Specialty coffee is going corporate

I live just down the street from Stumptown Coffee’s original store on SE Division Street in Portland, OR. Often, I’m one of the first customers there, blinking with sleepiness at 6 am, and clutching my hot cup of drip coffee like it’s a lifeline to sanity. The baristas know me, and sometimes they buy my coffee (which I attribute to my Very Charming Daughter). To me, as a dedicated coffee drinker, this is the perfect neighborhood coffee shop.

Ironic, then, that Stumptown is owned by Peet’s Coffee & Tea, a massive coffee chain which also acquired Chicago-based quality coffee company Intelligentsia, and is in turn owned by a German holding company (JAB Holdings) which holds controlling stakes in or owns the most coffee brands in the world. I’ve watched changes happen nationally and globally for Stumptown, but in the day-to-day, I’ve observed nothing different from the gritty coffeehouse I love.

What does it mean for my industry that coffee brands which, ten years ago, stood for independence and “not-selling-out” are now owned by a massive, foreign company? While many decry these changes as disastrous to the specialty coffee industry, I view them as a way to hold my finger to the wind and see which way it’s changing. What does it say about the small roasters I love so much that they are growing (fast) and that corporate business is sitting up and taking notice? That these brands (Blue Bottle is another) are being changed, yes, but their individuality is being retained and in fact turned into brands so cohesive and iron-clad that they are covering the world with fans.

Coffee Gone Corprate 1
To me, it says something beautiful and gives us a warning. It says that we coffee drinkers who care about transparency, who put our money where our mouth is, and who value connection with the growers and roasters who create our coffee, are driving the international coffee industry (which is a behemoth, the second-most-traded commodity in the world) to change to our values. Which, because slavery and many abuses of human rights still happen in coffee growing, and because there is so much more work to be done, is a good thing.

Which, because slavery and many abuses of human rights still happen in coffee growing, and because there is so much more work to be done, is a good thing.

It also warns us to hone in on exactly what makes us different from the big brands, and to remember that a brand is always changing. Here at Caravan, we have been serving beautiful coffee to the Willamette Valley and throughout the nation for twenty years, and we will keep doing that. We are also dedicated to continuing to adapt in every way we can to be more intentional in our sourcing, roasting, and brewing.

We continue to evolve our visual branding. And… most important: we recognize that you, our treasured customers, are changing, and that this community we’ve created together will keep changing as the years pass. Thank you for honoring us—a small coffee company with dedicated staff and customers—with your coffee choices and support.

Change is a good thing! Let’s embrace it… together!

Emily McIntyre

Emily McIntyre circle

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