How to deal with expectations when introducing specialty coffee to the average coffee drinker.
First specialty coffee is something that has to be defined:
In 2012 Tracy Ging Director of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility of the SCAA presented results from a study that is tracing the connection between the coffee companies and the specialty drinkers. The study is conducted with focus on Portland and Los Angeles and tries to define the specialty coffee consumer and what is specialty coffee according to them (for the video click here). Very interesting talk, but when we leave aside the people who don’t know what specialty is about, I’m amazed at how vague the definition of specialty coffee remains. The specialty drinkers could pinpoint only some of the taste and flavor attributes of specialty coffee and didn’t really know much about it. Yes, this study was conducted three years ago in the States, things have changed since then, and it doesn’t make much sense to compare it with the situation now here in Switzerland, but here it is as important to define specialty coffee as it is there. Specialty coffee is the same thing, it’s only people’s mentality and perception that change.
I think it is the approach to the potential specialty consumers that matters the most. It is about showing them what coffee can be like and rising the awareness for it without educating them.
The primary goal of specialty coffee is to produce something out of the ordinary, something exceeding the normal levels, something that doesn’t need sugar or milk to taste good. Of course it’s absolutely up to the customer/consumer to put whatever they like in one’s espresso or filter coffee and here is where awareness should be built. Do they know that this filter’s fruity notes might not make a great combination with milk? Not every coffee works with additives. For example, I like The Barn’s approach towards this issue – when a customer comes in, the barista asks him weather he/she wants a coffee with milk or something black. That’s where the choice for an espresso beverage or a filter coffee is made. If the customer gets a filter coffee and still asks for milk, then the barista takes back the filter coffee and offers them an espresso beverage instead, because it was their, The Barn’s fault for the misunderstanding. I am not saying their system is flawless, it’s just the best one I’ve seen by now.
It’s not right to get into a specialty coffee shop, and not to be informed about how special the coffee you’re just about to drink is. Traceability and transparency are part of specialty coffee’s characteristics and it is the barista’s job to convey them to the customer in appropriate way. This way changes with every customer that’s why the interpersonal skills are so important in working as a barista. I’m not sure till what point do the baristi realize the power they have over the customer’s experience. They can set the tone, guide the customer, tell them what to expect and so enhance their experience. When a person enters a coffee shop, they already have expectations on how coffee should taste, how coffee should look like. Maybe if specialty coffee had a different name than coffee it would have been easier. This way people would know it is something different and wouldn’t expect anything from it, but for now the baristi are the ones that have to do the hardest work – explaining why should a person pay a higher price for a coffee that even doesn’t taste like coffee. And there’s no milk, damn it…