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10 Reasons 10 SCAA Presidents VOTE NO On Consolidation

This is Donald Schoenholt, co-founder of SCAA, and founder of Roasters Guild. By now you know that there is an SCAA and Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) consolidation vote scheduled for this coming week. I am writing to you for a group of 10 SCAA Past Presidents. We’d like to talk to you about our coffee association and its future as we believe you don’t understand that you are being asked to destroy SCAA. We think you should vote “NO” to that.


The trade stands on the shoulders of folks that pioneered specialty coffee, and the birth of SCAA. Right now is the most critical time for the members since the founding of the association. If you choose poorly you will lose your trade association.

The subject is complex. We can’t cover all the aspects of it in this conversation. We offer you 10 of the most important points to think about.


You and your trade association have ignited specialty coffee associations throughout the world. We think the focus of the association should always be on you, the SCAA members.

The Board wants to be of world importance. That’s nice, but what’s in it for you? Nothing much; except probably dues and fee increases after the 1st year. The top Staff will rejoice. They may all get raises.


Those favoring merger talk a lot about unifying standards and teaching practices but, universal norms only flatten the specialty coffee world destroying the wonderful diversity of exceptional farming, processing, roasting, brewing practices and cultures throughout the world. To put it in another way, we are diminished when Sumatras are judged by Costa Rica cupping criteria. The benefit of globalization should be in sharing knowledge, and discoveries, not in imposing international norms.

In a world where all are equal, only the mighty thrive. It’s the diverse nature of specialty coffee on all levels, and only that that guarantees the success of the little fellow. Diversity is our friend. Big businesses labor when they are faced with a diversity of products to develop, manufacture, distribute and market. A cataloged, categorized, quantified specialty coffee world plays into the hands of big institutions alone.


SCAA is not an institution as others we know. It is an extension of us, our hopes and dreams for our families, our businesses, and the future of coffee. If that seems overly sentimental to some, it isn’t to you and to us. It’s very personal. What we want for you is an association whose 1st priority is the support and service of you, the members.

Around the world specialty coffee people look to SCAA as the world leader in specialty coffee education, networking, and promotion. As good neighbors you and I share our knowledge with them through our trade group. At the same time we celebrate the unique cultural perspective that makes us American in character as well as in name. You will lose out when the focus leaves North America, unless there are safeguards to protect you built into the deal. They aren’t there now.


The UK decision to exit the European Economic Community (BREXIT) changes the viability of consolidation with SCAE. The Board has ordered updated financials, as if getting an update will give them powers to see the extremely uncertain world financial future. They might as well use tea leaves.

The Board believes BREXIT is no big deal. We believe this opinion is unique in the world. Turn on the TV. The European model of a new world economic order is failing. Now is not the time to throw in with that sinking ship.

You should keep your SCAA, and offer the Europeans a good deal to join your trade association, The Specialty Coffee Association of America, led by America, and benefiting your members at home and abroad, as you have for years past.


Vote for Consolidation as presented and SCAA will cease to exist. There will be no more SCAA. It will be replaced by something else; something foreign. There will essentially be a new trade group. It will not be American in character, temperament, or name.


The SCAA Board is not sinister. The Board is just wrong. We don’t know if unification is a good idea or a bad idea. We know the Board did this badly. They started by talking about the idea secretly, and then doubled-down by going about it foolishly. There was a nod toward transparency, but no actual openness. The provided information has left out just what the deal is and how it will work, and what happens if it doesn’t work. Here’s a case in point; there is no written Exit Plan for SCAA, if a year or three in, the merger is a failure. If we want out what will the dollar cost have been all-in from inception to withdrawal?

It’s all just one big marketing plan; a grand house blend of jargon, graphics, money, and little substance. They have done it all with mirrors. They may not have intended it but The Board has come off as all-knowing, inflexible, intolerant and conceited all at once. The result is that we must all question what we are being told.

This business of voting on July 5th is dumb. Your leaders are taking you down this path too fast without giving you the chance to digest information that was presented too late to be properly vetted. Being in the dark makes me nervous. How does it make you feel?

You don’t even know how much of your money has been spent on consultants, financial advisors, travel and other expenses in the last years to bring this merger about. We can only guess, and wince.


We think that if unification is a good deal now it will be just as good in a year from now. We believe the opportunity to lose the deal to another is limited, and the need to give this idea more study, and get it right is compelling.

We want your businesses to thrive, and your trade group to move confidently into the future. You can’t get there using unwarranted and dangerous haste. Things are moving very fast now, and we believe that you need to take a breath. Recall the fundamental goals of the association that we built together, and move, after a season of knowledge gathering and reasoned open discussion, with steadiness and caution into a new place, if that is what you decide, and not just hold your nose, and jump into an unknown ocean.


The Board points to past voter turnout and says you don’t care about your future. They think that gives them the right to do whatever they want. We believe that most of the time you are just too busy making a living to give thought to their decisions. Well, this time is different. The consequences are too big for you to leave the decision to them.

The Board is counting on your apathy. They will win a low turnout vote. A big vote will swamp the Board organized few who will vote for unification.


You don’t often get the chance to save the world. Here’s your chance. Each of you holds the destiny of your trade group in your personal hands. So vote. Vote your conscience, and we will be satisfied. We believe in you, as we always have, and we will celebrate your decision, whatever it is.

We wish each of you the best of good luck, and good coffee.


Donald Schoenholt
Founding Father SCAA & Roasters Guild
SCAA Lifetime Achievement Laureate

And in Alphabetic Order:

Dan Cox
SCAA President 1984, 1985, 1986
SCAA Lifetime Achievement Laureate

David Dallis
SCAA President 1994-1995

Leonor Gavina-Valls
SCAA President 1985
SCAA Lifetime Achievement Laureate

Paul Katzeff
SCAA President 1984, 2000-2001
SCAA Lifetime Achievement Laureate

Becky McKinnon
SCAA President 1998-1999

Danny O’Neill
SCAA President 2001-2002

Grady Saunders
SCAA President 1993-1994

Linda Smithers
SCAA President 1997-1998

Gary Talboy
SCAA President 1987-1988

Further Reading:

Cui Bono?, Coffeeman’s Diary

Globalization Blues Part 2. T& CTJ 04.16, P38

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