#62 – How Specialty Coffee enters new markets

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Call this whatever you want – betrayal of the ideals of the specialty coffee community, lack of passion, just overally evil temper – but I will be shamelessly honest with you (as I  have always been doing here, anyway). 

 

It just mesmerizes me HOW specialty coffee enters new markets. And it is an ironic “mesmerizes”.

 

I have seen it various times already.

 

People live peacefully for centuries, pay their cents for a cup of nothing-special-just-normal-coffee (or even tea, in some cases, by the way) – drink their morning cups with their families before going to work, get together with old friends over an espresso to discuss how everybody is doing, use those grandmother moka pots to prepare a coffee for the romantic breakfast for their dearest…

 

In other words, people are busy doing much more important things, socializing mainly, than thinking over a cup of coffee.

 

Coffee is a small part of the whole picture, detail, not the center. It is not an espresso who is the main hero . It is people that we meet while drinking it, or having a break from work, or having a moment of peace and time to think and be alone with your thoughts, or magic of the moment when you enter the bedroom with a breakfast tray on a Sunday morning, and your wife/husband is just waking up, and looks at you with those sleepy eyes, grateful, surprised, loving…

 

And then a bunch of know-it-alls arrives and starts terrorizing everybody about coffee. Saying that they have been doing it all wrong all that time, but now the time came to change, and the transition will go smooth and almost not painful if everybody just stops doing it the way they were doing it before, overnight, and let themselves be taught by the coffee geeks.

 

Taught about something so comforting as their usual cup of coffee.

 

I mean, it IS like that.

 

To tell you more, I’ve been like that, some years ago. Trying to convince my local customers in a small italian restaurant to drink El Salvador. Those poor customers who were perfectly comfortable in all the ways with the italian blend we had. And I was trying to offer them washed catuai that tasted like sour cherries, red apples and brandy. The coffee itself was great, no questions. But all the other things – timing, approach, audience, my understanding of the whole picture – no.

 

Have I really tried doing that? Hell yeah, I did and I was feeling that I have the right to be doing that.

Was it a good idea? Not even for a bit.

 

Although, you know, it was actually good for me, in some sense. I learned that I have no right to teach anybody, until I am asked to do it by those who are interested. Politely suggest something – this is as far as I can go.

 

I understood that the less experience you have, the more you are tempted to “teach everybody”.

 

Sometimes I start to think that specialty coffee geeks should be called “specialty fanatics”. For real. And I am the one who was a “geek” in that sense, so I know what I am talking about.  I mean, honestly – don’t they remind you those guys for whom it is not enough to believe in a certain “god” (coffee in this case) – they have to convince everybody around to believe in the same one? Otherwise they just don’t feel safe.

 

The same with the some coffee guys in the industry.

 

I am writing this to make some peace with myself from the past, and to bring up that problem of lack of focus (and respect).

 

My point is… Probably we don’t need to push so much for Specialty? Maybe it will be easier for everybody if we see Specialty as an exception from the rules, not like a rule?

 

The rule is: people like unsofisticated, simple, approachable coffee that doesn’t distract them from life, and like to pay for it approachable sum of money, and don’t like to spend lots of time making it. As you can see, Specialty does not fit in here. At all.

 

If it is hard for you to imagine how it could be – think about the product you don’t really care about. Something that you buy, use, and don’t think much after. I don’t know, canned tuna, or ham, or cheese for the sandwiches. Ready? This is how 99% of the worlds population thinks about coffee.

 

It is not normal to feel unconfortable with the fact that the majority of people like dark roasted robusta blends. They do. And people love pods. And robusta blends are comfortable because they are. Not shocking, not challenging – just coffee that allows us to focus on other things, and doesn’t cost much. Costs almost nothing.

 

I am talking about it because understanding that is the necessary step that will take us from the point where we got stuck, and allow us to communicate better with the consumer, instead of being enclosed in a small community of “those who know”.

 

Specialty part is just a small part of coffee. It is a nice place to be. We can open the door for the customer, we can show how cool it is inside, how it can be. But in either way, if he enters, or not – it is up to him, and there is no right or wrong in that. There is just Coffee.

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