July 17, 2023

How is educational content for specialty coffee evolving?


Education plays a crucial role in the specialty coffee sector. Without the focus the industry has had on education in recent years, we arguably wouldn’t see anywhere near as much innovation as we do today.

Over the years, as research and development has evolved in the industry, we have seen a growing interest in education about specialty coffee.

In turn, it seems a growing number of companies have also started to invest in educational resources – which has several benefits for coffee professionals and consumers alike.

To learn more, I spoke with James Harper and Jonathan Morris, co-hosts of the A History of Coffee podcast, and Simona Sordelli, Marketing & Communication Manager at Rancilio Group. Read on for more of their insight.

You may also like our article on whether coffee consumers’ focus on education will continue beyond Covid-19.

A roaster removes the crust while cupping coffee.

How has coffee education evolved in recent years? 

There are many different types of educational resources and opportunities available in the specialty coffee sector. These include:

  • Workshops
  • Courses
  • Cupping sessions
  • Books
  • Podcasts
  • Videos

For the most part, many educational resources are designed for consumers, but there are also ways for industry professionals to learn more about coffee, too.

Traditionally speaking, Jonathan explains that specialty coffee education was largely limited to certain training opportunities, such as learning how to use espresso machines or pour latte art.

“Now, we’ve come to realise that coffee education needs to be a lot more rounded,” he says. “We need to know the entire coffee industry and the context behind it.”

Today, baristas, roasters, coffee shop owners, green coffee buyers, and consumers alike can find comprehensive information on scientific, social, and historic topics related to specialty coffee.

“We’re discovering new information at such a rapid pace,” James says. “This information has to make its way into the wider coffee community – people are very thirsty to learn more.”

When it comes to consumers specifically, people are becoming more informed about where their coffee comes from, as well as its social and environmental impact. To further support this push for more sustainable coffee, education has also changed.

James Harper and Jonathan Morris record a podcast.

The role of podcasts

Even though they became more popular in the early 2000s, over the past few years, podcasts have played a crucial role in developing coffee education.

Moreover, they are also immensely popular – it’s estimated that around half of the US population listens to podcasts on a regular basis

James explains that there are several reasons for this: “We live very busy lives, so reading becomes more and more of a luxury.

“Podcasts allow you to consume content while you’re doing other things,” he adds. “All of a sudden, podcasts in particular have transformed mundane parts of our lives into really powerful learning opportunities.” 

Jonathan agrees, saying that educational content like podcasts creates new ways of engaging with an audience, and can even help coffee professionals and consumers connect with one another on a deeper level.

“Creating this kind of content helps to strengthen coffee culture, as well as to understand more about how the culture has developed its identity,” he tells me.

A roaster pours water into a cupping bowl to assess coffee.

Why are more coffee companies investing in coffee education?

It’s been hard to ignore the meteoric rise of specialty coffee education. In line with the growth of this sector, more and more companies have started to create their own educational resources or invest in pre-existing programmes.

One example is Rancilio, which is the sponsor of season two of the A History of Coffee podcast – which was released on 17 April on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. 

“Supporting projects designed to educate and inform consumers is a long-term investment,” Simona says. “For Rancilio, it was a viable time to get into podcasting and share content with the aim of increasing brand awareness.”

James explains how the podcast started, saying that Jonathan’s book Coffee – A Global History was a big source of inspiration.

“Having started with the book, the podcast presented a whole new way of being able to publish this type of content,” Jonathan says. “It also allows us to engage with audiences that are often quite difficult to reach through books.”

Discussing the social and historical context of coffee

While season one of A History of Coffee podcast mostly explored the coffee industry’s colonial roots, season two looks at how Italian coffee shop culture has influenced the specialty coffee sector.

“Espresso culture is foundational to specialty coffee, and Italy is foundational to espresso culture,” James tells me. “So to understand the genesis of why and how we do things in specialty coffee, we need to go back to the roots of Italian coffee shop culture.”

To bring the theme of the podcast’s second season full circle, James and Jonathan recorded two episodes at the Rancilio Museum in Italy, as well as the new Rancilio BER Station in Berlin, Germany.

“These two locations represent the two axes of our company,” Simona explains. “On one hand, the Rancilio Museum represents our history and expertise.

“Meanwhile, the Rancilio BER station – which we recently opened in Berlin – represents our future,” she adds. “It’s not just a flagship store, but a meeting place for a community of baristas and coffee lovers where we organise events and training courses which promote specialty coffee culture.”

James Harper, Jonathan Morris, and Nicole Battefeld-Montgomery record a podcast and discuss the Rancilio Silvia espresso machine.

What are the benefits of coffee education?

It goes without saying that the more accessible coffee education is, the more people can learn about specialty coffee. At the same time, having a more diverse range of resources and programmes is important, too. In theory, this only serves to drive the sector forward.

“People who work or consume specialty typically chase really extraordinary flavours, as well as equitable outcomes for everyone along the supply chain,” James says. “Specialty coffee companies also care about being on that journey, too.

“Through education, we can help the community progress even further so we can improve quality and sustainability more and more,” he adds.

On the subject of accessibility, podcasts are pertinent – especially as they are generally free. This means they can be a useful educational tool for many people, especially those who may not be able to attend workshops or courses.

Furthermore, they often discuss topics which aren’t covered in classes and other practical settings.

“Podcasts are a great way to speak to the community and build new connections,” Simona says. “The content is the most important factor because to build a coffee community means talking about topics that our audience wants to hear about.”

Alongside more complex and broader topics, coffee education can be useful for prosumers who want to learn about coffee equipment and how to improve their brewing skills. For example, all episodes of A History of Coffee mention Rancilio espresso machines, such as the Silvia and Silvia Pro X home machines.

Supporting accessible coffee education 

Ultimately, to provide high-quality educational content, investment and support are paramount.

“Great educational initiatives require funding, so that creators can invest their time to deliver quality content for the community,” James says.

However, not all educators can fund their own projects – which makes sponsorship so important.

“Sponsors need to be prepared for content creators to follow the path that their content takes them on, as well as covering stories which are difficult to talk about,” Jonathan says. “In one episode, for instance, we talked about the history of Haiti’s coffee sector – a story that really affected us both.”

James Harper and Jonathan Morris stand in front of a poster for the A History of Coffee podcast.

The specialty coffee sector is always changing, and as it does, it’s become clear that educational resources will naturally follow behind it.

Given the growing number of people interested in coffee, it’s clear that demand for coffee education will increase, too.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on online education in the coffee sector.

Photo credits: Alessandro Casti, Rancilio Group

Perfect Daily Grind

Please note: Rancilio Group is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.

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