The AHA! Moments in Coffee

BNo matter what your experience level is in our industry, you should always try to stretch yourself further. When you do this you are often met with an AHA! moment. In the beginning, they come more often. Later in your career, they are fewer, but are often shaking your belief system.
An AHA! moment is that instant when clarity occurs. Sometimes, like with children learning a new math concept, just figuring it out for the first time can be an AHA! moment. Other times you will find someone says something that ties together loose ends like “The reason your back is hurting is due to your strained knee which is making you stand awkwardly. Fix your knee and you fix your back.” Still others are the ‘reality movers’ that undo a known fact. Examples here might be when your daughter discovers that Mickey Mouse at Disneyland is just a guy in a suit. (Yeah it’s true!)
The AHA! moment is important for the coffee industry for two main reasons. The first is personal; it proves you are still growing and learning. The second is financial; sharing these experiences and providing your clients with their own AHA! moments builds a bond. You are an expert willing to give away your experience. A deeper bond with clients means more loyalty and more word of mouth advertising.
Where you are in the supply chain also effects your AHA! moments. Listed below are moments that people shared for this article. The moments will be classified in segments of the supply chain. Some are ‘entry level’ that we all have had. Some much deeper.
AHA! Moments in the Coffee House
If you want to create loyalty with your retail customers, do this: Brew a natural process Ethiopian, an earthy Sumatran and a floral, balanced Guatemalan and put them on a self-serve table in your shop. Put down some forms and ask your customer to vote for their favorite. Here are the AHA! moments you will be providing for your customer:

  • Not all coffee tastes the same. In fact they can be VERY different!
  • I can taste the difference! Maybe I am better at tasting than I thought!
  • I NEVER drink coffee without stuff in it. Maybe I hide the taste when I do that!
  • If these taste different, what do OTHER coffees taste like?
Maybe coffee can be enjoyed rather than just consumed.
  • I really like this taste and not that one. Are there more that taste like this one?

Here is another good one you can do. Get a sequential picture array in the following order: Coffee tree with flowers, green cherries, yellow cherries, red cherries, coffee being picked, coffee being carried to the mill, coffee being pre sorted, coffee in holding tank, pulping coffee, fermentation tank, drying patio, raking, dry storage, hulling, screen sorting, gravity sorting, defect sorting, cupping table, green coffee in bag, bags in container, container on ship, coffee in warehouse, coffee near roaster, green bean, yellow bean, three more roast levels, cupping table, brewed coffee in a cup with a biscotti. The customer’s head usually starts spinning at this point! Here are some moments:

  • Coffee is grown on trees!
  • It’s not a bean, it’s a pit!
  • It’s green not brown!
  • It can be different shades of brown!
It’s roasted!
SO MANY HANDS! SO MANY STEPS! What if one person screws it up!

Assuming a picture is worth a thousand words, that is about 30,000 words without your staff saying anything! If you do this for your customers, you elevate the conversation beyond cost and focus on quality control points. This solidifies a customer for life! This is a customer that will want to share this information with others and thereby be ‘the expert’ to their friends. That’s more customers for you!
AHA! Moments at the Roasting Facility
Whenever you are discussing coffee with a prospect, put out a display with four different roast styles of a single origin coffee on it. Also prepare four pots of coffee made from the beans of the display. Ask the prospect to pick their favorite. Also show a roast profile spreadsheet and graph for each one. This is what is going through their mind:

  • You can roast the same coffee different ways!
  • There is a dramatic taste difference due to roast!
  • Roasting is an art AND a science.
  • The skill of the roaster adds value to the product.
  • Which roast style is right for my customers?

You can do the same thing with blends. Take a prospect through an actual cupping. You get a special bond when they try this for the first time and:

  • I learned a new skill to evaluate coffee I never knew existed.
  • I am smarter than my friends about coffee because I know how to cup.
  • Is there a common language between coffee professionals that use this tool?
  • I can speak this language with practice but it is not an easy skill.

AHA! Moments with the Exporter / Importer
Different companies do different things to prepare, move, buy, track and warehouse coffee. The average roaster really does not understand the logistics involved, let alone the complexity of a commodities exchange and international contracts. There are things you can do to have the roaster appreciate your role even more. Start with a descriptive break out of a contract describing the main points: type, quantity, place, and quality. For the first time your roasters will be thinking:

  • Risk management is crucial.
  • There are more than only ‘shipping costs’ involved in this.
  • Maritime insurance? Who knew?
  • Price fluctuations against 37,500 pounds of coffee are SIGNIFICANT!
  • That is why my spot price changes!
  • Price fixing has stability AND risk associated.

Once that conversation ensues you can move to a conversation about hedging, multiyear contract benefits / pitfalls, and dispute resolution. Your customer should walk away with this:

  • I will not attempt this on my own unless I have professional help. I love that I do not have to deal with this!

AHA! Moments at Origin
As a farmer you know that what you do requires science, experience, financial risk, luck of nature and the kindness of God. The average roaster or retailer can conceptualize what you do but do not feel it like you do.
Some of the things they will experience are:
[three_fifth first]

  • 5 years until the 1st crop!
  • Off season work to prepare the trees is immense.
  • Organic is only as good as the policing being done.
  • This can be freaking hard work.
  • Mills go 24 -7 during harvest. Coffee is raked every 15-30 minutes for the first 24 hours.
  • Defect sorting is a massive undertaking done by skilled people.

The first origin trip when they see your total process (from the farm through the mill) they get one of the most important AHA! moments in the industry:

  • It is amazing that a great product makes it to me at all. I have an obligation to honor all the work that has come before me and do my best to produce the best drink I can!

If some of the above AHA! moments were new to you, you might have just discovered a new one:

  • If you are not having AHA! moments you should probably be expanding your search for knowledge in the industry!

Talk to the other people in the supply chain to better understand what they do. Ask your customers what they think about you, your product, and the industry as a whole. Whatever you learn will be a benefit to you in the long run. You can also self-direct some of your learning by finding classes through SCAA, Roasters Guild, Barista Guild and CQI to name a few. The more you know, the more you can share with others. If you take the time and effort, the whole industry benefits.

[box border=”full”]Here are some of the authors personal AHA!’s:

  • By reading Tim Castle’s book, ‘A Perfect Cup’ I learned you could roast coffee at home in a popcorn popper. This started me in the industry.
  • There is no such place as Mandehling on the Island of Sumatra. It is a people not a place.
  • The caged Luwak seems perfectly content to eat coffee cherries, then poop them out in solitude.
  • Not all experts are right.
  • Dark roasted coffee has a higher percentage of caffeine than a medium roast. (Lost money on this bet)
  • Fire can be an excellent cleaner for your roaster. (Not a suggestion by the way)
  • The reason that high altitude coffee tends to be better is the slower maturation cycle.
  • There is more Arabica produced than Robusta. (Lost money on this bet)
  • Betting is not the smartest way to prove you are right.

Rocky can be reached at

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