This is a recent post I made on the discussion board at Barista Exchange. I just thought I’d republish it here because I feel what I express within the post will help shape how I proceed from here in my attempt to establish my own identity within the retail end of the coffee industry.

Just a little something I’ve been thinking about recently. I hope not to ignite any kind of flame war because I know, first hand, how intense things can get on here, just please, bear with me.

I am a self-professed music nerd, movie nerd, political nerd and a coffee nerd. I make no bones about the things I geek out about. When I hear news that my favorite band is working on a new record I mark the days on my calendar until that release date. When my favorite film director is working on a new film I try to be first in line when that film hits theaters. Now, as I’ve developed into a big time coffee nerd, I’ve bitten hard on staying up with all the gadgets and geekery that go along with this thing we love.

Recently, I’ve started a business in Gothenburg, Sweden with the primary goal of opening a specialty coffee-focused coffee house. Gothenburg is a very blue collar town and the people here have fairly simple tastes (I don’t mean that in a bad way.) To paraphrase an old Denis Leary bit, they love their “coffee-flavored coffee.” This means that Italian-style cafés who specialize in strong, primarily robusta do quite well. Despite operating within this marketplace Da Matteo has managed to build a strong brand name while roasting their own carefully selected specialty coffee. In Gothenburg, DaMatteo is the exception to the rule. It is essentially the ONLY specialty coffee shop in the city and, frustratingly, none of the city’s other most popular cafés seem to be even remotely interested in keeping up.

The reason for this is quite simple. The customers don’t really demand it so why should they bother? People have bills to pay, rent due. I understand that if you’re doing something that works, why bother switching up when there is no outside pressure to do so? I don’t necessarily AGREE with that but I understand it. I have no intention of opening yet another Italian-style café in Gothenburg. My company, First Degree Coffee, will feature high quality coffee, carefully prepared by hand and made to order. This may sound like no big deal to many of you because that’s probably what you’ve been doing in your shops for years now. In Gothenburg, however, this is a pretty big deal considering that in 90% of the shops you go into, if you ask for a regular coffee you’re going to get an Americano.

What does any of this have to do with you? Well, I suppose my overall point is that you and I may have no problem talking about “terroir” or extraction ratios. Or perhaps there’s nothing strange to you about weighing your morning coffee.

To our customers, though, these things probably don’t mean diddly squat.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that before we all get too caught up in ourselves and the crazy science that makes working in this profession quite exhilarating, let’s not forget that none of us would be anywhere in this business if not for the fact that SOMEbody actually has to buy our product. For most people, it’s just coffee. It’s just a method of delivery of caffeine. Many of my closest friends totally get that I’m a coffee geek but they don’t really get WHY. I try to explain what the difference is between my Hario dripper, my Bee House dripper and my AeroPress but it usually ends up in shrugs.

So, instead of focusing on trying to sell the technique or hitting our customers over the head with intimidating terminology there’s one thing that we are all perfectly capable of selling: our enthusiasm. Our customers don’t really have to know the exact flavor profile of the latest coffee but what may be the best thing is to just emphasize what it is that YOU, the barista, love about. Make it personal and people will be more willing to follow.

Again, I won’t sit here and pretend that I’ve discovered the ultimate answer to being a successful coffee pro. I guess it was a bit of a revelation that I had (just today!) and wanted to share it with all of you. My apologies in advance to anyone who reads this and feels some what insulted. I don’t feel I said anything insulting but in the world of internet discussion boards one has to walk a very tight rope and have a very thick skin. Either way, I’m very interested in seeing what you all think!

 

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