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Serving Up Coffee with a Story

Today I stopped into my local coffee shop. I ordered a cup of the "house blend," excited to see if I would be pleased with the product and proclaim myself a loyal customer. I inquired further, as the store was rather empty and I figured the barista would have a little extra time to converse with an obviously interested customer. "What constitutes your house blend?" I asked, hoping to hear ratios of different origins. With a rather baffled approach, she explained to me that the "house blend" was a blend of different beans. Well, thank you...I can now leave an informed coffee drinker, I think to myself quite sarcastically.

I know the retail establishment well. I am aware they do their own roasting for the 5 shops they have scattered throughout the Greater New York Area. I also know the owner and roastmaster take a great deal of personal pride in their selections, working closely with their importer, traveling to origin and experimenting with roast profiles. If I was not the Editor of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, if I had not conversed with individuals from this particular roaster/retailer establishment at numerous conventions, if I had not googled their name and conducted research on my spare time, I would have no inkling of their "seed to cup" mentality.

I thought about calling the owner. Telling him the unfortunate news that all the hard work he put into building his "relationship coffee" portfolio, all the hours he spent in his sweltering roasting facility have basically been for naught. The information was not making into the hands (or cups) of the customer. The knowledge was not being transferred. And the only person to blame was the barista who poured my morning cup of Joe.

In an industry with so many links on its chain, encompassing aspects from agricultural and industrial to scientific and artisan, perhaps it's possible that the barista's role is highly underestimated. I am aware the decisions of personal relationships, certifications and roast trials are not for marketing purposes. These are choices that are made for the better of the industry and of your company, but this does not mean that these choices should not be common knowledge to every John Smith that buys your beans. The consumers want (and deserve) to know if your roastmaster has visited the exact farm that supplies your Sumatra. If you have photos with the farmer and his family harvesting beans in Brazil. If you had tried 18 different roasts for your house blend until you found the one that was just right. In my experience, the customer will pay a little bit more money for a product with a story.

This story starts internally, ensuring each and every employee knows the accurate and compelling information. Because if they are not kept in the loop, how are the expected to convey your messages? Our Brand Coaches, Lon LaFlamme and David Morris write on this important topic in this month's column titled: Baristas to the Rescue...Again! Moving from Order Takers to Profit Makers (page 24). Whether you are a roaster, retailer or any other company in the tea or coffee field, it is important to spread the background information amongst your staff and encourage them to relay that story to every customer to walk through your doors.

Alexis Rubinstein
Editor-in-Chief



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Tea & Coffee - December, 2009

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