Dean Kallivrousis is Ally Coffee's sales and account manager for the Midwest and Rocky Regions. He began his coffee career in 2010 as a Starbucks barista, and since then has held an impressive range of roles including barista, wholesale manager, and Q Grader.

Dean has competed in and judged US coffee competitions from latte art to roasting, He has been with Ally Coffee for the last three years."

I love coffee and I love the coffee community at large" says Dean. "It is the community that has sustained me in my ups and downs. It has helped me find myself and I feel like it's my people."

This is the third installment in a Q&A series with Dean Kallivrousis. We did the q&a over Instagram DM in April 2019, and shared the convo via screenshots. The convo is saved in my Instagram highlights, and the full transcript is below.

UM: Dean hi! Thank you so much for talking with me again!

DK: Thank you Umeko 🙏🏼It’s always a treat!

UM: I feel the same!

DK: 😭

UM: For this convo I’d like to start out by addressing the current state of specialty coffee as it faces the green coffee pricing crisis. Folks have been talking about this for a long time, but recently we hit an inflection point (thanks in large part to folks like yourself on social media!) and it’s finally become a topic that many more coffee pros are taking seriously. 

With this, naturally there also comes a lot of confusion! There is a lot of new information for a lot of people, and I think many people want to do the right thing but just aren’t sure where to start.

So I’d like to begin by first saying - in my opinion there is no silver bullet solution here. This is where a lot of arguments can start, when folks are not recognizing how multi-pronged of an approach is needed! 

DK: It honestly gives me a lot of hope, that we begin talking, exploring, and experimenting. And I agree that it can be extremely difficult to navigate.

UM: You mentioned to me that you’ve been reading about the single-exit fallacy. Can you tell me more about that?

DK: The single-exit fallacy is a story about a burning theatre. And as the crowd becomes aware they all run for the single exit, and this is great for the first people who are closest to the exit, but over time the crowd begins to become less congested and that single exit becomes less and less valuable for those further back over time. 

This was an example brought up by Dr. Janina Grabs during this year’s Re:Co [Symposium], in regards to upgrading (coffee producers attempting to enter into the certified and specialty market) by upgrading their coffees and practices at the farm level.

UM: So then sticking with this analogy do we see a choke point develop?

DK: I think so. Dr. Grabs points it out with certified coffees. In 2017, it was the first time we saw a decrease in the purchase of certified coffees. Specialty coffee is a bit tough to track but in my experience I think it is becoming much more difficult for producers who want to enter the specialty market to escape the fire of the chronically low coffee futures pricing. 

It’s not clear when a choke point will develop always. And Dr. Grabs mentions that fallacy of certifications was an overestimation of how large that single exit was for producers (supply outpaces demand).

She mentions that specialty has been the continuation of the certification legacy, but the differentiation for specialty has almost solely been quality. Does that makes sense?

UM: I think so, let me repeat it back to see if I’ve got it. So it sounds like she is saying that certifications were believed to be an exit solution that many farmers could participate it - but certifications will usually be outweighed by the flavor and quality preferences of specialty buyers. Am I hearing that correctly?

DK: I think she’s thinking of them as two separate markets (although there’s very clear overlap at times). It’s like certifications were version 1.0 of an escape plan, and specialty is version 2.0.

UM: Oh I see, that makes sense. Thank you for explaining that!

DK: Awesome 😊

UM: And this framework is what I basically see as specialty’s existing framework that is painfully in the midst of trying to upgrade. Since incentivizing for quality ignores the fact that ‘regular’ 85-point coffees take a ton of work and expense to produce, and they make up the bulk of what coffee farmers are wanting to bring to the specialty market - 

It doesn’t really help to “cherry-pick” a few bags of the most cost-intensive coffees, like geshas and/or experimental lots. This is where I see new movements like @transparency.coffee (The Pledge) encouraging buyers to rethink this framework. And this is an example of a movement that I see as a work in progress, which they themselves acknowledge - and part of a multi-pronged approach. 

DK: Completely. Like how we buy/sell coffee. If we are looking to make the greatest impact on coffee producers and workers, then the totality of what is produced by a single producer or group should be looked at, and not just what a buyer needs for their single origin lineup. 

And that’s not to throw any shade. Buyers are working exceedingly hard in an ocean of coffees to find the coffees that will give them the edge against their competitors and what will resonate with consumers.

UM: Totally! So this is where I’d like us to locate this conversation: in the middle of the ocean. So to speak lol.

DK: LOL! That’s legit how it feels a lot of the time.

UM: I feel like coffee buyers are reaching maps but then other people are saying “No that’s the wrong map.” But they’re just different routes a lot of the time. 

DK: YES. While being tugged by currents and storms.

UM: Yea! So let’s talk about some of the pressures that roasters and coffee buyers are facing, and I want to try to depressurize some of these conversations.

  Let’s start with Pay More For Coffee.

What will happen next?! Stay tuned for next time!

Want to read the first installment? Check it out here.

Second installment is here.

Fourth installment is here.