What are you doing to educate people on specialty coffee?

Obviously us coffee people have all had our fair share of bad run-ins with Jeff Simmermons - "I want a triple espresso over ice."

I think it's okay to piss people off to maintain espresso's integrity (but only if you REALLY have to). I do believe there are good solutions to most customer vs. barista problems. I hate saying it, but even when I've been as nice as possible while behind the bar, people have still gotten mad at me over drink orders. America wants what it wants, and America wants it RIGHT NOW. It's sad...

I must pose the question: What are things that you all do to carefully introduce people to Specialty Coffee?

What are things you all do in your shops to push our culture forward?

Sincerely, Chris

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Good question Chris.
I think it has to begin with what we know we know, and what we think we know. Once we know we are repeating facts that have been empirically verified by experts, or at least through deductive reasoning of well known facts, we can carefully and correctly advance Specialty Coffee in all its glory, to the masses. However, I beleive one must continue to question what is fact from what can be debated.

Sometimes we offer our coffee knowledge opinions, as if they were facts, because we may have learned them from some one else in the Coffee Industry. Many of us are "experts" in certain areas of our coffee craft, so we may have a tendency to see our selves as experts in all areas, especially if we are involved in ongoing education. I am the first to say that I have been guilty of this at times.

There is nothing wrong with seeing ourselves as experts, it promotes self assurance and confidence. In fact, it is a normal occurance once one has been educated and becomes passionate about anything. So, I believe some tolerence is affordable before we piss anyone off. Remember not everyone is as passionate as we may be.

I do believe in advancing every phase of our coffee culture. We can continue to learn, and then continue to teach. I am proud to be part of nature's industry, and enjoy belonging to such a passionate fraternal group.
One way we have public coffee cuppings every Saturday afternoon. This Saturday in addition to the 3pm cupping we're giving away free tasting samples of Hacienda la Esmeralda Special Gesha all day to introduce the public to one of the most elite specialty coffees.

On a day to day basis it's a matter balancing maintaining high standards of quality remaining true to the bean and giving customers what they want regardless personal preference so the doors stay open. Make every beverage the best balanced cup it can be even if it's a 16oz double shot caramel mocha with whipped cream and extra caramel sauce, a daily morning cup of a contruction worker regular! Hey, at least he gets it in porcelain, sits and enjoys it before heading off to work.
One option that I'm looking at once I get my store up and running is to have a screen of some kind (like a plasma or LCD) that explains a little bit about the coffee's flavor, where its from, etc. It is a little but on the more expensive side and a very passive method, but it gives the customers something to look at while waiting in line. I like the weekly cupping idea.

As far as pissing them off...be careful. There are ways to be nice about it, but still get your point across. Refer the uneducated to another drink that's very close to the one they ordered. People will return to a place with average coffee if the customer service is good/great. But if they're treated like crap, they won't. Most of the time people will whine and complain to their friend and people they know when they get butt hurt over something. Then that turns into bad publicity for the shop. So maintain the integrity of the coffee, but do it in a way that gives the customer a reason to tell everyone the good service or what they learned there. Also, don't look at it as "pushing our culture". Inform, but never push. The difference has to do with the forcefulness of the tone.

With that said...there is a point to sticking to company policy and doing what's necessary to maintain the quality of the coffee. I did read the blog about Simmermon...he sounds like he whines a lot anyway. A business has the right to refuse service to anyone. And no one is "special" enough to make exceptions.
"pushing our culture" - I suppose I should have elaborated on that a little bit better... I meant that as more of a general question to all baristas and shop owners. Like: what types of creative ideas have you come up with to introduce people to specialty coffee?
The occasional tasting.
Info sheets about special coffees.
World map with precise origin locations on it.
Samples of new coffees when the come in.

We have a 20" flatscreen computer monitor that is over near the cream station. We take pics of customers in the shop and have a continuous slideshow of them, plus some shots of our upfit (we're a newer shop and did much of the work ourselves), ads for some of our customer's businesses, community event announcements, and some educational slides about our coffees. This runs off our house pc, so we can change up the slideshow whenever we want. It was inexpensive as far as flatscreens go. It is an extremely popular feature - people try to spot pics of themselves and their friends.

I'll second Mike's and Dave's comments about treating customers with respect. It is hard to change someones mind by refusing to serve them. You may feel better, but nothing has changed. Far better to show them what is possible with their current preferences and slowly bring them around.
Okay, I just made some changes to the post that make more sense to me. I feel that perhaps it wasn't a good representation of what I think about customer service.

haha I didn't want you guys to think that I was The Soup Nazi.
Hello Chris,
This is a great topic and it is fine line. Eileen Hassi of Ritual gave a lecture at SCAA this year and she said "show customers what you do best". If you say no or offend customers then you will be out of business. Public cuppings, free 1/2 lb. of you favorite coffee to a customer, staff excited about coffee and customers and coffee classes are great ways to get customers thinking about what they are drinking and specialty coffee. A movie night of a coffee film and discussion afterward would generate conversation about quality coffee.

Our drinks are a bit smaller than those of our competitors because we and a few key customers have determined that they taste better that way. And we're one of the only true "specialty coffee" shops in the city. We are also a bit more expensive than some competiors.
We've had complaints from new customers about this.

We've decided to hand out info cards to new customers with their drinks. One side has a discount for their next visit, and the other side says things like "Why is this drink so small?" and "Why did this drink cost so much?" They briefly explain about our superior coffee beans, freshness, and the care in preparation.

It's too early to tell how well this works.

I like the idea of the plasma screen or slide show.
Oh, and we're also thinking about having weekly educational workshops for the public. They can try different drinks and learn about what makes us special. We're not sure what format to use, though.

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