Names Every Coffee Lover Should Know

You know your coffees. You can tell an Ethiopian from a Sumatran coffee at first sip. You understand the difference between organic, shade-grown and bird-friendly coffee. You can decipher a Starbucks menu without thinking about it, even though you generally avoid Starbucks in favor of the little indie coffee house around the corner. But how well do you know the people of the coffee world? If you want to do a little name-dropping around your coffee snob friends, this little primer will get you quickly up to speed.

Juan Valdez, perhaps the most famous coffee farmer in the world, never really existed. Valdez was the creation of an advertising agency hired by the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia in 1959. The Federation was ahead of its time in recognizing that the way to get a better price for coffee grown by its members was to associate Colombian coffee beans with high quality and great taste in the minds of consumers. To that end, they hired Dale Doyle Bernbach, now known as DDB Worldwide, to create an advertising campaign to educate American consumers about the qualities of Colombian coffee. The original Juan Valdez was portrayed by actor Jose F. Duval, who was the face of the Colombian coffee farmer until 1969, when he was replaced by Carlos Sanchez. When Sanchez retired in 2006, the Federation chose coffee farmer Carlos Castenada from Andes, Antigua as the new face of Juan Valdez.

Kenneth Davids, perhaps more than any other person in the coffee world, has shaped the way that today’s coffee lover thinks about coffee. A professor of writing and history at the California College of Arts and Crafts, Davids published “Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing and Enjoying” back in 1980, when the American gourmet coffee industry was in its infancy and most Americans still thought that General Foods International Cafe was the way that coffee should taste. His book was based on experience gained running a coffee business in Berkley in the 1970s, and has gone through five editions to date. Davids has written two other books, Home Coffee Roasting: Romance and Revival, and Espresso: Ultimate Coffee, which was nominated for a James Beard award. He regularly runs workshops and seminars on the various aspects of coffee tasting, roasting and brewing at meetings in the coffee industry, and is a co-founder of, perhaps the best known coffee reviewing resource online. Davids’ opinion is highly respected in the coffee industry, and many coffee roasting houses consider it a point of pride to receive better than a 90 for one of their coffees from Kenneth Davids.

Alejandro Mendez, 2011 World Barista Champion, is the latest winner of the World Barista Championship. The WBC is in its 11th year, and has become a major annual event, held in a different country and city each year. Each participating country holds qualifying rounds to select one champion, who then competes against the best baristas in the world to create the very best espresso ever. If anyone is capable of producing a God shot, it’s one of these guys. The national WBC champs bring much honor to the coffee houses they represent, and often turn their wins into a platform for a speaking tour or their own barista schools.

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