company - education - coffee

Friday, May 25, 2007

Fresh bread and fresh coffee

Assume you, like a lot of us, grew up on wonder bread. Thin sliced and completely devoid of unique character. Now take it a step further and say you were eating wonder bread your whole life having only a limited selection of other breads which were also mass produced factory baked loaves. White, wheat, and 'hamburger buns' were your entire selection in the local grocer. You would become quite accustomed to toasting those limp lifeless slices and slathering them with all kinds of toppings so it won't be so 'dry.'

One day you come across a little artisan bakery. The flour is milled locally, the ingredients are farm fresh, and you go in to order some bread on a whim. The selection is overwhelming. Olive breads, focaccia, names and descriptions you don't begin to understand. It's just bread right, you think to yourself, why is it so complicated? You settle on a nice looking loaf of olive bread, ahh but it's not sliced like your wonder bread, what to do? You think to yourself, how do you toast this thing, because you are supposed to toast breads, right? Now what do you do for that BLT with extra mayo you had planned to go on a dry piece of toast?

What would be a normal reaction to this new experience? Rejection? Curiosity? Confusion?

This is an analogy for what happens in coffee. People walk into one of the few higher end or simply good coffee shops selling fresh roasted higher grade coffees and possibly single origin coffees and may be overwhelmed. These people tend to initially push for what's familiar to them and reject the rest so having options that don't involve whip cream and syrups while being offered something different may not appeal... at first. Coffee is coffee to them and the real estate for their laptop is possibly their biggest priority at the moment but that could change if they take the time to pay attention to what's in their cup. It's difficult for anyone who is newly introduced to a different view of coffee. Coffee has a pyramid of quality that is forming and not all coffee is on the same level. It's not the branding and marketing alone that define the offerings like in the chain stores, it may be the coffee itself that is the difference. Sure, you may go into Dunkin Donuts and get a 'regular coffee' which ironically comes doused in cream and sugar. Though, if you ask for a regular in a high end shop, they will ask you what origin and won't put condiments in it for you. They may even get offended if you do! You could go into Starbucks and get your well toasted coffees which are well past being fresh. Much like fresh bread though, coffee doesn't need to be so toasty if it's good quality and still fresh.

From a barista's perspective, the irony is there will always be that customer who comes in and knows you care about coffee who says, 'I love coffee' but in the next breath says 'I can't have it without cream or sugar.' In some cases, that's like telling the bakery you love bread but you intend to cover that olive bread in mayo for a BLT. It doesn't make sense because the fact is there are coffees that are fit for cream and there are some that simply are not. It would be ludicrous to drink bitter or lower grade coffees without cream and sugar but it would also be just as ludicrous to drink an expensive high grade one with those condiments.

I would offer that most customers who frequent the large chains have neither had a fresh roasted coffee nor had an ideally roasted coffee before. Like wonder bread, it will always be the same, but maybe that's not a good thing for everyone.