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Taking the tech out

October 9, 2010

This is just a quick opinion share prompted by some recent comments from coffee people, which helped crystalise some thoughts of mine.

For the “speciality coffee” community, there is a big concern over how to coherently and effectively engage people outside the community. What do you start with? What image, message, words, etc. do you use? Tracability? Drink types? Roast profiles?…

So this is my analysis of the biggest limitation we currently suffer.

Question: Who do we want to recruit coffee geeks from?
Answer: Food and drink lovers. It seems simple, but check out some coffee twitter feeds – nearly all of them are into other food and drink areas (esp. Good beer). Most speciality coffee people wouldn’t order a pint of Stella out of choice, but lots of real ale buffs drink instant coffee. Because they don’t care? That seems unlikely – much more plausibly, because they don’t know they have an alternative.

Question: why do these people believe they can’t get into speciality/good coffee?
Answer: They’ve been sold the idea that good coffee is about technology. What is good coffee to them? Lattes, Cappucinos, espresso, etc. This requires a big shiny bit of geek-heaven, and perpetuates the myth that good coffee requires lots of money spent – and hence any expensive coffee machine must be a good machine… So for them, good coffee is a pod machine, a bean to cup fully automatic, maybe a semi-auto espresso machine. Assuming they have a go anyway, they put some supermarket pre-ground into their espresso machine and find the results uninspiring – their enthusiasm is drained, they give up, coffee geekery is dismissed as hype.

Question: How do we increase engagement?
Simple – take out the tech. Don’t get me wrong, in the hands of a true expert, espresso is a wonderous thing. But it can’t fundamentally make bad beans into good coffee. Also, that expertise requires a huge amount of commitment, time, money and obsession to achieve. Contrast this with a French Press. It’s cheap, simple, and generally reliable. Even a cheap blade grinder will do for French press – so our would-be-geeks can spend a tiny amount, buy good beans, grind at home, and achieve actually good coffee that will stand out against the generic instant/etc.

This is certainly similar to my route into the speciality coffee world.

An added bonus of this is it brings the beans to the forefront. Espresso puts coffee beans into a metaphorical (and occasionally literal) black box. In people’s perceptions, they are detached from the end result. For any brewed coffee method, it is simple to understand the basic mechanics of what’s going on. To go back to foodies, one of the most commonly appreciated foods is a steak. All that’s required for preparation is a grill, yet food fans will happily use its quality as a measure of a restaurant. We need to make people care about the beans above the tech. Everything else – tracibility, roast style, flavours, locality, etc. – can be saved for later.

Please let me know your thoughts.

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From → Commentary

One Comment
  1. Alex Redgate permalink

    Excellent post mate.

    I love the steak metaphor for how coffee is approached. To continue along the line of thought, espresso could be expressed as the Filet Mignon of coffee, possible to do incredibly well, but also very hard to master, where as a cafetiere could be considered the rib-eye or rump of coffee, incredibly easy to do in a tasty way and very hard to cock up.

    I think you might be onto a better metaphor here Roland

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