Welcome to day 5 of 30. Hard to believe it has been almost a week since I started doing this. I want to start off today to say that my thoughts are with friends and colleagues who live in Puerto Rico, Florida, and the whole area in the path of Hurricane Irma. We have just been donating to and supporting the Houston community after this last hurricane, and now we are already bracing for another. Be safe my friends!
Today I took an Uber ride on my way to the airport, and I started talking with my driver Arnulfo. It was the usual talk about travel and what I'm doing in town, but as soon as I mentioned working in the coffee industry he had a lot to say. This conversation inspired my first topic today. As we were talking Arnulfo told me he loved coffee, but he just can't afford to buy it in the fancy cafes. So he just buys a bag of Starbucks and has them grind it and he makes coffee at home. His perception (maybe rightly so) is that the fancy cafe beans are too expensive since the drinks are $4-5 already.
I mentioned a couple of brands to check out that might actually be cheaper and taste better than Starbucks at the same time. While Arnulfo's point of view is perhaps a little misguided, it is far from uncommon. Many non coffee people look at us like we are the biggest weirdos in the world. Coffee geeks are almost like religious fanatics preaching the gospel of Specialty coffee, judging the unrighteous for their sins at the chain coffee drive-thru. Not only do they think we take coffee WAY too seriously, we also charge more money for a product that they don't fully understand the difference in.
To be sure, tasting a shot of specialty vs commercial coffee side by side shows a huge difference in character (I said character, not necessarily superior flavor). But how often do people taste these differences side by side? Do you think they spend more than 5 minutes a day contemplating the nature of anything about coffee? The unfortunate reality is that coffee is still a functional beverage to them. They need caffeine in the morning so they can think and get on with the day.
I do too.
I do think that high dollar specialty coffee and lower cost functional coffee can and should both exist. Functional coffee doesn't have to be commodity grade. There are plenty of rather inexpensive specialty scoring coffees that can be used either alone or as a blend to create a pretty good taste experience. The price per cup can still be between $2-3 to fill that niche. The point is that I don't need a 92 point Kenya first thing in the morning most of the time. I need something that is generally "good" and unoffensive.
Another thing that I am seeing is that many "Specialty" cafes, big and small, are not really preparing a superior coffee. We have created all of the marketing to convince people we have a different product, and in base quality we might. The problem is that between bean selection, roasting technique, and preparation, we are swinging for the fences and letting go of the bat. Can we really continue to justify $4 or $5 for a cup of coffee if it is not clearly better than the $2 cup of coffee down the street? WE MUST SERVE A SUPERIOR PRODUCT in order to differentiate and justify higher prices.
Interestingly, many people feel that they are serving a superior product but it is not quite so clear to see. These people are often times equating hard work sourcing and trying to find special coffee with value in the customer perception. It doesn't matter if you spend 6 months or 6 minutes sourcing your coffee, if the customer doesn't taste the difference easily they probably won't care how long you worked on it. (*note - They might care. They just might not understand how it is actually different)
Next up, let's talk about events.
Yesterday I mentioned staying focused and not allowing distractions take you out of your zone. Thinking further on this I had a thought go through my head. The world is crammed with coffee events, and every social media post makes me feel like I am missing the best thing that ever happened. There are seemingly a hundred events in every corner of the world, and they all seem like a fun new exciting opportunity. These events always pull me toward them thinking "Why am I not in Romania right now??"
The truth is that so much of these events are a distraction from getting true business work done. Just here in the US, there is SCAA, multiple CoffeeFest events, New York Coffee Festival, CoffeeCon, Bloom events, Barista camps, Qualifying competitions, Preliminary competitions, and who knows what else (Scott Rao fan club meetings? I really don't know).
As I have become more business focused over the years I have been finding that the more events I go to the less work I get done. I don't want to say there are just too many events each year, but there are far too many for a person to pay attention to. Just like with the rest of business, you need to plan a schedule, stick to a timeline, and avoid too many distractions. Of course it is hard to walk a trade show without bumping in to someone I know, but I have been working on only socializing a short time before excusing myself.
So I want you to learn from my difficulties. Create and stick to a schedule, keep your focus on primary business goals, and don't let distractions lead you away from your purpose of being at the event you attend. I wish you the best of luck on that, as it is a far tougher task than most people think!
Well, those are my thoughts for today. I hope you have a lovely weekend. Don't forget to reach out and help those who are affected by the hurricanes here in the US!
Thanks as always,