The State of Our Phoenix Coffee Community
'Community' has been my soap box topic since I moved to Phoenix. It was the very thing that pushed me into the rabbit hole that is specialty coffee. The DC coffee scene is pretty established, with companies like Counter Culture and MadCap having major presence there, as well as many multi-roaster shops and local roasteries scattered about the metro area. I would go as far to say I was spoiled being a part of the coffee community in DC. Latte art throwdowns happen monthly, the barista competition culture is very much alive, and the pleasure of having two or three coffee shops to go to in any given neighborhood pushed me to engage with other baristas outside of my own store. Even though I knew Phoenix wasn't necessarily known for coffee, I did expect there to be a similar, tight-knit community of coffee fiends here, albeit smaller. I was partially correct.
There is a community of coffee professionals and enthusiasts here in the Valley. However, I wouldn't call us 'tight-knit'. I think the community is closer now than it was two years ago, but there is still much more we can do. The good news is that people are willing to band together, but there are a list of factors that play a part in our segregation.
You can drive an hour north from Downtown Phoenix and still be within city limits. The urban sprawl Phoenix battles plays the biggest role in our lack of community. There are pockets of coffee shops within Phoenix proper and its immediate suburbs, but there is at least a 20-30 minute drive between each pocket. It can be difficult to visit other shops or even hold events when you have to make a whole trip out of it. Even still, going the extra mile (lol) to support our friends in coffee shouldn't be seen as a chore.
It feels like this is way less of an issue now than before, but there is a general, widespread lack of enthusiasm for coffee amongst the people serving it. There are probably 100+ reasons why that is and I can't give much more insight, but that attitude is projected across the community. Phoenix coffee is almost sleepy, in a way. We seem to be content with how things currently are and have always been. There's nothing wrong with that contentment, but I think we are limiting ourselves. So many great ideas are born out of a group of people who are all excited and passionate about the same thing, despite any differences. It doesn't take much for that excitement to spread across the entire community!
Many baristas in our community feel like they're on the outside looking in. I've not only seen it across the community, but within my own shop, too. In terms of the community as a whole, distance plays a massive role in the cliques that have seemed to form within it. We naturally tend to seek out the people who live and work closest to us. Even at Cartel, division is felt between different stores and inside of them. This also could be attributed to a bunch of reasons, but these social wedges within our coffee community are apparent and need to be eliminated.
While the overall morale of the Phoenix coffee community is on the lower end, in my opinion, I do believe it has started to rise. I've met a ton of passionate baristas who love to engage with those outside of their circles and all have ideas on what we can do to unify our community. With that being said, I want to fully open this up for discussion. What do you think needs to happen within our community? Is an established coffee community even that important? Why or why not? Do you have any ideas and aren't sure where to start? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.