Untouchables to Speciality coffee

4 Jun

This is not an original idea truly, I read this on Mentness’ Blog. I ask you to read that first so you understand where my thought comes from.

OK, Read it? Good.  So this is an interesting thought, that there is 80% of the coffee drinking public that has absolutely no interest beyond their cup of Instant in the morning and how do we reach them… While I would LOVE for every person in the world to be drinking amazing coffee all the time and for instant/commodity grade coffee to become unacceptable but this is not borne of selfless means.

The following is my direct reply to the post(editted for spelling errors)…

I think there is a lack of definition within the 80% of “Untouchables” I think there are the untouchables and the untouched, and I wouldn’t even hazard a guess to the where the split lies within that group. I would also imagine there’s a scale of difference within that.

For instance I regularly get customers who’ll comment on a good coffee and I’ll try and explain to them how they can get good coffee at home. Of that group some will think it isn’t worth the extra effort, others will think it isn’t worth the extra money (given that a good home grinder is over £100 and espresso machine 180+ off the shelf), and a few who have the equipment but are completely bereft of information on how to use it.

But I also get customers who don’t understand the properties of a good coffee (people who want a 21oz cappuccino for instance, or [no word of a lie this has happened a few times] don’t want anything except nescafe) and they will not change their minds no matter due to the indoctrination of Starbucks as THE gourmet coffee shop.*

From the PoV of a wine connoisseur (Yes the cliched comparison to the wine model)I would be in their “untouchables” group given that I enjoy wine, but I am quite happy to buy a £4 bottle from ASDA rather than spend £20. I’m quite happy with a cheap wine, I know I can get better but I know I wouldn’t appreciate that. And a specialty wine critic telling me that I’m ignorant and missing out on “true” wine wouldn’t make me best pleased with that person.

So I think we have to be careful about alienating the very people we’re trying to ‘help’. Because truly, it’s not borne of entirely selfless means, if the Starbucks of this world are no longer acceptable to the mass public then we will get our way in 3rd wave coffee on every high street. Likewise if the mass produced cheap wines are unacceptable and the wine connoisseurs get their way then they only get good wine, but for those of us that don’t want to spend £20 on a bottle of good wine what are we to do, I would probably not drink wine atall, which would be a loss for me, and also close a gate for me to ‘get into’ premium wine.*

I think we need to be careful about pushing everyone away by trying to bring them closer. If someone loves their jar of nescafe, let them be happy, but if they ask why a coffee they get from you tastes so much better, don’t be smug about it being “real” coffee, just explain to them that its freshly ground and brewed etc. and educate them, allowing them to make their own choice.

Ok that’s it

Having re-read my original post I feel I should make a few clarifications that I didn’t think through on the original reply.  First off, I would like to say I don’t blame Starbucks entirely for bad coffee in the public.  There was far worse coffee before Starbucks and truthfully if it weren’t for Starbucks there probably wouldn’t be a third wave that we enjoy.

Also I am aware that the wine model fails on the the alienation of the market being that most 3rd wave shops are cheaper or around the cost of Starbucks.

The biggest difference is that there isn’t a comparative Coffee merchant as there are wine merchants. The biggest difference being that a bottle of wine has a much longer shelf life than roasted coffee so you have to either be lucky in where you live or order off the internet, making an “Oh we’ve run out” a 2-3 day absence of coffee.

Ok leaving the wine model behind here…

Will we ever reach a larger market than 20%?  I think so, I hope so.   Slowly people ARE getting coffee a lot more.  Some of that is being helped by appliances that, while not truly speciality are a step ahead from a jar of instant, specifically ESE Pod machines and their ilk.  While it doesn’t produce coffee the way I would like it, I have a tolerance for having coffee grinds in every nook and cranny of the kitchen and I am willing to grind coffee and measure it, tamp it and extract it properly.  I am not typical.  I struggle to find a similar analogy that feels comparative to the pseudo-ritual that is making coffee…but for those of us that do go through this, we love coffee, we are passionate about it and that ritual is part of that.  Most people don’t give a toss.  They want a cup of palatable black or milky brown liquid that gives them a caffeine boost.

So, there will always be an area of the market that will see speciality coffee as a hoighty-toighty waste of time and they’re happy with their jar of instant and no amount of CoE coffee, perfectly brewed ristretto, textured cappuccino will do to change their minds.  I think that in maybe (optimistically) 10 years from now we could be looking at that percentage going from 80% to maybe 50-65%  but I doubt it would get much lower.

We need to accept that and move on, education of the consumer is good, being dogmatic and condemning of people because they choose to drink their coffee differently from you is good for no-one, the consumer gets irked by what is perceived snobbery, the point is missed entirely and that person may never change their mind.


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