One discussion on speciality coffee

Having recently linked to an article by James Hoffmann (What message do I want to send?), and a subsequent response written in reply by Tim Williams (Mayfielder), I was keen to read the next chapter in the discussion, a follow-up post, again by Hoffmann.

Selling speciality coffee

Hoffman’s original topic? What it means to try to educate consumers, and “sell” for want of a better term, speciality coffee, the assumption being that such coffee is indeed, superior to what many consumers currently purchase and drink. For example:

The problem with selling what we have as “better” is that it requires the consumer accepting that what they are currently buying, drinking and enjoying is an inferior product.

The overall tone of the article was aimed squarely at the end consumer. The customer who buys, brews and drinks…, well, whatever they currently drink, which in many cases, would not be considered speciality coffee. As all final thoughts probably should do, Hoffmann’s closing sums things up pretty well:

What those of us in speciality coffee offer isn’t necessarily unilaterally better coffee, but amongst our offerings are lots of coffee someone will probably enjoy more than what they’re drinking now.

As I mentioned in my previous link, the response from Williams, I thought, probably interpreted Hoffmann’s words a little differently. Writing a response in disagreement, whilst conceding it is critical for speciality coffee purveyors to acknowledge consumers entry points to such coffee, also stated:

There is a difference between good coffee and bad. There is a point at which people who have chosen to position and market themselves and their products as elevated in quality, price, taste, experience must deliver on the promises they make to those consumers.

Williams continues, explaining how, in many cases, sub-standard coffee is being marketed in exactly the same way as vastly superior speciality coffee.

In further follow-up, another post by Hoffmann (Quality and customers), seeks (and probably achieves) to clarify his position, highlighting again there are probably two facets to his original.

Some thoughts

Myself? I tend to agree with both points of view, simply because in my experience (note here reader, a decidedly non industry viewpoint), I see examples of both, and further, I think there is also scope for improvement in both points of view in this discussion.

As far as quality within the industry is concerned, well, that is for the industry, and I have never put forward the notion that I, as a consumer (an enthusiastic home roasting and brewing consumer mind you), would (or should) have anything to offer experts within that very industry.

From a customer perspective however, things are different. As I have alluded to in previous posts, if we accept certain cafés are third wave or serving speciality coffee in any city, these continue to be far outnumbered by those which are not.

Every day, fellow colleagues walk into my office with takeaway cups ranging from 7-Eleven, McDonalds, Starbucks, varying juice bars, and any of the local cafés which by any definition, are not serving what I would call speciality coffee.

These people are intelligent enough, so why are they drinking what they are drinking? For some, I’m sure the price has an allure. For others, I believe they simply don’t care that much, and are quite happy with whatever is closest and the “I like that one better than this one” approach. Seeing an A-Frame touting the latest Guatemalan on offer with its cocoa, brown sugar and plum tasting notes does nothing for so, so many people.

Visiting a speciality coffee establishment with anyone who is yet to experience one, invariably leads to comments about how nice the coffee is, often to the point of “that’s the nicest coffee I’ve ever had” or similar. The next day, that same person is yet again walking in with their takeaway cup bearing the golden arches logo. Why? Because to them, it still does not matter enough to pay a little more for their coffee or walk a little further to get it.

Then there are those of us looking to further our knowledge, understanding, and palates in relation to the world of speciality coffee. As time goes on, this group becomes a little bigger.

I believe Hoffmann’s original post was referring to the entry point for members of this group, who, with a warm welcome and a little guidance rather than judgement, will realise themselves just how much better speciality coffee is, and be willing to walk an extra half-block with a little more money to enjoy the experience.

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