Approachability in specialty coffee has always been an issue. Walking into a cafe and seeing a list of drinks you can’t pronounce like macchiato.... looking at a pourover list and seeing names of African or South American locations you can’t pronounce either. You’re thinking "What even is a pourover, is it coffee, does it come with milk?" the whole experience is already pretty intimidating, it’s a new space, you just came for coffee.
That’s the issue we all face in specialty coffee. I can’t just give you a bag of coffee and expect you to grind it and brew it perfectly without any previous experience. I tell you I taste blueberries but you’ll probably end up with a chalky or sour tasting cup without knowing how I brewed it.
So how can the coffee experience be more approachable? Education and simplification both help in this. I’ll split them into two categories to go over more thoroughly.
Educating helps the customer make their decision easier and gets them involved, here is some ways to get started
Hosting cuppings While we are in a pandemic right now, coffee cupping is one of the best ways to be introduced to new coffees while tasting what you like and don’t like.
Brewing classes There’s nothing harder then trying to figure out what a medium fine grind is and how to use a v60 when it’s your first time. Like cupping, getting educated on how to brew will make it easier for the person buying your coffee to start out.
Approachable baristas There’s nothing worse then walking into a cafe that already feels like a strange place then when you ask what a flat white is and you feel like you asked a dumb question.
Educational baristas Different then being just approachable this is when they can educate you in the nicest way possible to help you make your decision on a drink or bag of coffee. Walking you though some basic brewing techniques while they make you drink or assisting you on buying beans which suit your preferences.
Interaction on socials Having someone dedicated to answering questions is super helpful. Being able to message your local cafe and having them respond with a helpful tip makes the experience feel personal and will increase brand loyalty.
Video content As the specialty coffee industry grows, so does its presence on YouTube. You don’t have to be an expert at making videos or reinvent anything, but referring people to channels like James Hoffman can get them started on making their first cup.
Meet them half way "Most of us want to serve lightly roasted, high scoring black coffee or espresso; most of the customers in a small market want a sweet, milky drink some medium/dark roast in the cup. Before trying to change someone’s pallet, it’s wise to win their trust by serving them a better version of what they are used to. Once they trust you, it’s easier to sell them something new.” - Scott Rao
Simplification can help too, menus showing what drinks have milk and what drinks have espresso can help make the buying decision easier.
Clear instructions Knowing where to place an order and stand in line, there’s nothing more confusing then feeling like you are standing in the wrong area.
Milk alternatives If you don’t have oat or soy are you even a cafe? So many people drink milk alternatives and it’s nice to see it listed on the menu.
Allergy sensitive Maybe it’s because my wife is anaphylactic to nuts but being insensitive or unaccommodating while ordering doesn’t make me want to return to your cafe.
Legible menus This seems like a no brainer but I can’t read you hand lettered "greeen tea matcha" from twenty feet away. Have your menu clear and to the point. Breaking the menu down into sections based on drinks helps make the decision process much easier.
Approachable branding Phil & Sebastian do this well with their three tier tasting profiles. Having a coffee called "the standard" makes it easy to pronounce while still getting into the specialty area. it’s a great not to have to say "the Los Rodriguez double anaerobic fermentation pourover please".
It’s a people business “To make specialty coffee more approachable I think it is important for cafés and roasters to remember that really coffee (and specialty coffee) is a people business. Yes high quality coffee is important, but if the cafe experience mirrors Starbucks or big chains then what is the point". I believe the experience should start with “Hey, hows it going?” Instead of “what can I get for you?”. -John L Start simple "Speak in a language that’s not too specialized and don’t shame if a customer wants milk or sugar".- Tatiana (Toronto Brunch Club). You are in the service industry, you job is to grow your customer base and make chill friends. If they want that "extra hot cappuccino" or to add milk to their pourover don’t say no.
Tasting notes "Changing the language of tasting notes/changing how they are shown" - Liam Flagg. This is where Luna Coffee really does well, with names like Juice Box, Root Beer and Blueberry Milkshake. They are approachable and you know what you’re going to expect right away, accompanied by the bright and colourful bag. Your mind is already watering at the thought of blueberries before you’ve even opened it.
Hopefully these tips can help you get started on being more approachable in specialty coffee and help grow the industry. I try to grow the industry by sharing coffee photos that might make you want to walk into a cafe or have a cup of coffee with me. Maybe you help by sharing brewing guides or coffee recipes and educating the community. Either way we are all in this together and can encourage each other along the way.