Espresso and intellectual altruism

I was reading an article in Time magazine on the flight back from Zurich this evening and it kind of crystalised some thoughts I’ve been having of late.
The article was about how innovation has moved towards being performed by the consumer themselves. They listed open source sites such as Sourceforge and, of course, wikipedia as two classic examples of intellectual altruism, where people are giving up their ideas for the greater good.

This got me thinking about my spiral down into coffee. There is no way I could be where I am without the internet. Sites like TooMuchCoffee, Coffeegeek, Home-Barista and others kept me interested and informed, and many others gave me information for free I’d otherwise have to pay for. Then there were the blogs like godshot, espressolab, gauperaa and the like. There have been huge leaps forward in espresso theory recently and this has been largely in part to the internet. The example of La Marzocco having people openly trial the GS3 on blogs, and other forums is fairly indicative of this. All the forums I visit are heavily populated with people who spent a lot of time and effort simply working to make better coffee – both for themselves as well as giving a huge amount of help to other users. Sometimes I am staggered by it. I try and give what I can, and it sometimes seems at odds with what I do for a living – I impart knowledge in return for money. Yet here I am doing it for free, along with several other people who do this for a living.

I cannot imagine how difficult it would have been to get into espresso like I have without the resources that have been available to me for free. I would have had to take the path of trial and error (which many have taken before me) or I would have to buy my way there with a lot of training and books (two things I’ve inevitably spent on regardless as I believe they both will retain their value whatever the net offers). I guess conferences and symposiums, jams and competitions would have been even more important.

I’m fairly sure I’ve upset a few people of late, this young upstart, know-it-all, geeky kid who has suddenly risen up the ranks of coffee in the UK and I guess they are entitled to feel this way. Most of them have worked at this for many years, laboured to get where they are and get the knowledge they have. I’ve been making coffee seriously for a couple of years. That isn’t very long. Granted, I love it, I think about it far too much and I feel like my life has become steeped in it. (I am yet to decide if this is a good or bad thing!)

I’d love to know what it was like before. Comments welcome.

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