Alon Halevy and the Development of the Coffee Scout Project

As many of you know, we at Barista Magazine recently released our new free app and web map called Coffee Scout. The Coffee Scout Project began with our friend, and coffee author, Alon Halevy, who approached us with his idea for a way to find good cafes when he travels. We immediately got on board since we especially liked his idea of a crowd-built database since it represents to us some of the best aspects of specialty coffee: openness, inclusivity and community. (If you haven’t added your café yet, you can do it right here!)

As the database (and therefore the map continues to rapidly grow) we had a chance to talk with Alon recently about the Coffee Scout Project.

BMag: What was your original idea for the global coffee map (aka Coffee Scout)? Do you remember a specific time or place where you wanted to have an app like Coffee Scout?

Alon: My day job at Google is about data, data and data. I have a passion for enabling people to get the right data when they need it. What can be more important than finding a great cafe when you’re in need?

The specific idea for Coffee Scout came about when Barista Magazine asked their followers on Facebook to post names of great cafes. I was afraid this data would be lost forever in my Facebook stream and wanted to put it in a database I can view on my phone. I also happen to be responsible for the perfect tool for this kind of app — Google Fusion Tables.

BMag: Why was it important to you to build a database that was open (ie. the crowdsourced model)? (This may have been more on our end than yours… but I think it reflects a lot of the specialty coffee ethos of transparency, community, etc. Not to put words in your mouth!)

Alon: It would have been impractical to build Coffee Scout and keep it up to date without the participation of the community.   Of course, the ethos of transparency in coffee should also translate into transparency in data. I’m hoping Coffee Scout can serve as a first example of collecting data that is valuable to the coffee community.

To know him is to love him: here's Alon with the beautiful book he wrote, The Infinite Emotions of Coffee, available here:
To know him is to love him: here’s Alon with the beautiful book he wrote, The Infinite Emotions of Coffee, available here:

BMag: You’ve written a book about coffee and coffee culture around the world, do you see the Coffee Scout app as an extension of that? If so, how?

Alon: In writing the Infinite Emotions of Coffee, I fell in love with this community and wanted to continue contributing to it. Since I’m done writing books for a while, I thought I’d do something closer to my real expertise.

BMag: When where and why did you get involved in coffee? Why is it such a fascinating subject to you that you’d travel the world to find out more about it?

Alon: My involvement with coffee started at the age of 2, when my grandfather thought that sipping a boiling cup of Turkish coffee together would be a great way to bond.

Many years later, when my job started involving a lot of travel for speaking engagements, I realized that I’m being drawn to cafes everywhere I go, because that’s where I got to really experience the local culture. I decided to write a book on the relationship between culture and coffee, created a Google map with 30 countries to visit, and started executing.

BMag: Why did you build the app first for the Apple App Store and when can we expect Coffee Scout for Android?

Alon: I’ve been to too many gatherings with coffee folks where I was the only one without an iPhone… for some reason, the dominance of Android in the market does not seem to apply to the coffee folk. The Android version of Coffee Scout is coming very soon!

BMag: Any truth that when Coffee Scout is released for Android it will also come preinstalled in Google Glass so you’ll never go without quality coffee again?

Alon: Actually, when you’re waiting for coffee, the Barista Scout app on Glass follows the barista and automatically fills out a WBC score sheet. The data is collected and used by Google HR  to identify candidates for staffing our internal cafes. I’m not at liberty to discuss the details, but I recommend not changing facial hair too often during this trial because it confuses the face recognition on the device.

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