I was a coffee snob, and it wasn't pleasant. I realized how annoying I could be when researching an article around a year ago. I posted a question to find ideas for an interview I was planning with an Authorized Specialty Coffee Trainer back then. To my dismay, one person answered that if I didn't know what to ask, I didn't deserve to ask any questions.
I could hardly believe it. But, that answer made me reflect on the coffee community and the things I said to my friends when talking about coffee and my postings in online communities.
Coffee forums and online communities are excellent sources of information, but most of all, opinions. Telling the difference between facts and opinions isn't that common nowadays, and you might get some backlash if you challenge some opinions, as wrong as they might be.
That's how coffee snobs are born.
We develop the idea that our coffee opinions are correct, and we get into discussions (or arguments) with other coffee lovers. We also tend to be very critical of coffee made by others.
In some cases, it might be warranted criticism. But often, we're just being coffee snobs.
It might be hard to admit, but coffee snobbery is a real thing. And it can make coffee drinking less enjoyable for everyone involved. So how do you avoid becoming a coffee snob and ruining your coffee experience?
Are you a coffee snob?
Before finding ways to prevent coffee snobbery, let's define it. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a snob is "a person who believes that their tastes in a particular area are superior to those of other people."
According to the Oxford Dictionary, if you're a Q Grader who assesses coffee quality as a job, it's almost inevitable to be a coffee snob. Yet, unlike the Oxford Dictionary, I think that snobbery boils down to attitudes and the way we make other people feel about their coffee knowledge.
There are a few telltale signs of coffee snobbery. But, overall, they boil down to three:
- Bragging about something coffee: it can be how much you know about coffee, or how expensive your coffee is, or how rare your beans are—yes, showing off how better is your Niche Zero grinder in comparison to your friends' old one counts as bragging too.
- Condescending or dismissive of people who don't appreciate the same kinds of coffees that you do. Have you looked down on a friend because they don't like your perfectly brewed Gesha?
- Taking pleasure in criticizing other people's coffee choices. Instant coffee, Keurigs, and Nespresso are coffee choices acceptable for millions of people worldwide. More people love them and are fit for purpose and convenience.
Now, let's talk about ways to avoid snobbery and make great coffee more attractive for the curious people around us.
Show respect for personal preferences
I've been there, looking at my friends' disgusted facial expressions while sipping a natural I loved. It's perfectly OK to want our loved ones to share our passions. And it's OK when they don't. It might be frustrating, but let's face it: specialty coffee can be challenging, and it's counterintuitive.
Most people get into coffee to stay awake for late hours or get their caffeine fixed in the morning. Getting alert and enjoying a premium brew are entirely different goals. So don't be that coffee snob who looks down on those drinking coffee to survive the day.
Remember, coffee is a personal preference. Just because you like intensely flavored coffee doesn't mean your friends do too. It can be challenging to find a middle ground, but remember that coffee is subjective.
Avoid offering unsolicited advice
Don't offer coffee advice to someone who hasn't asked for it. Some people appreciate the insight, but most don't. It can come across as condescending and insulting. If you want to help someone, ask them what they're looking for in coffee and suggest a few options.
I used to make this mistake in the past, answering rhetoric questions. Coffee rituals are sacred for many people, particularly when that ritual observes making the most straightforward caffeinated drink in the morning.
There are many traps in the coffee snob mythology that make us fall. One of the most common ones is the cream and sugar trap. Some coffee grounds are bitter and almost undrinkable without sugar and cream. Telling everyone that coffee only should be taken black is inaccurate. We can only enjoy high-quality coffee without sugar and cream because they have discernable tasting notes and rich aromatic profiles.
Don't use knowledge to attack others
Coffee snobbery often takes the form of attacking people who drink coffee differently than we do. It's not necessary. We can be passionate about coffee without being jerks.
Bullying comes in many forms, and using coffee knowledge to attack others is one way to be a bully and a coffee snob. Very few people are looking to find the perfect cup, and there's no need to put someone else down to make ourselves look better.
It doesn't happen only with coffee. Many people use expertise to feel more secure and gain status and social recognition. It's human nature, but it doesn't mean we have to be nasty to others.
Remember, coffee is for everyone. Most coffee drinkers aren't coffee snobs. And that's OK!
Coffee is a beverage enjoyed by millions of people every day.
Disregard unfair attacks
Some people feel intimidated by coffee jargon or any sign of expertise. Even if you aren't using coffee to make anyone feel ignorant, some people may feel that way.
Expertise isn't welcomed these days in many scenarios, and some people may call you a snob, even you aren't. So, instead of taking the offensive, disregard the attack whenever possible. Before I got angry about this, I learned to deal with it without taking it personally.
Coffee snobbery can be frustrating. We don't need to encourage coffee elitism and condescension.
Do you think coffee professionals should be more responsible about their actions and remarks? How do you avoid coffee snobbery?