My employers and I are kicking around the idea of doing a weekly cupping Thursday nights at our coffee shop. We might even rotate through a broader range of activities all offered in that same time slot (french press tasting, pairing coffee and tea with various foods, training in espresso extraction and milk texturizing, etc).

What we want to accomplish is three fold:

1. Build community and add value to our customer experience

2. Educate our customers about our products (retail beans, teas, etc)

3. Bring in more business in the evenings

Obviously, this requires an investment of time and money on our part. Any advice to help make sure these weekly events are profitable? Is a weekly event of this nature too frequent? Would you offer these experience gratis (kind of a loss leader model) or have a small up front charge to cover the price of products? 

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Consider this part of your marketing budget. The profitability should come as building customer loyalty.
Thanks for the feedback. Do you do weekly tastings? If not, what's your frequency like?

Dennis McQuoid said:
Consider this part of your marketing budget. The profitability should come as building customer loyalty.
I'm a micro-roaster one-woman show located in the back of a bookstore/espresso bar. For the first month of business, I offered free cuppings 3x a week, MWF at 5:30pm. I was so tired it was crazy.

So now I do it on Wednesdays at 5:30. It's first come first served, I advertise on facebook and keep a sign out from for every one to see, and keeping it simple is really important. Cupping is a lot of take in for someone who drinks brewed coffee and never explores the nerdiness like we do. I give everyone simplified score cards and a brief user friendly explanation of each category. (Frag, aroma, flavor, acidity, body, aftertaste) We cup 3 coffees all taken to first crack and dropped as to not give any bias towards roast level (roast profile cuppings are a much different experience) and all are from different regions as to let the consumer experience origin differentiations.

I usually get 5-10 different people at every cupping. I usually sell at least 5 at the most 15 pounds of coffee after cuppings. This is because I offer participants $5 off any coffee that they cupped. If they want to take the time to educate themselves about my trade, i want to bless them financially and expand my product to the community. It also makes them buy on impulse because A.) my coffee isnt cheap, and it's a one time deal- if they come back the next day they pay full price B.) They just fell in love with the coffee of their dreams. Usually people have one of the origins as their favorite. I always tell them that cupping first crack origin is like going on a date for the first time. You're getting to know that coffee. You're seeing what it's about and it's potential. Everyone takes notes more intimately that way. Usually people pay more attention to palate sensory when I pull the first date comparison. They WANT one of those coffees by the end.

So, it's profitable for me. It also depends a lot on how much you pay for coffee, the labor it costs to do a cupping from start to finish (dishes are such a pain for this stuff when there are lots of people) and how many people you think you can get in there and actually BUY coffee every week.

There's also the benefit of community expansion and making your shop well known as knowledgable baristas and worth the trip to get that cup/bag of beans. If you have a good cupping for one person,l they will probably tell a lot of their friends about the experience and bring them to the shop that week. It's happened a lot for me that way.

Maybe that helps. Maybe I just rambled a lot. :)
Sarah, awesome reply...We're also starting to play with the idea of doing weekly cuppings or other "coffee events". How have you found people responding to the cupping ritual, is it overwhelming? We (the cafe manager and our head roaster) have been considering just using pressed production roasts rather than doing a traditional cupping--we're afraid of losing people on the scoring, or even proper spoon use. Have you found that's a problem?

As to the time/money question, I'm fairly confident that we'll sell enough coffee right after to cover both, even outside of the image enhancement & customer/employee training.
Just held our first public cupping at one of our accounts this last week. We went over all the SCAA details but did the cupping with one sample of each coffee tasted in front of the person, and strayed from the standards a bit. Did 3 samples total, and everyone was able to do a sampling of their own, their own samples, own breaking, etc.

We broke from the norm and made it a bit more sanitary simply because we thought that was a nicer presentation, but it definitely took a little more time to set up.

This particular account just won a poll for "best coffee" in our community, so it was a very appropriate place for us to lead the cupping, and it definitely seemed to foster some great relationships between the owners and their customers.

Afterwards, $5 of the $10 cost for the event that evening was used towards coffee purchases, and I think they sold about 5 pounds of the coffee we arrived with for the evening.

One word of caution - we do this professionally as "coffee people", but I would maybe not do too many events, maybe not even a weekly event UNLESS your metro area is very populated and you always have ready participants. It is nice to leave a little mystery to the average coffee drinker as to what it is we coffee people do behind the scenes, but that's simply my opinion. I like presenting the romance of coffee, but leaving it a little mysterious, too :)
So you had people pre-register and pay in advance for an event? How was your turn out. We're not in a major metropolitan area but we do stay consistently busy till close.

Troy Lucas said:
Just held our first public cupping at one of our accounts this last week. We went over all the SCAA details but did the cupping with one sample of each coffee tasted in front of the person, and strayed from the standards a bit. Did 3 samples total, and everyone was able to do a sampling of their own, their own samples, own breaking, etc.

We broke from the norm and made it a bit more sanitary simply because we thought that was a nicer presentation, but it definitely took a little more time to set up.

This particular account just won a poll for "best coffee" in our community, so it was a very appropriate place for us to lead the cupping, and it definitely seemed to foster some great relationships between the owners and their customers.

Afterwards, $5 of the $10 cost for the event that evening was used towards coffee purchases, and I think they sold about 5 pounds of the coffee we arrived with for the evening.

One word of caution - we do this professionally as "coffee people", but I would maybe not do too many events, maybe not even a weekly event UNLESS your metro area is very populated and you always have ready participants. It is nice to leave a little mystery to the average coffee drinker as to what it is we coffee people do behind the scenes, but that's simply my opinion. I like presenting the romance of coffee, but leaving it a little mysterious, too :)
Paul,
We actually had people pre-register via our Facebook site that way everyone else who was invited and thinking about coming could see when the even was full, and it filled up quickly. We only had room and materials for 10 people this time around. We didn't collect any money until the event had officially concluded. Our feedback from that night indicates it was a success, and we'll wait a bit and do another educational seminar soon, perhaps at a different location next time. Being a "roaster" allows that flexibility, but any coffee house working with a local roaster can easily set up events like these repetitively and perhaps focus on varying aspects of the coffees sampled.

Paul Boyer said:
So you had people pre-register and pay in advance for an event? How was your turn out. We're not in a major metropolitan area but we do stay consistently busy till close.

Troy Lucas said:
Just held our first public cupping at one of our accounts this last week. We went over all the SCAA details but did the cupping with one sample of each coffee tasted in front of the person, and strayed from the standards a bit. Did 3 samples total, and everyone was able to do a sampling of their own, their own samples, own breaking, etc.

We broke from the norm and made it a bit more sanitary simply because we thought that was a nicer presentation, but it definitely took a little more time to set up.

This particular account just won a poll for "best coffee" in our community, so it was a very appropriate place for us to lead the cupping, and it definitely seemed to foster some great relationships between the owners and their customers.

Afterwards, $5 of the $10 cost for the event that evening was used towards coffee purchases, and I think they sold about 5 pounds of the coffee we arrived with for the evening.

One word of caution - we do this professionally as "coffee people", but I would maybe not do too many events, maybe not even a weekly event UNLESS your metro area is very populated and you always have ready participants. It is nice to leave a little mystery to the average coffee drinker as to what it is we coffee people do behind the scenes, but that's simply my opinion. I like presenting the romance of coffee, but leaving it a little mysterious, too :)
Nick,

I agree with Ryan Wilbur in what he stated:

"I think that teaching a customer to cup coffee is a bit arbitrary as opposed to just a general side-by-side tasting... More so, where could we be if instead of getting hung up on public cuppings we went crazy for teaching people how to make amazing coffee with slow brew methods?"

I think as we, at LRC, progress in helping our clients develop their customer base and fan loyalty, we will likely be progressing to the "art of brewing" versus the "discombobulated process that is quasi-coffee-cupping with untrained professionals."

Great discussion that developed at Coffeed.com.
Troy
Read the whole discussion thread. Very informative for this newbie. Thanks for the link, Nick.

Troy Lucas said:
Nick,

I agree with Ryan Wilbur in what he stated:

"I think that teaching a customer to cup coffee is a bit arbitrary as opposed to just a general side-by-side tasting... More so, where could we be if instead of getting hung up on public cuppings we went crazy for teaching people how to make amazing coffee with slow brew methods?"

I think as we, at LRC, progress in helping our clients develop their customer base and fan loyalty, we will likely be progressing to the "art of brewing" versus the "discombobulated process that is quasi-coffee-cupping with untrained professionals."

Great discussion that developed at Coffeed.com.
Troy
Although I am not a business-owner I would recommend doing a trial-run of the cuppings. I would do two weeks consecutively of the cuppings and gauge the turn-out. Perhaps doing the trial-run for free and asking the people who come what their plans of attendance would be. Come up with a figure per participant based on the attendance and costs. Whatever you would work out from that point I do not know.

Also, under-charging with the possibility of donations might be a good idea.
at my last job. we did weekly "cuppings". they were actually more llike "tastings", mostly because i do agree, that cupping, in the true sense, can go over the head of someone who doesnt already have a vocabulary for what they are experiencing. the possibilities are really endless with this. you can experiment with dose, grind, brewing method, water temp, etc. etc to show off what your business believes is the best method for showcasing your coffees for these tastings.
if you sell brewing equipment, this is also an excellent opportunity to educate your customer about the proper brewing method for each piece of equipment. if you give a consumer a free lesson on how to brew the perfect cup, i bet that they will be a pretty damn loyal whole bean customer. my experience with facilitating the tastings was that most of the people who showed up were loyal whole bean customers who were excited about the prospect of trying new crop coffees , who brought their friends with them(who then became loyal whole bean customers ) and some others who just wanted a free cup of coffee. for the most part, i would say that they were profitable. there were weeks when no one showed up at all, but then there were others when we ended up selling 30 pounds of coffee and several pieces of brewing equipment after the tasting was over.
also, we incorporated the tastings into the barista training program. each barista had to lead a tasting before they could graduate to being on the bar by themselves, working solo shifts etc. it was a way for us to gauge the baristas ability to talk about the coffee with confidence and be able to field questions without getting totally flustered.

our cost was= one pound of coffee + one hour of labor = $15-17 depending on the coffee.

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