I need advice on how to create interest and desire for single-origin, specialty coffee in a CT"suburb" of NYC

I recently moved my family from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Connecticut for the space, and took a position leading the coffee portion of  a brand new cafe/coffee shop in a small but wealthy town about an hour and a half away from NYC. Most residents work in NYC, or have at some point in their lives so I assumed they would be really into coffee, but I'm having incredible difficulty selling any of our single origin offerings. We sell between 100-150 espresso based beverages per day, about 75 cups of regular drip coffee per day, and about 10 single origin pour overs PER WEEK! I've tried to brew small batches of single origin in the fetco for a lower price then a pour over or other brewing method as well and ended up dumping about 95% of it. Am I wasting my time and the owners money by purchasing these coffees, or can I create a market for this, and if so, how? I will be holding a cupping soon, and if that doesn't increase sales, I will probably (unfortunately) be decreasing our single origin offerings dramatically. Any advice or help from business owners or coffee managers will be greatly appreciated! 

P.S. I'm new to barista exchange so sorry for blowing it up with all my questions recently!

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We're have the same issue here in south jersey (we joke that were selling coffee in a dunkin donuts market). We do our single origins as pour overs as well. I used to keep three so's on our pourover menu and I'd end up having to throw beans away due to over ordering. Now I only keep one (or two - we also do a guest roaster program and that generates so interest as well) up on the menu and it sells pretty well. We do blends as batch coffees and so's as pourovers. It's created an interest as we always try to rotate very different coffees (last week we had a dry processed ethiopian, this week we have a washed guat) and we really market it as a chance for the customer to learn about different coffees and why they taste different. We also charge more and give the impression that they're premium products. Hope this helps. Good luck!

How closely are you involved with your roasters? Perhaps try to arrange a "meet the roasters" type of event. Another idea I've toyed around with here in Sweden (where we have a similar issue) is sort of a frequent buyers card but call it a "coffee passport" where customers can get a stamp/punch for every coffee they purchase from various origins. After all the designated countries have been "visited" the customer receives a free _______.

That passport is a great idea!
Thanks guys! Both really great ideas. Jeff, who roasts your coffee, and what kind of relationship do you have with them? I like the guest roaster idea, but I don't want to ruin any ties with our current roaster either. We don't have an exclusive contract or anything, but I don't suppose they would be really thrilled about it either.
We use a small local roaster that we work with to develop our blends. I roast our main single origins (on a behmor) and then we bring in other small roasters in our area for some. We have a decent relationship with our roaster- not too close but they always deliver what we need. The blends we create with them are exclusive to us so that's good. They know we bring in other roasters and they're cool with it.

This is a very interesting thread because I've been tackling this issue for years now.  We are a coffee shop in a suburb of Portland, Or.  Although it's near a city, our town is relatively small and has mainly been a farming community.  Income is lower than the surrounding areas.  Our coffee shop's name is "Origin's" because of our large single origin offerings.  In our area we have a Starbucks and five other coffee shops within walking distance.  We needed to distinguish ourselves and went into single origin coffee.  We plan to only have single origin coffees in the future, but we are working with our customers to make that transition as smooth as possible because when we first started, most customers didn't know anything about single origin coffees.  

Here are a few strategies that help:

1) ALWAYS describe and offer single origin to every customer.  Have an educated staff that can describe the varying taste profiles, processing, regions, etc.  The staff will make or break this.  Done with finesse and enthusiasm, customers get excited.  Describe how this is special, unique, and different for your cafe.  Customers will become more loyal.  We now have a strong group customers that are excited every day to hear about and see our single origin offerings.

2) Have single origin espresso (if you don't already) and offer it to the customer, regardless of their drink type (flavored vs. non-flavored coffee drinks).  We purchased an extra hopper from Craigslist and offer a rotating single origin to customers as an espresso option.  Eventually, we will phase out of our house blend and only have single origin espresso in all our hoppers.

3) Have signs and information about your single origins posted.  At a minimum, this should include country, varietal, processing, elevation, general taste description (ex. mild acidity with full-bodied earthy tones) and specific taste notes (ex. sweet tobacco, dark chocolate, hibiscus).  We have these posted on our pump pots that feature single origin offerings for the grab-and-go customers.  It sparks interest and conversations.

4) When doing pour-overs, make sure they are done in a highly visible area.  My staff actually leaves the coffee bar and carries the pour-over materials to the customer's table in the lobby.  When the pour over happens, it creates a spectacle and draws a crowd.  We have also run specials during our slow times where a pour-over doesn't cost more than the normal drip.  It is a way to bring people during those times, and offer incentives for customers to try the pour-over methods.  I've found that customers are reluctant to initially try it because they don't see the benefit ("coffee is coffee").  Only after they taste the quality difference and understand that they have the flexibility to try many types of coffees they become loyal to it.

Hope this might provide some techniques that help.  Good luck!

I don't know what your shop is like but I do think that it helps for the environment to reflect the type of offerings that you're trying to serve.

First off, offerings your single-origins at a price point less than your normal drip reinforces that the S.O. stuff is "lower" than the drip.

Your customer base is established. They've been going to that shop for awhile and know what they like and what to expect. You're trying to bring something new and that takes awhile to nurture. I suggest you print a menu of your S.O. offerings and offer that menu to guests when they come in to the shop. Price the coffees aggressively - meaning: make them more expensive. Give them value. Prepare them to order. Make it special and worthwhile of the cost.

For example, at my shop we print a menu. Typically, that menu has at least six coffees. The coffees range in price from $3.00 to upwards of $9.00 or more - it's not unusual for us to have $10+ coffees on the menu. BTW, these prices are for a la minute 12 ounce cups.

I tell my customers if they want to sell flavored or single origin coffee that you should use air pots or thermal servers to store the coffee. Coffee cannot sit on a burner for more than 25mins that's includes sitting in a Fetco container. Your customers only need one bitter cup of coffee for them not to come back.

Also keep your pots and containers clean. Wash them everyday. Any left over oils from the last brew will ruin the taste of your coffee and also never brew fresh coffee over old coffee

I agree with Adroc, having good information about origin is a must and adds a great value to the whole experience. If you brew Colombian Coffee you can find a lot of information here: http://bit.ly/CCoffeeH 

Also as Adroc said "Have signs and information about your single origins posted" helps to create interest in your customers. You can use the "Customer Journey" (here's an example http://experiencematters.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/legowheel.png) to develop an unique experience for your customer.

Good luck!

Adroc said:

This is a very interesting thread because I've been tackling this issue for years now.  We are a coffee shop in a suburb of Portland, Or.  Although it's near a city, our town is relatively small and has mainly been a farming community.  Income is lower than the surrounding areas.  Our coffee shop's name is "Origin's" because of our large single origin offerings.  In our area we have a Starbucks and five other coffee shops within walking distance.  We needed to distinguish ourselves and went into single origin coffee.  We plan to only have single origin coffees in the future, but we are working with our customers to make that transition as smooth as possible because when we first started, most customers didn't know anything about single origin coffees.  

Here are a few strategies that help:

1) ALWAYS describe and offer single origin to every customer.  Have an educated staff that can describe the varying taste profiles, processing, regions, etc.  The staff will make or break this.  Done with finesse and enthusiasm, customers get excited.  Describe how this is special, unique, and different for your cafe.  Customers will become more loyal.  We now have a strong group customers that are excited every day to hear about and see our single origin offerings.

2) Have single origin espresso (if you don't already) and offer it to the customer, regardless of their drink type (flavored vs. non-flavored coffee drinks).  We purchased an extra hopper from Craigslist and offer a rotating single origin to customers as an espresso option.  Eventually, we will phase out of our house blend and only have single origin espresso in all our hoppers.

3) Have signs and information about your single origins posted.  At a minimum, this should include country, varietal, processing, elevation, general taste description (ex. mild acidity with full-bodied earthy tones) and specific taste notes (ex. sweet tobacco, dark chocolate, hibiscus).  We have these posted on our pump pots that feature single origin offerings for the grab-and-go customers.  It sparks interest and conversations.

4) When doing pour-overs, make sure they are done in a highly visible area.  My staff actually leaves the coffee bar and carries the pour-over materials to the customer's table in the lobby.  When the pour over happens, it creates a spectacle and draws a crowd.  We have also run specials during our slow times where a pour-over doesn't cost more than the normal drip.  It is a way to bring people during those times, and offer incentives for customers to try the pour-over methods.  I've found that customers are reluctant to initially try it because they don't see the benefit ("coffee is coffee").  Only after they taste the quality difference and understand that they have the flexibility to try many types of coffees they become loyal to it.

Hope this might provide some techniques that help.  Good luck!

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