their own hands and no help. They created SCAA in their own image 35 years ago. 80% of SCAA members are from within the USA, and the largest body within SCAA are the roasters, and their retail friends.

Globalization sounds delicious. I yearn to stand on a hill and breathe the crisp clean youthful air of SCAA glory. Almost 20 years ago SCAA was also in ascendancy, and in doing so had moved away from having the roasters at the center of their activities. There was a roaster Rising during a Town Hall breakfast attended by many hundred at that year’s SCAA Conference. An unspoken risk of the roasters breaking away from SCAA and creating their own splinter group was palpable as one-by-one members of the small roaster community made their displeasure known. It was over 10 yearss since I had been on the SCAA Board.  I stood, and asked the leadership for a room where I would organize and run a series of roaster specific open forums, round tables, and panel discussions, beginning in the next hour and running throughout the event. The frustration and anger was quelled, and the foundation for Roasters Guild was laid that day. I stand now as I did that morning to plead the case for the singular importance of the small independent roaster and retailers who are the backbone of the trade they birthed. Lest we forget, these honest, hardworking, small roaster folks and their allies the retailers are the pulsing engine that drives the trade, and the beating heart of the association they birthed. They understand today, as they did a generation ago, that they go the distance for SCAA, and they require our attention, as precious individual members. They are each entitled to the trade group’s respect and support. Without these drivers SCAA would never have reached this pinnacle.

Allied members may see consolidation opening new markets for their wares. Farm communities may see consolidation opening new markets for their produce. Consolidation does not offer these advantages to small independent retailers and roasters. For this reason among others the leadership must provide a zone of comfort and support to the individual members of these member categories if the organization is to retain them as members in the years to come. That is why a vital part of any consolidation plan must be to redouble the association’s efforts in support of Roasters Guild even as we continue to encourage Barista Guild and the new Guilds that are currently in the early stages of gestation. The Guilds, you see, are from whose ranks will come the next generation of American specialty coffee leaders.

The habit of lathering layers of jargon throughout the pro-merger materials, and statements presented by advocates for consolidation is unfortunate, as are slick presentations that are long on graphics and short on substance. What the membership, and particularly the roaster and retailer members need are facts about the proposed merger, and buckets of them, along with the answers to Ray Consella’s question, after he went the distance in Field of Dreams. “What’s in it for me?”

Part of the consolidation plan must be to keep the American roasting community comfortably within the fold for they are more than the standard bearers carrying the specialty coffee banner on high. In a very practical way they serve the trade by being the customers who drive SCAA revenues, for it is their presence at events that drive booth sales, sponsorships, and advertising dollar spends. As knights arrant, they are the most visible element of the trade to consumers and media.  Any consolidation plan must gratify, and satisfy the wants of the roasting community through indulgence, recognition, and appreciation of their continued support, and participation in the specialty coffee village at home in the USA. There should be a formal appreciation program aimed at the long term retention of individual North American small roaster members in whatever group emerges from this talk of consolidation. The goal of the program should be to encourage the growth in number of small roasters, and retailers and the retention of SCAA as their sole affiliation, all with the aim to help them live long, and prosper.

-Donald Schoenholt

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In recent weeks there has been an ongoing discussion, which I had something to do with igniting, among Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA)  Past Presidents on the subject of the proposed consolidation of SCAA with the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE). I have developed various ideas on the subject as I have monitored the discussion whirling around me.  Today’s post explores touches on a couple of those ideas, and incorporates ideas from several of the other PPs who have been sharing with me and the brethren, their thoughts on the subject.

There must be an application of the doctrine of fairness for the membership of SCAA to go along with the will of their Executive Director,  the President, and Board of Directors to consolidate their hard established organization with that of our European friends in coffee. I discovered that the current SCAA Charter leaves no powers in the hands of the membership. All power, even the power to amend the document, is solely in the hands of the Board of Directors. The election system is structured to perpetuate the status quo with its clever avoidance of contested presidential elections. The current document is a sham of democratic process. The fellows who initiated the drafting of the current By-laws, and saw to their adoption, carefully kept all the power in the hands of a powerful administrative elite. Shame on them. It needs to be replaced with a new document that sheds light, and lets fresh air into the governing process.

In denying the membership a direct role in decision making regarding such a vital step as merger, the By-laws deny due process to the members. Interestingly, by permitting a membership vote, as thy have, the Board makes it appear that they are giving the members a gift of participation, when in fact it is the Board who should be serving at the pleasure of the membership, in whose hands ultimately all power should rest. The configuration of the By-laws, it may be said, is not the fault of this Board. But they have had the sole right to amend, change or rewrite the By-laws since the day after this awful Constitution was adopted, and they have not taken that opportunity.

A vote to ratify a proposed merger should require a two-thirds vote of the eligible voting members casting a ballot on the issue. The By-laws do not say that, but that’s the way it should be, in all fairness.

Lucius Cassius was a consul of Rome 2100 years ago, whom the people held in high esteem for his honesty and wisdom as a judge. He was in the habit of asking, Cui Bono (who  benefits)? We should apply the maxim of Cassius to the issue before us now. Who benefits? Who has the most to gain if consolidation is adopted? Who should gain the most should consolidation be adopted?

There are many open questions. We are presented with what looks very much like a fait accompli, a deal that is already made in the minds of those who present it to us; a thing so nearly done that its plan will not now be altered. But, where did the idea for merger come from originally? Did an SCAA executive or director approach someone at SCAE, or were we approached? How did the discussion evolve, and who was in on the discussions? At some point it moved from being a back channel discussion to being brought before the SCAA Board. Who brought it before the Board, and what was the discussion like?

We are told there is or will shortly be a signed Memorandum of Understanding between the parties. What legal standing does a Memorandum of Understanding have, and what exactly does the Memorandum say?

Dan Cox has asked what the advantages and disadvantages of merger are. This, I believe, should be a report that looks at the issue from two perspectives; from the perspective of the organization as a whole, and from the point of view of our average humble member. 40% of SCAA members are North American roasters and roaster-retailers. How will taking a step up in class effect that individual independent roaster member’s services, and how will it effect his spirit and excitement about being a vital part of the whole.

The vanguard of the trade are the Guilds. The roasting retailers, and baristas are on the firing line. They are the youthful spirit of America’s specialty coffee future. Where do they fit into the mix. How will they and their membership be affected by merger?

Dan Cox has been asking serious questions, and so have other past presidents. There is a paucity of good sound answers. Here are some of the issues being raised:

  1. What is the legal definition of this idea? Is it Merger, Acquisition, Partnership?
    1. how is it defined?
    2. As a practical matter how will it function
  2. We have been told that the new entity will remain a US corporation. Will it dissolve and reapply for corporate status anew, or continue as our existing legal entity?
  3. Would consolidation effect SCAA’s not-for-profit status in the USA?
  4. Will the consolidated entity have a new name or continue as Specialty Coffee Association of America?
  5. Will we have tax filing requirements, and tax liabilities in other nations in which we maintain a presence, and/or have employees?
  6. What are the financial assets and liabilities related to the transaction?
    1. Is there a side-by side analysis of the balance sheets of the two organizations available for study?
    2. Has a projected combined operating statement, including projected cash-flow analysis been created to illustrate operations for the combined organization?
      1. How many years forward does the financial analysis look?
      2. Is a 3-year stand-alone forward financial operating statement and financial analysis, including cash-flow analysis available for SCAA
  7. What are the direct and indirect monetary costs of consolidation?
  8. What are the short and long term financial liabilities in merger, i.e. salaries, contracts,
  9. Have we the resources to sustain a series of down years financially?
  10. Aside from formal financials, has a plain language document been prepared to explain the hard and soft Assets that SCAA is getting in this transaction, and the hard and soft liabilities that we are assuming in this transaction.
  11. What special liabilities are inherent in this transaction of which we should be aware, including but not limited to those related to employees who are residents or citizens in foreign lands and are employed by the consolidated entity such as mandated employee benefits packages, along with local customs and law. For example, in certain European countries it’s very difficult to fire someone over the age of 50.
  12. We have discovered severe democratic process deficiencies in the current SCAA By-laws. Is there a plan in place to draft a new set of By-laws for the operation of the consolidated entity on a more democratic basis?
  13. Who will be the officers of the consolidated entity?
    1. What will be the length of their terms of office.
  14. What will the new consolidated Board look like?
    1. How many members ?
    2. What will be the length of their terms of office.
  15. How often will the new Board meet.
    1. Where will it meet?
    2. How do you anticipate that that will change over the next five years?
    3. If Board meetings were held in other lands who would pay for transportation, room and board for Board members attending, and what would the estimated cost of that be to the association per fiscal year.
  16. What will the staff structure be?
  17. How will dues be collected and in what currency; Euros, Pound Sterling, USD?
    1. Will there be a currency conversion cost if we accept other currencies than the USD?
      1. What are those costs estimated to be?
  18. Has Due Diligence research been conducted by an independent third part agency on our behalf?
    1. Is their report available for study?
  19. Some believe that there are those who would like to see a consolidation because it promises to improve their livelihood by opening opportunities for personal advancement. Have SCAA paid executive staff agreed to accept salary and benefit freezes, with the exception of medical benefit premium increases where medical benefits are provided, from now until an agreed date thirty-six months from the date of commencement of consolidated operations?
  20. I can envision several important ways in which individual SCAA membership may consider themselves diminished in value in a consolidation. What additional long term no-added-cost individual member benefits will an SCAA member get for remaining a member for 3 years, or 5 years after consolidation?

And through it all Dan Cox keeps asking, “What’s in it for the SCAE?  It appears that they are GIVING all their assets to the SCAA without any of their liabilities.  Why would they do this?” The largest unanswered question hanging over the SCAA merger question, as we board planes in the next day, and head to Atlanta,  is that of old Lucius Cassius Longinus Ravilla, Cui Bono, who benefits?

-Donald Schoenholt

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Ted Lingle, and Paul Katzeff are two SCAA founders who have favored their fellow tradespeople with letters on the subject of merger during recent days. Both have an abiding affection for SCAA, having served as Presidents of the association and both have been honored as Lifetime Achievement laureates by the trade. They each possess very different visions for the future of specialty coffee. Their differences with each other do not diminish the contribution of either. We are indebted to them both for their past service, and their current participation and continuing interest in good coffee.

SCAA’s original object was to support the small fellows, the start-ups, the pioneers in a new coffee business; to give them succor and let them know that they weren’t alone by providing comradery, a communication link between tradesmen, the practical knowledge, and tools with which our fellows in the trade could get a leg up in making a living . The vision was not grander than that. At the time, I thought that was a pretty grand vision.

Things change, and in the course of decades a borderless internationalist vision has emerged as our ideas have captured the imagination, and the coffee economy of the world outside North America. SCAA and SCAE cooperate, and should cooperate. We should also, if invited, cooperate more closely with the specialty coffee associations in Brazil, Bolivia, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Honduras, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, and Panama, along with those in regions as East Africa Fine Coffee Association, and AustralAsia Specialty Coffee Association. It’s nice to be close with folks who think as we. It’s nice to have friends with benefits, but is that grounds for marriage?

Ted mentioned the confusion of certifying agencies that would be cured by an SCAA/SCAE merger. Every US State issues its own drivers licenses. They are honored state-to-state. Many states have reciprocity for attorneys who are members of the bar in another state. Reciprocity between certified graders, cuppers, baristas and roasters of different associations is easy. Matrimony is hard.

Each of us, in working toward our personal business goals, has discovered the recipe for the secret sauce in our personal quest for the best, and our respectful commitment to farmers and consumers. We share our collective wealth of experience, enthusiasm, and acquired knowledge with the world. At issue today is how best to do that. Should we be partnering with other organizations? Should we be acquiring the operations and assets of other trade associations? Should we be evolving into the grand world coffee authority, and arbiter?

American specialty coffee encompasses a world of diversity now. It surrenders nothing if it chooses to stay independent. 40% of SCAA members are American roasters. These dues paying members are being denied a vote, in a decision that is vital to their interests, because all power is in the hands of the SCAA Board alone. What, I have asked myself, is the benefit in the proposed merger to the small roaster in Danville Virginia? Isn’t that roaster entitled to the answer to that question, along a vote on the future of their trade association?

I wrote a personal letter to each member of the SCAA Board on January 27th. No member, save President Tracy Allen, has acknowledged my letter. No Board member, not even Mr. Allen, has taken the pledge that I put before them asking them to open up the process to a vote and let a super-majority tell the Board, and the rest of us that they approve of the action to merge, and in the mean time to do nothing further on the merger until after the SCAA Event in Atlanta in April.

There is little if any risk in choosing not to merge. We will continue to be who we are; a trade association, doing its level best for our membership; striving to give our fellows value for their membership dollar, while giving the world value without dues by our leading example. There is little if any risk in taking the action to merge. In merger we will continue our broadening activities, and aim for the same laudable goals we do now, plus we will arise as the great lion of specialty coffee throughout the world. That’s nice, but in my mind’s ear I can hear that roaster in Danville, saying, “So what? What about me?”

Ted wrote, in reference to Paul’s views, “As I grow older, it’s comforting to know that some things in life never change.” But Ted is pulling Paul’s leg. Ted understands better than most just how much things have changed. They have changed in coffee, in the world, and they have changed in the minds of those who continue, after all these years, to play a vital role in the thought processes that inspire and drive specialty coffee aims. These lions play with each other’s intellect. Paul throws out the phrase American Exceptionalism as a political grenade, and Ted embraces it as a truism. But, both believe that merger is too important an issue to be left to the Board. The thing is, both Ted and Paul believe deeply in the exceptional dream that American specialty coffee has brought to the world, and they both support a vote by the membership, on the issue of merger. Anecdotally, since Ted brought up Dan Cox’s deciding vote on a previous, not dissimilar issue many years ago, Dan thinks the membership should vote on the issue also.

They are all right.

Donald Schoenholt




You can find a copy of my letter to the SCAA Board members below. -dns


January 27, 2016

Tracy Allen

xxxxxx xxxxxx xxx

xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

xxxxxxx xx xxxxx


Dear Tracy,

Thank you for your service to our SCAA. Without volunteers as your good self, our Association would never have grown to be the internationally significant voice for good coffee, and good coffee people that it has become in the last 34 years.

SCAA has inspired specialty coffee associations around the world. They all look to SCAA as the world leader in specialty coffee education, networking, and promotion. As a good neighbor we share our knowledge with them. At the same time we have always celebrated the unique cultural perspective that makes us American in character as well as in name.

According to a January 21, 2016 An Update on SCAA and SCAE Unification; On January 14, the complete SCAA board met to consider the feasibility study and recommendations from Heart + Mind strategies and the ad hoc working group. The board received the report positively, and agreed to proceed to the next step, a memorandum of understanding with the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe.

Each of you holds the destiny of our trade group in your personal hands. The Tenth paragraph of The SCAA Bylaws puts all power in the hands of the Association Board of Directors, and the officers of the Association. Paragraph 10 section (e)says, The Board of Directors is expressly authorized to make, alter or repeal the Bylaws of this Association by a vote of two-thirds of those present at a Regular Meeting or a Special Meeting called for such purpose or by the unanimous written consent of the entire Board of Directors. There is no other route for amendment. The document gives no instructions regarding merger. The responsibility to act in the best interest of the membership is solely yours.

The membership is made up of thousands of small entrepreneurial businesses stretched across the land and beyond. According to Peter Giuliano, our core membership continuing to be small domestic US roasting companies, while 40% of SCAA Event attendees are from other countries.

There is no question that SCAA has developed a strong international element supporting its biggest money making project of every year, while the unshakable hardcore of the membership remains small roasters who have minds of their own, and a collective will.

SCAE and SCAA have always been close, and they have drawn closer in recent years including sponsoring joint events.

The natural isolation of leadership can make it difficult if not impossible to read the will of the majority you have volunteered to serve. I doubt the earth will shudder if SCAE and SCAA merge, but the only true test of merger as a good idea is to put the deal, and its benefits before the membership, and ask for two-thirds of the eligible voting members of the Association to vote “Yes” on a referendum on the issue. We Americans pride ourselves on our mythic traditions of openness and fair dealing. These attributes go a long way to defuse potential conflict. Have a vote and let a super-majority tell the Board, and the rest of us that they approve of the action to merge. With such a clear mandate all opposition to merger would whither. Only with such an instruction from the rank and file membership should a merger move forward. As with merging, I don’t think the earth will shudder if we choose not to merge.

The Bylaws, are sadly wanting in democratic process. For this reason good people on the Board must take the personal responsibility for good governance of the association in their own hands by inserting democratic values and practices where they are lacking in the written word. It is clear to me, that to avoid potential conflict with groups within the membership, that the issue should not be decided by the Board and officers alone. In the interim, I ask that as a Board member you take a pledge not to vote on a merger until a vote of the membership is taken, and not to take action before the Seattle Event in April.

Thank you for your consideration. I do hope we get the chance to share a cup of coffee together, before SCAA Atlanta, on your next trip to New York.


Donald Schoenholt

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The following missive was sent by me to my friends Paul Katzeff, and Dan Cox, two gentlemen of coffee who were present at the birth of Specialty Coffee Association of America, have served multiple terms as the association’s president and have both been  honored as Lifetime Achievement laureates by the trade. An interesting thing about our 35 year friendship is that we have rarely all agreed with each other on things coffee. We now share a stronger bond.  We share the bond of a common youth in coffee.


Dear Over-the-Hill Gang,

It appears that SCAA is in the process of deciding if we should merge with Specialty Coffee Association of Europe. It may also be so that the decision has already been made.

SCAE is a child of SCAA, born of our success, and the impact that the American specialty movement, personified by SCAA, had on the global stage. Specialty Coffee Association of Europe , from its earliest days, has had a close relationship with SCAA. If we are to have a partner, there is none I would choose before SCAE.

As the great roasting center, and consumer of specialty coffee the United States and its specialty coffee association has been an inspiration, and provided encouragement, and support to others birthing specialty coffee associations around the world, including outposts in Brazil, Bolivia, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Honduras, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, and Panama. Each of these associations , and the many producing countries who belong to regional associations as East Africa Fine Coffee Association, and AustralAsia Specialty Coffee Association all look to SCAA as the world leader in specialty coffee education, networking, and promotion. Before any of the rest of it, SCAA was always about the coffee, and about the coffee people who made the coffee; at origin, in the roasting plant and retail shop, and at home.

Katzeff, Schoenholt, CoxFrom the first I have believed that our trade group was all about the membership and their coffee, and the consumer and her coffee. Nothing is more important for the association than serving the consumer by  building a coffee community serving and supporting small roasters, and independent retailers.  My thoughts turn to the membership now, as the association leadership contemplates moving the American coffee soul, that created the world specialty coffee movement, and its first trade association spiritually out into the Atlantic. It is a grand vision, but I am confused by the geography. I thought in search of a better world everyone always sailed West, or did Cabot, Ericson, Columbus, and the Pilgrims all get it all wrong?

It is one thing to continue to extend our good influence, and our educational reach, as a model and a partner in education and special projects. It is something else to give up our American identity  and join a one-world coffee movement. It may turn out splendidly for our members, but it may not.

I will share my further thoughts with you as I reason out the potential impact of a merger on service to the hundreds of small independent US roasters and roaster retailers, who are the backbone of our trade, and who may feel left out, and left behind as the association moves onto a global stage and away from the ability to give close support to its US and Canadian members who have poured their heart into their family businesses, and have been told over and over again that SCAA was their organization created by and for the little guy in coffee in North America.  It’s tough to serve the little guy, the fellow roasting coffee in his neighborhood for a faithful clientele,  when you are a global presence. I am reminded that in 1960, the world-wide beverage giant Coca Cola was asked what plans they had to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Civil War. Coke said, they had none as it was only an event in one market.

There will be unintended consequences.  Here is one that comes to mind; After 34 years, there will be only one national trade association who can claim to speak for America’s roasters. It will not be SCAA.

The strength, and  glory of SCAA has always been its focus on the people who toil every day in the “vineyard of good coffee”, holding  their heads up high as they strive to beat their personal best cup, and meet their personal coffee economic and social goals. If SCAA and SCAE merge how much of that uniquely American coffee soul  that created and made SCAA will be forfeit to a “greater good”. The brave new world we are entering may, prove to be less an opportunity for individual entrepreneurship, critical coffee thinking, and personal initiative than it is something out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

I hope this missive makes you reflect on your own lives in coffee,  about those who are following in our footsteps, about the trade and its association which we helped to birth, and grow , and what role SCAA should play in the future of coffee. It is my hope that your good minds will jump-start a wider discussion, through the Past Presidents, Lifetime Achievers, and interested and committed coffee friends. If a consensus emerges  perhaps we can take our ideas to the SCAA leadership widening the range of educated voices than they might otherwise have heard, helping them to move forward or back off of what appears at this point to me to be both an exciting and frightening course.

My personal best to each of you, and your families, for the coming Thanksgiving holiday.




Additional Note #1

On Tuesday November 4th I had a conversation with SCAA President, Tracy Allen. It was the first time we had spoken privately together, and I found him warm, interested, and open minded. I shared some historical context, and my personal concerns about the direction in which SCAA appeared to be moving. He assured me that no resolve other than an exploration of the possibilities had been authorized to date, and that no decisions to move forward with a merger have been made. He offered that an independent agency’s  feasibility report was only to be presented to the SCAA leadership in December.  I suggested that, for added perspective, a presidential commission made up of folks who have skin in the specialty coffee game as Past Presidents, and Lifetime Achievement Laureates be commissioned to also study the idea of merger VS staying independent, and that their views (made in a written report presented to the membership) be given significant weight in the decision making process.  Tracy plans to visit New York in the coming months, and we agreed to meet when he next comes in.  –dns


 Additional Note #2

 On Friday November 6th I spoke to Dan Cox, who added to the discussion his conviction (it did not take him more than 1 minute to convince me too) that any decision about merger should be made by a vote of the entire membership and not just a vote of the executive committee or the Board.   -dns




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In the time since Tea and Coffee published my article Cold Comfort in May 2011, which told the story of cold coffee beverages, a controversy over Iced coffee has been percolating. Our friends at Oren’s Daily Roast in New York, and George Howell’s in Boston each eschew the opportunity to offer Cold Brew Coffee blends. And they make some good arguments in support of their ideas. In Oren Bloostein’s words, “it misses all the subtle brightness and nuance extracted when water of the proper temperature is used to dissolve the coffee oils that are so carefully developed in the craft roasting process leaving a dull shadow of what might have been.” In other words the coffee tastes duller than if brewed with hot water. In less subtle terms, George Howell says, I have always brewed hot coffee and then let it cool before adding ice. Never again; the aromatics and special fruit qualities of fine coffee are long gone. I have learned that the secret to making a great iced coffee is all in the FRESHNESS OF THE BREW. It must be captured then and there. The key is to brew a concentrated coffee beverage of exactly the right strength and extraction directly over ice. Some of you who try this may never go back to hot coffee.”

Historically ground roast coffee is brewed hot. The contact time of coffee and water varies from seconds to minutes depending on the brewing method. Hot water hastens the brewing process, while cold water retards it. Cold brewing stretches the time that coffee particles and water are together to many hours.

Cold brewing extracts appealing flavors from coffee except not all of the acids, natural oils and caffeine that add flavor complexity in a heat brewed beverage, and are unfortunate when found en masse in a beverage meant to be served below 40°F (4.4°C).

I do not seek the same flavors in iced as I do in a hot coffee. In part this is so because I often prefer my hot coffee black, and my iced coffee with cream and sugar. In part it is because I indulge in Iced coffee, as a refreshment, aware that the icing obscures the palates ability to define subtleties of flavors that bloom on the palate with a warmer beverage. And, unlike many of my countrymen, I generally prefer iced coffee to other available summertime  thirst quenchers.

I talked about the idea of brewing a 25% stronger brew to be poured over ice with Marion Burros for her July 20,1988 New York Times article De Gustibus; Making Coffee-er Iced Coffee. In 1988 I was less educated , by a quarter-century, about cold brew Iced coffee than I am today. Oren’s is using a similar method today to that in Ms. Burros’ Times story, “The new method…uses more coffee to make a smaller batch and then add ice…. The ice melts and the iced coffee is ready to be served immediately.”  An alternate to this idea is proposed by George Howell who asks that we brew directly over ice. This method of direct brew iced coffee has been dubbed ”Ice Brewed” by Oliver Strand, in his piece, Ristretto/ I Know What You Did Last Summer appearing in the New York Times June 6, 2012, and is similar also to Ms. Burros’ recipe.

This month (March 2015) Gillies Coffee has introduced Gillies Coffee On-Tap at The International Restaurant & Foodservice Show in New York where it won an innovative product award. Available in several blends in both “Still” and “Stout” styles I have hopes that it will find favor among our city’s chef restaurateurs, baristas, and food & beverage managers.

Because the jury is still out on the great Iced coffee question, hot brew or cold brew, rather than tell you the only right way to make iced coffee I offer you a little history, a little culture, a little lore, in Cold Comfort, some products of which I am proud, and I leave it to you to experiment and decide on your personal perfect recipe for Iced coffee to share with your customers. – DNS


You can find Ms. Burros  the New York Times article here;

You can find Mr. Strand’s article here;

You can find The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal article here;

You can find another good iced coffee article Secret To Smoothest Iced Coffee: Cold Brewing here, written by Jenny Hu, San Francisco Chronicle, July 13, 2010.;

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