still inspiring

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. – Apple Inc.

heritage battles

as someone who spends a great deal of time talking to businesses who wish to start, develop or ‘fix’ their coffee offering I’m amazed at how often I seem to be fighting battles I didn’t choose, I didn’t want and I don’t have any interest in

often these seem to be conflicting ideas of whats expected from a transaction, relationship or service – sometimes neither the fault of the customer, or the seller, but the fault of the previous incumbent supplier, or their predecessors, choices. Whilst it seems more common from less coffee focussed businesses (hotels, restaurants – should they be less focussed?) it’s common in places offering exclusively coffee too


  • discounted pricing based on volume purchasing
  • free on loan equipment
  • maintenance of pre-existing equipment
  • pre-portioned packets of stale coffee, in incorrect portion sizes

I’m naming these ‘heritage battles’ – please feel free to spread the concept and make me posthumously famous as the guy who said something once

these battles are similar to ones you see in most quality focussed cafes and other speciality industries

  • I’m sad because this tastes nice – isn’t it meant to be horrid/boring?
  • I asked for something different (with an identical foreign name)
  • It’s my right to have extra flavourings

But there is a difference -Those are fights we’re often encouraging, through our menus, our store design our staff training – fights that help us say why we’re special, how our products are unique, and help us position and define ourselves

The others, often don’t carry these benefits, they do however bring costs, costs I’m unwilling to accept and acutely pissed off that I’m expected to incur. They stem almost exclusively from an industry’s industrial scale race to the bottom in price and ‘perceived’ (i.e. not real) value in order to buy market share and short term benefit at the expense of quality – a race they started because they saw our product as a commodity with little value or potential for improvement… 60 years ago…

I’m pointlessly angry at the people who started it, and point-fully (why is that not a word?) angry at those who continue it when it impairs their goals as well as mine

  • discount pricing suggests economies of scale that aren’t always or often present in artisan production
  • free equipment gets paid for from somewhere – if that’s within your coffee price you raise the market price of something that needs raising for otherreasons, or by lowering your cost (and quality)
  • maintenance and set-up of existing (often incorrect) equipment costs money – it (and the education necessary to allow it) requires investment that’s often specific to one instance only and therefore incredibly inefficient
  • recipes that don’t deliver good extraction won’t work better with better coffee

For a long time my response to requests for some of these has been just to say no, normally with a witty response such as ‘you wouldn’t expect your potato supplier to give you a deep fat fryer’ – usually i accompany this with the lie ‘I’m sorry, this isn’t something I can do’ – I’m not sorry.

This intelligent approach has not led to me converting potentially remarkable accounts to great ingredient

I see two potential problems with this beyond my personal chance at being able to buy more and tastier coffee

  • failure to convert non-coffee geek accounts (geeks often like to choose their toys rather than get the free ones, and when they spend their money invest love and energy maintaining them) risks marginalising quality coffee – making it appear something only the few can achieve whilst most of us know this isn’t true
  • refusal to offer these things often strengthens the pockets, revenue-streams and marketing efforts of the businesses that most damage our product and the sustainability of quality coffee, particularly those who promise better flavour and deliver better signage

I’ve been told maybe this underlines a failure in my pricing policy – maybe I should charge more for my services to build the resources I need to better fuel growth – I wonder? should those who see value in investing in tools and paying more for better ingredient because it matters to them, subsidise those less willing to accept the costs of quality?

I wonder whether this is where trade bodies should help, engaging with media, educating ‘trade’ (I hate that word) customers? Maybe it’s my fault for not whinging about it enough – consider the whinging done!!!!

In the mean time, I commit further to not giving away things that have intrinsic value, to pricing my coffee based on the cost of the coffee and explaining to anyone who asks for things I’m not willing to do, the reasons that underlie that decision.


I like surprises!

Tasting apricot when you thought you’d taste nescafe, sweet where you expected bitter, freshly mown grass when you thought you’d taste tea.

The joy of a joke that we think is leading one way, and then flips it – a man walks into a bar… syncopation in music, the magician who leads you to believe your watch is broken then finds it in your wrist, the serotonin high of momentary confusion, becoming awe, wonder and delight

I feel something similar when I learn something new, when I ‘understand’, when something finally makes sense, a solved puzzle

Engineering these moments in our customers experiences isn’t just memorable, useful and clever, it’s  fun


Within coffee we talk a lot about the way we might measure the quality of our coffee product but rarely how we measure the effectiveness of our businesses and our service – in a previous life I enjoyed jobs in retail and training, one of the things that I found really interesting were the metrics that stores I worked in used to measure growth, success and effective service and particularly how they were inextricably linked both to each other and also the business’s mission of stronger sales

To have an useful system of measurements you have to begin with how they will get you closer to the end goal – what are you trying to achieve?

If your end goal is the perfect cup of coffee I suggest you don’t open a shop – i f you already have, close the shop, get rid of all those distracting and inconvenient customers and focus just on perfecting coffee – when you nail it, give me a shout and I’ll come round and pay lots for a cup, provided it delivers

if your goal is to share the most perfect coffee you can prepare then your focus needs to be on getting the people* to share it with and raising money to allow you to afford the technology, training and ingredient to prepare the product they deserve

Let’s simplify business growth

  • Get more customers
  • Get customers to spend more (happily)
  • Get customers to come back more often

This takes lots of important things out of the equation, especially cost management – bit that will never make your sales higher, and is ultimately limited – sales growth isn’t limited, except by our choices

Get more customers

Hundreds of ways to do this, all with costs and benefits, some slow some fast, but measuring the effectiveness is limited to a couple things – measuring transaction numbers and measuring footfall

In most retail environments you would then measure conversion rate (transaction/footfall) how many visitors your service/layout/design/product converted into buyers – you could argue that in a cafe almost everyone who enters, enters for a reason and buys something – I wonder?

Are more people buying a drink for them and for their friends? Which is more desirable – ambassadors introducing new people (some right/some wrong) to you or new opportunities willing to stump up the entry fee? I don’t know but I’d like to know more about who I was serving, and how many of them were buying

Get customers to spend more (happily)

Measuring average spend is easy, tills do the hard work for you, lots of cafes I know measure it- harder is what you compare it to?

Your average transaction value is dependant on products sold (a cafe that doesn’t sell food will have lower ATV – that’s ok) so telling me your average sale is £6.66 tells me nothing – what’s useful is your ability to grow your ATV through good pricing, more desirable product and good service, including up-selling

Up-selling is often thought to be evil – a symptom of the disease of corporate greed, it’s not – skilled up selling is the ability to recognise and pre-empt a customers needs, fulfil more of them and make them happier – every customer doesn’t need or want a sandwich or a tasting flight- recognising those that do and helping them find it with you as opposed to elsewhere is a skill worth noticing, measuring, improving and rewarding

Happily is the important part as it leads to the last goal

Get customers to come back more often

A quotidian customer (love you DNF) is more valuable to you than a geek from out of town, no matter how much you enjoy the conversation, even a seasonal customer who returns once every three months is more valuable than every accidental visitor on that busiest day of the year when the international congress of women’s sword jugglers happened to be across the road

Daily customers, regular customers, love you, they live you, you are a part of them and their story about themselves and they are willing to pay for you and would miss if you we’re no longer there- they are also much cheaper than buying new visitors who may not ‘get your concept’ or more honestly may not like your concept enough to finance it

How do we, measure repeat custom in a cafe? Four square? Keep cups? I don’t know – loyalty cards are not it- they are not effective, they communicate a questionable message about the cost of your goods, and no one values them (in fact many people expect them – I adore playing with expectation!) disloyalty cards aren’t any better, at least not for encouraging this (actually they are all about new faces – turning new faces into part of the furniture is the real deal)

Improving customer return frequency and loyalty is at the core of what we spend most of our time talking about – improving product, improving service- daily sales total don’t give you effective feedback on your success at driving this

Measure these three things, regardless of what results you have, measure your improvement of them, get better at making money and use the money you make to serve better coffee and help your staff buy houses – that’d be cool
*as well as on product (in fact arguably product is a part of the equation of building your customer base, and also the results of sales based metrics should tell you more about the success of product quality initiatives than anything else)


Perfection isn’t a goal, it’s a process

The process of taking what you do and making it a little bit better every single time you do it, continual improvement

A little more consistent, a little more efficient, a little more tasty, a little better communicated - Small change, plus small change, plus small change, equals big change
Don’t strive for perfect, strive for perfection

repeat business

almost every week I get curry from an indian takeaway just around the corner from me. Whilst my first visit was based on convenience and locality that’s not why I keep returning – sites like justeat make getting similar food delivered as easy and convenient if not more so, technology makes convenience a USP of the past (the world changes every day)

I don’t return because I’m desperate for spicy food I can’t prepare myself – I’m not so good with spicy stuff! – and whilst the quality is really good (it tastes delicious to me) I would be hesitant to judge it’s true quality within it’s industry and it would be a lie to say I return because it’s the best tasting curry I’ve ever had, I return for a different reason

Every time I phone they ask how I am, when I say it’s an order for collection and give them my name I’m rewarded with ‘Harris, how are you my friend?!’ when I walk in to collect I’m smiled at, treated nicely and quickly, a bag of food is seamlessly placed in my hand as money is painlessly transferred from my wallet to their till, the door is opened for me and I am wished a ‘good night’, and an ‘enjoy your meal’

I leave feeling good, I have a good night, I enjoy my meal

I spend about £20 a week, 50 weeks of the year – total income generated by 2 mins a week of niceness – £1000

(£1000 is a hefty percentage of my income – I may re-assess my spending habits)

you should buy some curry if you’re passing, maybe take the food to the beach with a nice bottle of beer

pointless descriptor #2



  • 1 [mass noun] an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady:she lost her balance and fell
  • Sailing the ability of a boat to stay on course without adjustment of the rudder.
  • 2 [mass noun] a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions:the obligations of political balance in broadcasting

Balance is not a bad word, it communicates well what we often strive to achieve when presenting delicious coffee, it in fact helps define what delicious is (i think this is delicious because it is not unbalanced), but it doesn’t communicate much beyond ‘we think this is quite nice’ - unbalanced is easier, unbalanced suggests over the top or extreme flavour, and we often assume that must therefore be bad, but some products and flavours are unbalanced and delicious – Lambic beer is not balanced in comparison to most session beer (though balance is a huge part of it’s blending) but it’s extreme sourness is what excites many of its lovers

espresso scoring in barista competition asks for a harmonious balance of sweet, acidic and/or bitter flavours, but doesn’t define what this balance is – it’s certainly never suggested that balance is equal amounts of each flavour group

I argue that balance is a less effective taste communicator than most, whilst being the most often used

pointless descriptor #1



Consisting of many different and connected parts.
A group of similar buildings or facilities on the same site: “a new apartment complex”.
Make (an atom or compound) form a complex with another.
in terms of describing taste ‘complex’ is over-used – it is not precise, definitive and communicates little beyond
  • there are many flavours
  • there are flavours I can’t articulate

it is often used to communicate quality – ‘this coffee is better because it is more complex’, suggesting coffees with less flavour variation and diversity are, well, less – i think many who have cupped a coffee that perfectly epitomised a flavour note – strawberry milkshake, blueberry, caramel fudge –  would argue with this

complexity is rarely a useful word on a label or at the cupping table – it is however very often true


I listen to a lot of radio 4 – excluding the Archers  - but it’s often the stuff I catch by accident rather than my purposeful tuning in that yields the most thoughts

Yesterday I caught 15 minutes of the PM programme whilst dropping my daughter at Gym club – a report on financial aid in Ethiopia – coffee was mentioned and the perspective from Whalid Bagersh’s mill was interesting -

The mill considers the financial impact of roasting businesses and the ‘value added’ by the processes normally occurring in the consuming industry an internal industry economic failing – you can hear similar thoughts from Andrew Rugisera here on The Bottom Line

whilst these points contrast with speciality coffees focus on freshness and the craft and skill involved in roasting, (perhaps this bears more relation to larger commodity grade buyers) it’s an interesting perspective, and quite different to the relationships we have with many of our direct partners in south and central america who see value in the marketing potential and actual income a good roaster/buyer can bring a farm

I wonder if it’s not that different to the ‘added value’ I could see my customers achieving with our coffee, and me not considering the ‘added costs’ of creating that value




the narrative of a transaction

I was talking with a friend about coffee and coffee shops and we noticed that we moved from discussing the what and how of drinks and preparation to the what and how of selling a point of view, of customer service, and of opening and closing arguments in courtroom dramas (and i guess courtrooms)

Thinking later I wondered if the coffee shops I love best were often not the most progressive in terms of what and how they brew, but often the most progressive or considered or active in how they pitch their product and communicate with their customers

A transaction within a cafe could be considered in terms of the three act structure, a screenwriting methodology that focuses on a sequence of ‘chapters’ that inexorably lead to a message (or in the case of 007, another car chase) – the set-up, the confrontation and the resolution

the set up

a customer enters a shop, previously he has heard something or nothing about the shop, visual (and other) clues – signage, other customers, the position of the staff, and their dress inform the customer of where he should stand to gain acknowledgement, other clues impart a message about what the shop may sell, what it costs, how it contrasts or conforms to an expectation

the confrontation

the customer and staff interact – a possibly short or long interaction – this leads to a choice and an expectaton of what each is going to do – this may be a tacit or expressed transaction, more likely a combination

the resolution

the customer receives/consumes and responds – the customer may feel satisfied, or dissatisfied, he may have noticed nothing, or learnt something new

if we think about this framework, when should the customer pay?