Coffee innovation has shifted from the Old World to the New—and although Europe has tradition, it lacks U.S. creativity
I ruffled more than a few feathers with my first post last May, when I shared my thoughts about next-wave American coffee. I reported being quite shocked at times when I saw the kind of experimentation going on, and when I sampled the results. The comments poured in—both supportive and, let's say, otherwise.
What a difference a year makes, in both experience and perspective. I still have strong opinions about how coffee should and shouldn't be prepared, and how it should taste. But I realize that I may have pulled the trigger too early. Traveling city to city, conducting trainings at places where Illy is served, and just dropping into independently owned coffee bars, I've met too many talented and remarkably knowledgeable baristas to name. Many of the best espressos I've ever had, I've had here over these past months. And I've felt something you just don't sense in Italy anymore: a pure enthusiasm for coffee, and the expectation that so much more is still possible.
A light recently turned on in my mind. Specialty coffee in America today is in many ways akin to Italy's about 100 years ago: experiencing a Golden Age, when rapidly evolving technology and a fast-growing community of enthusiasts conspire to move forward preparation methodology and the quality and appreciation of coffee. There were hits and misses then, as there are now—the hits entering the mainstream and enlarging the fan base and moving better coffee from random event to everyday ritual.