Sunday, March 12, 2017

Expertise Is Not About Labels

Regular Pike Place coffee beans are US$12.95 for a pound. The Guatemalan is US$14.50 for 8.8 ounces, while the Blue Mountain is US$34.50 for 8.8 ounces.

Now here's the thing: "Blue Mountain" means nothing. Most people cannot tell the difference, and the roast, water, and prep matter more than the provenance of the bean.

Switch the labels on Pike Place and Blue Mountain, and 99.99 percent of all coffee drinkers could not tell the difference. Ditto with wine and olive oil.

And how do you know that the Blue Mountain is Blue Mountain?

You don't!

In fact, a certain amount of overt lying is very common in the coffee trade, where the bag may scream "Blue Mountain, 100% Coffee," but the stuff inside is decidedly not that. As the folks at Marinez Fine Coffee note:

What happens when a retailer sells a pound of coffee labelled Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee to a customer for US$40.00 but the bag instead of containing sixteen ounces of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee actually contains two ounces of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee and fourteen ounces of Brazilian coffee? Legally, the labelling regulations have been met for the bag does in fact contain sixteen ounces of 100% pure coffee. However, as a pound of Brazilian coffee might cost US$12.00 per pound and a pound of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee typically costs US$50.00 per pound, or more, two things happen. The consumer is duped and the reputation of one of the world's premier coffees has been seriously damaged.

I am reminded of food fraud and the snobbery it depends on when I am in the world of dogs, and vice versa. So often what people are buying is not the product in front of them, but some feeling inside, which seems to be dependent on some idea they imagine others might have about them.

In order to feel better about themselves, they seek to project wealth, power, or expertise, which they believe they can demonstrate by throwing big money at a label a which has little or nothing to do with the thing itself.

Is that ironic? A little!

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