2017-04-15

Specialty Coffee Service Architecture

"This coffee is two months old."
"I'd drink it. I'm shameless."
"I can't serve it."
"I would, as long as I didn't qualify it as anything it's not."
"..."
"Clear the stock. And always be honest."

The reasoning behind this is pretty straightforward. Specialty coffee is served carte blanche. Usually, you don't charge extra when it comes out especially good, and you don't charge less when it comes out especially bad. (I would like to - we don't have a crew that can handle that yet - price-value optimisation isn't quite on the tip of their tongues at the moment.) The age of a coffee isn't the variable that determines what value you should place on in-cup quality. If you buy an expensive coffee, brew it fresh, and it sucks, you shouldn't serve it - the age is irrelevant to what you choose to serve.

I actually don't think some of our coffees are very good. But that's exactly why I keep ordering them. They're boring, and when they swing left and right, it's pretty meh anyway, no matter what we do to it.

Then again, meh is like my dominant emotion. So it's not a good idea to take my word for what's interesting and what's not, in this world. Haha.

You may question if this is a good attitude to be taking towards specialty coffee. My approach to the industry is to hypothesise that:

(i) No matter how special your coffee, most consumers won't "get it" and pay a premium for it at the brewing level; I agree with a client of mine whose point of view was that you have to become a coffee farmer or sourcer before you start to control real value in quality of coffee - he wants to go there, I don't - therefore my main business, as a coffee retailer, is hospitality, not coffee quality. Real, hard, quality, is completely out of reach/scope.

(ii) What is called specialty at the brewing level now, may be cool, but it's not actually hard, and will eventually become so commonplace that no one is going to notice that it was ever very special. In fact, this will happen faster than it will take to churn up margins in this space. So why waste time building temporary and false value? Our real business is to become good at delivering a complete experience, not to split hairs on brewing parameters. Brewing parameters of the highest quality have to be treated as trivial, and should be considered a demonstration of a staff's completion of basic training... it is not hard to brew good coffee. It is hard to find coffee that is worth brewing. It is better to make a big deal of the complete customer experience, wherein a well calibrated cup of coffee is as trivial as a clean toilet. It can be brewed automatically, it can be brewed by hand; as long as it's good, the cup doesn't care.

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