Friday, January 26, 2007

Tastes Great, Less Filling

It is a great privilege as part of my job to experience the coffee house scene in an assortment of U.S. cities. The dichotomy of consumer preferences, as well as differences in the criteria supporting quality in each market is remarkable. As a coffee professional I have been preaching the virtues of small and special, over those of big and ubiquitous for quite some time. While the main ingredient remains primarily the same, the care it is shown from seed to cup has become increasingly apparent and with greater results. When asked by coffee shop owners why they should make sometimes very difficult changes, I try hard to justify my recommendations with information that is relevant outside the fanatical coffee sub-culture to which I proudly belong. You see, as much as I want to see the end of the 20oz latte, it is hard for a business owner to swallow the rational of my opinion when it is merely based on “because it is better”. Common arguments from sometimes struggling proprietors include statements like “my customers demand it”, or “I have to compete with Starbucks”.

I try to respond in a constructive and supportive way, explaining how the preparation and subsequent taste satisfaction of a much smaller drink will almost certainly quell any concerns a customer may have about overall size. If explained with deft and a touch of charisma, it is not too difficult to share how a smaller, better pulled shot of espresso will carry with it much more flavor, and all of the caffeine, than one can expect from a long, thin, or over extracted one that merely fills up a larger portion of the bottom of a big gulp cup. If given a spoonful of sweet, silky, foamed milk, a barista or owner can easily taste for themselves the benefits of preparation over volume. And what owner isn’t happy to learn that it could be possible to eliminate an inventory item that is otherwise unnecessary, and instantly increase the profit margin on their most popular drink?

Taking chances is scary. Making recommendations is easy. Palpable results are satisfying. I have grown more certain every month about the ability for customers to respond to positive changes, whether they know they are or not. Better is better. If a coffee house makes taste improvements, one of three reactions can frequently be expected from customers.

1.They notice the changes and care why, therefore increasing their awareness, support, and patronage of the shop.

2.They notice the changes and don’t care why, but know that their freakin’ latte has been awfully good lately.

3.They don’t notice anything, but find themselves craving a drink more than before. Thereby securing in their minds the desire to patronize the shop regardless of competition.

Any way you look at it, the experience has benefits for everyone involved. Please remove 20oz drinks from your menu. Pretty please...... And what about those16 ouncers? Do you really need those either?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Little Changes

I noticed a week or so ago that some of the precious leaves on the propagated coffee plants were turning yellow around the edges and falling off. I was a bit concerned at first, but then I thought about it a bit. It must take a lot of energy to support leaves of that size, and of course the new plants have very small roots. It must be very hard for those roots to get water and nutrients into the leaves. I also thought that the mature leaves are probably taking away from the new growth. I let it go a few more days. I returned from a trip to see the remaining leaves wilting and dry.

It was time. I carefully cut the mature leaves off, as close to the new sprouting leaves as I could. I had recently removed the small plants from the "greenhouse" I built. I think now that was a bit premature, so back in they are go.

The larger transplanted and pruned trees had been worrying me for a while. They show no signs of sprouting any leaves, and I was growing concerned that the major surgery was just too much, and maybe they were dying. I was very happy to see when I picked a touch at the bark with my thumbnail, that a soft and moist layer of green flesh was just below the surface. Seems I should be a bit more patient, and remember that it is winter. Although inside my house the plants are safe, the dry 68 degree air is not conducive of new growth. Yet another reason to put the small plants back in a warm, moist environment.