Barista Magazine

JUN-JUL 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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GOOD COFFEE TASTES GOOD, RIGHT? How much convincing could possibly be necessary to get people who already drink coffee to seek out, buy, and enjoy better cups of something they're already drinking? If the last 10 to 15 years of specialty-coffee marketing is to be believed, however, apparently it takes a lot of not only convincing, cajol- ing, and converting, but also heaps and heaps of teaching and tutoring in order to get customers in our doors and on our side. "Educating the consumer" is a phrase we toss around a lot in industry circles, and seemingly everyone—all the way from the barista at the shop to the business owners to the trade media—is in constant pursuit of the language and the lessons that will fi nally close the knowledge gap between coffee drinkers and coffee makers. In order to fully appreciate the amazing single-origins and perfectly extracted espressos we are selling, we feel compelled to explain every aspect of coffee to whoever is standing on the other side of the counter or the other side of the online shopping cart. If you don't know what the origin, cultivar, processing method, elevation, farmer's name, or brewing specs are, can you ever be expected to fully experience your drink? What if—and we know this is a big what if, so you might want to sit down—the consumer doesn't want, or even need to be educated? Fur- thermore, what if we're the ones missing out on the lesson here, so busy and buried in the details that we stop listening to the very people who are the foundation of our business, the customers who keep our lights on and our espresso machines humming? For the duration of this article, we ask our readers to allow the tables to be turned, and to sit in the student's seat for a moment. Who knows? We might all actually learn something in the process. W H O A R E O U R C U S T O M E R S ? One of the most fundamental pieces of information any business owner needs to discover and understand is, of course, who their customers are—both the actual bodies walking through the doors, as well as the ones who walk past without stopping, the "potential" customers who we want and even need to capture in order to grow our busi- ness, and to grow the specialty-coffee market, in general. Along with that central piece of information is a very basic and very harmful assumption that we often make as we design our products and open our doors: If we build it, surely they will come … right? Maybe they will and maybe they won't: The latter is more likely if we build something without fi rst taking the time to fi nd out what these proverbial customers want, which is the fi rst thing they have to teach us. "I opened Dottie's the same week our economy got labeled as a recession, so that was intense," says Jessica Rufo, owner of Dottie's Coffee Lounge in Pittsfi eld, Mass. Dottie's opened in 2007, when even a bigger city like Boston was still slowly climbing on the specialty-cof- fee bandwagon, let alone smaller communities like Jessica's Western Massachusetts hometown. "I wanted to serve extremely 'unfriendly' coffee to a community that didn't even know how to say latte. I wanted to serve one size, no fl avors, no Splenda, no this, no that—I wanted it to be pure and I wanted to educate everyone [on] how special and dynamic coffee is," she says. "But then I realized this wasn't about me, it was about the community, which was my driving inspiration for even wanting to open a coffee shop." Quickly, those circumstances inspired Jessica to make a radical change in her philosophy. "I stopped rolling my eyes when people asked for peanut-butter mochas, and I made my own syrups instead. This way I could feel passionate and proud about what I was serving. And if someone wanted a 16-ounce ginormous latte, I made it for them, took their money, and was happy about it!" One approach to letting our customers educate us is to reframe the questions we ask them as we're getting to know them, building their trust, and fi nding out their preferences. Instead of, "What can I get you?" even something as simple as asking, "What would you like?" has the potential to open a dialogue that goes beyond a menu (and certainly beyond tasting notes and terroir) to get to the heart of what your cus- tomer is craving—and, ultimately, what she will happily pay for. Sometimes, the most important thing customers can teach us is that while we might obsess over the coffee itself, they're often looking for something different altogether—something not as tangible or even as tasty as the products that we pour and peddle. In the past decade, the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) and its predecessor organization the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) released the results of long-term research undertaken in an attempt to understand specialty-coffee consumers as well as coffee drinkers who were not considered along the "specialty" spectrum. What the interviews, focus groups, artistic, and journal-based studies found was that for the majority of people, "coffee" encompasses more than just what's in their mugs. "Drinking coffee is viewed as a rite of passage," Tracy Ging reported at a Re:co Symposium talk about these results in 2013—like falling in love for the fi rst time. "For younger consumers, it's not really the coffee that's driving them, it's more of a sense of like, 'I'm going to go hang out with my friends.'" They use romantic and effusive words to describe their feelings about coffee; they use coffee as a passport to an experi- ence they don't get at home or at the offi ce. "Customers have taught me that many people come to coffee shops not just because they like or love coffee, but because they want to be known," says Hadassah Wilson, director of education for Square One Coffee Roasters based out of Lancaster, Pa. "They've taught me that I must step outside of myself to properly serve them and to create an experience that exceeds expectations." N E E D - T O - K N O W B A S I S ? David Dobrick opened Late for the Train Coffee in Flagstaff, Ariz., after spending several years learning coffee from the one and only Alfred Peet, famed forefather of specialty coffee. A clerk for Peet's back then, David was given a lesson so simple and so straightforward that he never forgot it. "The fi rst time coffee really 'got' me, I was in a cupping with Alfred. To learn to discern that and to understand this standard of qual- ity that he wanted to present to his customers was so important." David was inspired and (perhaps rightly) intimidated. "I asked him, 'Where can I go to learn all of this?' and he pointed to a cup of coffee and said, 'Everything there is to learn is right there.'" Letting the coffee speak for itself seems to be one of the hardest things for those of us who are so captivated by the nuance and detail " I T R U LY B E L I E V E T H AT I N N O - VAT I O N I N T H E S E R V I C E R E A L M O F C O F F E E R E Q U I R E S T H AT W E L I S T E N T O O U R C U S T O M E R S . " — H A D A S S A H W I L S O N , S Q U A R E O N E C O F F E E R O A S T E R S 78 barista magazine

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