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

examples

  • 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.

One thought on “heritage battles

  1. Hello! I have just stumbled upon this blog and thanks a lot for this! I find too many people writing about the perfection in the cup and omitting other stuff that must be done when it comes to specialty coffee – eg. thrill more audience for it and improve these twisted relationships as you listed. It is indeed surprisingly challenging to make people invest a little time and money into a gadget that gives them a superior cup of coffee EVERYDAY and even more bizaar when you try to talk a coffeeshop-owner-to-be into investing in to the core thing of his business. I also note that the coffeegeek and coffeenazi labels make it seem that coffeebrewing must be some intimate nearly religious thing. And it makes me sad to see many wine lovers getting expensive Champagne and moments later in a restaurant or hotels drink coffee with the quality of the cheapest wine when good coffee is way more affordable. So thank you for bringing this up, I find it important to think about, it comes to some major problems that I can also see.

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