Glocal Craftiness: Coffee, Beer, Music

Was listening to the podcast (Episode 23) and thinking about coffee shops, cafés, brewpubs, bars, bands, venues…

There’s something happening here. Coffee’s a global commodity. One of the most traded ones, in fact. Huge industry. Some key players (Nestlé, Sara Lee, Kraft, and Procter & Gamble). And a turn, especially in the U.S., toward the crafty side of things.

Similarly, beer’s a global phenomenon. Though more limited than coffee, it’s still pretty big. Some key players (InBev, SABMiller, Anheuser-Busch, Heineken). And, in the U.S. again, a “Craft Brewing Revolution” is changing the perception of beer.

In music and globalization. Music is seen as a commodity. It’s a smallish industry (about 32G$, of which 4G$ is made through ringtones). Some key players (Sony-BMG, Universal Warner, EMI). And a movement toward music as craft? Well, in some ways.

All of these are typical of industrial conglomerates and counter-movements to “take back the game.” What’s specific? These happen to be some of my key interests! 😉

The Portafilter inspiration came in a discussion about competition. For the “smaller” players (baristas and café owners; craft brewers and brewpub owners; musicians and venue owners), competition isn’t that much of an issue. For the key players, there might not be so many issues with competition in actual fact (apart from anti-trust suits) even though industries are supposed to work on the drive of competition. There is, though, an issue of competition between the two levels. For instance, specialty coffee has become quite prominent in the marketplace and is probably gaining ground. Craft beer is in fact gaining a lot of ground on “macro-breweries.” And the record industry has had a hard time understanding what’s going on with actual music.

The spark here is the Local. Global industries perceived at the local level. A kind of counter-balance to Globalization. Localization? Transnationalization? Regionalization? Alter-Globalization?

It’s not necessarily activism. And it’s not necessarily anti- anything. Clearly, some entities involved are corporate and there’s probably a continuum between the local-level players and the Global key players. But thinking about the local dimension of global phenomena. Again, the ugly word, glocal.

With coffee, for instance, location is quite interesting. Coffee is mostly produced in what Wallerstein would call Periphery and Semi-Periphery. Production, at least in specialty coffee, is often conceived in terms of country of origin (as if national boundaries mattered for taste). Coffee is mostly consumed in the Core and in the wealthier parts of the Semi-Periphery. And, quite importantly, a huge part of the taste of coffee depends on extreme freshness. Allegedly, an overwhelming majority of an espresso’s aromas disappear within a very few minutes after being brewed, ground coffee loses most of it’s flavour and aroma within 15 minutes, roasted coffee beans become stale very quickly ten days after roast, etc. In terms of aroma and flavour, coffee (espresso especially) needs to be consumed extremely fresh. Green coffee beans, however, may be kept for quite a while and are relatively easy to ship and store. In fact, the process of going from the coffee berry to the dry green coffee bean can be relatively long and may even involve some fermentation.
So green coffee beans can be and are produced far away from the place where they are used to make liquid coffee, but the transformation process of getting from the green bean to liquid coffee (roasting, grinding, brewing…) needs to be done as close as possible to the place where the coffee is consumed. In terms of taste (flavour and aroma), a local café has a very clear justification. Of course, cafés are also social spaces but if one is to think of homeroasting and espresso making at home, a local distributor of green coffee beans is the equivalent of the café, in terms of taste.

A big part of what is changing the coffee world, apart from new techniques and knowledge, is fair-trade coffee. Fair trade, as a concept, is quite simple yet rather interesting for those who want to see Globalization happen from the ground up. Part grassroots movement, part transnational organization, part business model. Some of the key players in the coffee industry are taking notice (and are trying to say they’re using the fair trade model). But a large part of this move toward fair-trade coffee is happening on the local level, both in terms of production (local and independent coffee growers) and in terms of consumption (local green coffee importers). In some cases, the relationships between production and consumption are the basis of cooperatives linking specific coffee producers with specific cafés and coffee importers. Sure, global players also have business partnerships with specific producers. One difference, though, is the notion that trade should be balanced (fairly) between members of the cooperatives. Another big difference is the local level. Fair-trade coffee is as much about “Think Global, Act Local” as many other things.

Including beer! Craft beer is explicitly about “Think Global, Drink Local” (at least, the Pumphouse Brewery in Moncton, NB, had that as their motto a few years ago). Or, in other words, “Support Your Local Brewer.” Most beers, unlike most wines, are best consumed fresh. Not as extremely fresh as coffee. But fresh nonetheless. The reason beer is different from wine is mostly the degree of alcohol coupled with the influence of oxidation. Still, the concept of drinking local has to do with drinking tasty fresh beer.

Unlike green coffee beans, barley and other grains used in beer are produced in the same Core countries where much beer is consumed. Like green coffee beans but unlike roasted coffee, malted grain and hop flowers are relatively easy to store and ship. So there could technically be the same type of transnational distribution as in fair-trade coffee for two of the basic ingredients in beer, but beer can be done completely locally. Difficult to draw any conclusion about this distinction, but it’s interesting to keep in mind.

Now, a local brewpub or microbrewery has some of the same characteristics as a local café or coffee importer. In fact, the markets may be fairly similar and there has been some collaborations between local coffee roasters and local beer brewers.

Connections between beer and coffee are easy. Now, music.

Contrary to either coffee or beer, music isn’t really a commodity in the sense of something people can buy. There are music products that are sold and bought, such as sound recordings, music videos, band-related merchandise, and music partitions. But the music isn’t sold and/or consumed the same way a cup of espresso or a pint of beer might be. A huge difference is that a single person or 10 000 people may listen to the same music without changing the nature of the music while 10 000 people drinking from the same cup of espresso would need to take very little sips. 😉

This distinction is extremely important, of course. Yet the issue of the local bands fighting back the global music industry takes on some similar characteristics. Even the concept of “fair trade” may be applied to music. And there’s the issue of freshness.

Music doesn’t need to “go stale,” at least in recorded form. At the same time, music performance is time-sensitive: it occurs in a specific moment and is perceived through time. Through a move from music performance (as process) to music recording (as product), comes a wide gap between people who make music and people who listen to music. The disconnect between music production and consumption has been called “schizophonia” by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. It has a lot of impacts on the way music is conceived on a global scale. Some people talk about the financial, legal, ethical, and social issues around the movement of music performed by members of the Semi-Periphery and Periphery to the Core. There can easily be a notion, for some people, of music being “stolen” from its “rightful owner” (even though the “owner” and “thief” but keep the music after the “theft”). These issues can get some people started… 😉

Yet there’s another issues that might be closer to beer and coffee. What happens with music locally? What happens with music globally? Who’s involved? What are the relationships between those involved?

A number of things are happening that might be similar to what’s happening with coffee and beer. People in different parts of the world are now able to hear and listen to music coming from any other place in the world. While it might not be a huge thing for the recording industry’s point of view, the fact is that local performers from some parts of the world are bringing their music to other places. Sometimes, it’s a process of broadening the listenership of the music to the “global sphere.” More often, however, those performers are never known very widely but may be known in a local sphere in which they’re working. In terms of distribution, it’s quite easy to have music recordings (especially as sound files) travel the world. But in terms of musical activities, a lot happens at the local level. In some musical scenes, such as Montreal’s “World Music” scene(s), contacts among performers produces something unique. A new taste.

And this is where coffee and beer come again. Cafés and bars are often venues for local performers. A solid and dynamic local scene can be more beneficial for a performer than the whimsical and stale “global market” of the record industry. Many people, for instance members of jam bands, are focusing on direct contact between performers and audiences. And what comes out of that can be as pleasing and even life-changing as any well-crafted espresso or beer. When the three things come together, pure magic! 🙂

And that’s just on the public side of thing. Making music, beer, or espresso at home is much more satisfying!

10 thoughts on “Glocal Craftiness: Coffee, Beer, Music”

  1. Glad you touched on the social aspect of local beer, coffee, and music.

    In a related note, Northwest Brewing News just ran a series of articles on beer and coffee. The link is below, although the articles aren’t posted yet (a friend of mine was just out in Portland and grabbed me a copy). Link is here:

  2. Thanks for the info. Those Brewing News publications are usually
    pretty interesting.
    The beer/coffee link seems even deeper. And seems deeply connected with the birth of computer geek culture on the West Coast in the 1970s. Apparently, there was a detailed article about this in a professional brewing publication which doesn’t exist anymore. The reference comes from Keith Lemcke, faculty member at the Siebel
    Institute. Would love to read that one as it sounds extremely insightful.
    While we often use the term “beer geek” rather loosely, there is a clear connection between computer geeks, coffee geeks (as on, and beer geeks. It’s mostly a West Coast phenomenon which “invaded” the rest of the
    continent. And it really relates to the engineering background of many beer and coffee lovers.
    My point was more about Globalization, commercialization, commodification, and standardization. But the more I think about it, the more the connections between beer and coffee make sense. The musical dimension is just based on my academic and personal interests as a musician and ethnomusicologist. But it also fits, I think.
    Or, maybe, I just want to find (or build) the perfect brewpub/café for a lively music scene…


  3. As I revisit this entry almost two years later, I find there’s fairly little that I would need to change. (Apart from some typos, of course.)
    One thing which I didn’t discuss but which was probably on my mind at that time is the fact that, though well-intentioned, “Fair Trade” isn’t what it’s supposed to be. In recent months, I’ve had several occasions to notice how detrimental Fair Trade can be to an equitable coffee world. People like George Howell and Mark Prince have helped me get some of these points. Luckily, discussions/debates about Fair Trade and similar issues are going on right now.

    As for music and beer. I do have a lot more to say but some things haven’t changed much. Apart from the facts that the recording industry is finally waking up and that prices for beer’s raw materials are going up.

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