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Ted Lingle, and Paul Katzeff are two SCAA founders who have favored their fellow tradespeople with letters on the subject of merger during recent days. Both have an abiding affection for SCAA, having served as Presidents of the association and both have been honored as Lifetime Achievement laureates by the trade. They each possess very different visions for the future of specialty coffee. Their differences with each other do not diminish the contribution of either. We are indebted to them both for their past service, and their current participation and continuing interest in good coffee.

SCAA’s original object was to support the small fellows, the start-ups, the pioneers in a new coffee business; to give them succor and let them know that they weren’t alone by providing comradery, a communication link between tradesmen, the practical knowledge, and tools with which our fellows in the trade could get a leg up in making a living . The vision was not grander than that. At the time, I thought that was a pretty grand vision.c

Things change, and in the course of decades a borderless internationalist vision has emerged as our ideas have captured the imagination, and the coffee economy of the world outside North America. SCAA and SCAE cooperate, and should cooperate. We should also, if invited, cooperate more closely with the specialty coffee associations in Brazil, Bolivia, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Honduras, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, and Panama, along with those in regions as East Africa Fine Coffee Association, and AustralAsia Specialty Coffee Association. It’s nice to be close with folks who think as we. It’s nice to have friends with benefits, but is that grounds for marriage?

Ted mentioned the confusion of certifying agencies that would be cured by an SCAA/SCAE merger. Every US State issues its own drivers licenses. They are honored state-to-state. Many states have reciprocity for attorneys who are members of the bar in another state. Reciprocity between certified graders, cuppers, baristas and roasters of different associations is easy. Matrimony is hard.

Each of us, in working toward our personal business goals, has discovered the recipe for the secret sauce in our personal quest for the best, and our respectful commitment to farmers and consumers. We share our collective wealth of experience, enthusiasm, and acquired knowledge with the world. At issue today is how best to do that. Should we be partnering with other organizations? Should we be acquiring the operations and assets of other trade associations? Should we be evolving into the grand world coffee authority, and arbiter?

American specialty coffee encompasses a world of diversity now. It surrenders nothing if it chooses to stay independent. 40% of SCAA members are American roasters. These dues paying members are being denied a vote, in a decision that is vital to their interests, because all power is in the hands of the SCAA Board alone. What, I have asked myself, is the benefit in the proposed merger to the small roaster in Danville Virginia? Isn’t that roaster entitled to the answer to that question, along a vote on the future of their trade association?


I wrote a personal letter to each member of the SCAA Board on January 27th. No member, save President Tracy Allen, has acknowledged my letter. No Board member, not even Mr. Allen, has taken the pledge that I put before them asking them to open up the process to a vote and let a super-majority tell the Board, and the rest of us that they approve of the action to merge, and in the mean time to do nothing further on the merger until after the SCAA Event in Atlanta in April.

There is little if any risk in choosing not to merge. We will continue to be who we are; a trade association, doing its level best for our membership; striving to give our fellows value for their membership dollar, while giving the world value without dues by our leading example. There is little if any risk in taking the action to merge. In merger we will continue our broadening activities, and aim for the same laudable goals we do now, plus we will arise as the great lion of specialty coffee throughout the world. That’s nice, but in my mind’s ear I can hear that roaster in Danville, saying, “So what? What about me?”

Ted wrote, in reference to Paul’s views, “As I grow older, it’s comforting to know that some things in life never change.” But Ted is pulling Paul’s leg. Ted understands better than most just how much things have changed. They have changed in coffee, in the world, and they have changed in the minds of those who continue, after all these years, to play a vital role in the thought processes that inspire and drive specialty coffee aims. These lions play with each other’s intellect. Paul throws out the phrase American Exceptionalism as a political grenade, and Ted embraces it as a truism. But, both believe that merger is too important an issue to be left to the Board. The thing is, both Ted and Paul believe deeply in the exceptional dream that American specialty coffee has brought to the world, and they both support a vote by the membership, on the issue of merger. Anecdotally, since Ted brought up Dan Cox’s deciding vote on a previous, not dissimilar issue many years ago, Dan thinks the membership should vote on the issue also.

They are all right.

Donald Schoenholt




You can find a copy of my letter to the SCAA Board members below. -dns


January 27, 2016

Tracy Allen

xxxxxx xxxxxx xxx

xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

xxxxxxx xx xxxxx


Dear Tracy,

Thank you for your service to our SCAA. Without volunteers as your good self, our Association would never have grown to be the internationally significant voice for good coffee, and good coffee people that it has become in the last 34 years.

SCAA has inspired specialty coffee associations around the world. They all look to SCAA as the world leader in specialty coffee education, networking, and promotion. As a good neighbor we share our knowledge with them. At the same time we have always celebrated the unique cultural perspective that makes us American in character as well as in name.

According to a January 21, 2016 An Update on SCAA and SCAE Unification; On January 14, the complete SCAA board met to consider the feasibility study and recommendations from Heart + Mind strategies and the ad hoc working group. The board received the report positively, and agreed to proceed to the next step, a memorandum of understanding with the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe.

Each of you holds the destiny of our trade group in your personal hands. The Tenth paragraph of The SCAA Bylaws puts all power in the hands of the Association Board of Directors, and the officers of the Association. Paragraph 10 section (e)says, The Board of Directors is expressly authorized to make, alter or repeal the Bylaws of this Association by a vote of two-thirds of those present at a Regular Meeting or a Special Meeting called for such purpose or by the unanimous written consent of the entire Board of Directors. There is no other route for amendment. The document gives no instructions regarding merger. The responsibility to act in the best interest of the membership is solely yours.

The membership is made up of thousands of small entrepreneurial businesses stretched across the land and beyond. According to Peter Giuliano, our core membership continuing to be small domestic US roasting companies, while 40% of SCAA Event attendees are from other countries.

There is no question that SCAA has developed a strong international element supporting its biggest money making project of every year, while the unshakable hardcore of the membership remains small roasters who have minds of their own, and a collective will.

SCAE and SCAA have always been close, and they have drawn closer in recent years including sponsoring joint events.

The natural isolation of leadership can make it difficult if not impossible to read the will of the majority you have volunteered to serve. I doubt the earth will shudder if SCAE and SCAA merge, but the only true test of merger as a good idea is to put the deal, and its benefits before the membership, and ask for two-thirds of the eligible voting members of the Association to vote “Yes” on a referendum on the issue. We Americans pride ourselves on our mythic traditions of openness and fair dealing. These attributes go a long way to defuse potential conflict. Have a vote and let a super-majority tell the Board, and the rest of us that they approve of the action to merge. With such a clear mandate all opposition to merger would whither. Only with such an instruction from the rank and file membership should a merger move forward. As with merging, I don’t think the earth will shudder if we choose not to merge.

The Bylaws, are sadly wanting in democratic process. For this reason good people on the Board must take the personal responsibility for good governance of the association in their own hands by inserting democratic values and practices where they are lacking in the written word. It is clear to me, that to avoid potential conflict with groups within the membership, that the issue should not be decided by the Board and officers alone. In the interim, I ask that as a Board member you take a pledge not to vote on a merger until a vote of the membership is taken, and not to take action before the Seattle Event in April.

Thank you for your consideration. I do hope we get the chance to share a cup of coffee together, before SCAA Atlanta, on your next trip to New York.


Donald Schoenholt

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