What the customers actually think - focus group responses to questions of quality, value and skill

I have been asking lots of people what they think "high quality" coffee is. The following quotes are from professional Baristas, coffee shop owners and other industry specialists from Barista Exchange.

"coffee made from a barista, so he can have the best blend but if he dont know how to grind and dose or he or she are overheating milk, whats the point of 'best beans'?"

"For me everything start in the coffee bean. At least for my country coffee is an art. We want the best quality all the time, not every once or sometimes. For instance Bell I can have a SHB, and everything has been taking care as planned but if I do the handpicking a day after or a day before , the taste will be different. Or even when we roast the coffee, you can have a SHB or a specialty superb coffee, but if we mess up in the roasting, that's it. An entire year of harvest to the garbage indeed."

"1M: select green beans

2M: roast

3M: blend

4M: grind

5M: brewing

Nothing esprecial, but none of them can be missed."

"Quality coffee goes along with quality buyers, and quality roasters, and quality shops with (more than likely) quality management and baristas. It's almost safe to say it's in good hands. But as with anything in coffee, it can EASILY be mishandled and ruined along annnny of those steps."

"The greatness is in the bean already, I want only to present as much as possible of the bean's potential in my customer's cup. Not to understate the role of the barista - coaxing out this potential is not easy, and doing it well seems to be the exception, not the rule. I think if everybody in the chain, from the plant to the cup, shares the same philosophy, you'll have true quality."

"Making something drinkable from lousy ingredients does not strike me as "creating quality". It is a useful skill to posses, but I don't think you can create quality by artfully masking defects."

That said, I have also been asking customers in both chain coffee shops (Caffe Nero, Esquires and Coffee Revolution) and independent shops (The Voodoo Cafe, Coffee@Elliots and Gusto Italiano) what their views on coffee quality are - and the differences are quite apparent!

"erm, it doesn't taste like crap?"

"and Elliots - I like it
but its not really what I'd call quality coffee. It's just put cup
under, push button, there you go, there's your coffee, no skill!"

"good service - so, politness, the coffee not overdone or whatever, not taking too long to be served. All that stuff. And, yeah to be in clean stuff and everything. That's always nice. And, like, essential really."

"Freshly roasted beans
(of a good quality), properly brewed."

"Low quality coffee is
very acidic, it's got things other than coffee in it. I've no idea of
quality comparisons cos I don't take much notice. I don't know where
this stuff comes from, but I like the way it's made here."

"Tasty. A certain thickness. It
kinda warms me, warms the innermost caverns of your soul. It's very

"well you must realise,
I'm not the coffee aficionado, I'm very much the layman. Neophyte as
it were. it's
just shy of £2 and yeah I enjoy it, it's the coffee, it's the
environment, it's happy associations."

"You've gotta say Fair
Trade haven't you. I feel really guilty coming in here if it's not
fair trade. Organic would be good too."

"It should have the
consistency of mud. The best coffee I've ever tasted was Turkish
coffee and you could practically turn it upside down without it
pouring out. It's really thick and you know you're probably going to
feel like a lie down afterwards. Until you're actually lying down and
you can feel your heart pounding."

"A bit fluffy, but: it
depends who makes it. You know it does make a difference."

"I mean the thing
with like, having this kind of a market where there are a lot of big
chains, they are trying to advertise having the same thing at every
one of their stores – there's probably too much in who makes it to
be able to say that. I mean, I don't generally like African coffees,
I much prefer Latin American ones and so I'll notice the difference,
and how well it's been tamped and how strong it is and things like
that, so you can't really say, one shop over another."

Since I am also posting this on Barista Exchange, I'm including some customer views on other aspects of coffee-shop life that the cafe owners and baristas may find interesting....

On Latte Art:

"It's nice but it takes
way longer for them to do it so I'm just 'give me a drink, I want to
sit down' you know..."

"I don't think much
about presentation – it's completely off the loop for me. If they
put a pretty pattern on, then you're only going to stir it up anyway
before you start drinking it."

"Yeah, the whole
thing about foam – it belongs there but like, I only just feel like
I'm messing something up. I like Ugly food, ugly drinks, you know,"

"it's much
more the taste I think."

>I don't particularly
care what it looks like - I don't drink lattes so I don't know about
latte art. I'd rather they didn't bother with the little chocolates
on the side though! You can have it!"

"(Having just Googled
it) I think it's pretty mint. If it's done right that is. I once went
to get a coffee, and the guy who served me (who seems to think he's
the coffee king...) says "I've left you something on top."
So i looked at my fresh coffee, then back at him saying "You
spat in my foam?!" I think it was meant to be modern art of some
description, but it did look more like something from the recesses of
his lungs."

went to Costa in Darlo once and they did this lovely star pattern in
my mates Latte which was so nice. She didn't even ask, he just did,
it was niceeeee. I took a pic of it, they're so cool. But erm, yeah I
like them, it makes you feel like you've spent money on something
good but once the pattern goes away you feel a bit sad.

"I'm not too bothered about that."

It's good, but I don't
really care if they don't."

On why they go to coffee shops:

"Mostly with coffee
shops...it depends where I'm going. I go to Esquires for the coffee,
I probably come here because other people wanted to come here, a lot
of the time when I go to a coffee shop is determined by other people
suggesting it more than my personal preference."

"As a rule I don't
go to chain coffee shops for the coffee. Like in here, it's not the
coffee, I guess the atmosphere, but I mainly get pulled in by other
people, and it's in a convenient location."

"Decent tea, nice food,
nice people. I want somewhere I can sit, and enjoy myself even if I
don't know anyone there. It's always nice."

"I like the place to
have a buzz about it - i hate silent coffee shops because i think
they're places for talking, and you can't do that if the place is
silent - it just feels oppressive."

"I tend to go to Coffee
@ Elliots cos they don't pretend to be Italian and you can go in
there and say “I'll have a large black coffee please and you'll get
a Large Black Coffee. No bloody Frenchy americano or whatever it is."

"It's like a
habit – it's the going in and sitting down, not the coffee itself. I think I'm just
lazy. By the time I've walked all the way in to town, I just want to
sit down somewhere. Coffee just comes with it!"

"I go out to cafés
fairly regularly, for good coffee. I come in here probably once a
week at least, cos the coffee is very good. I avoid Starbucks and
Costa, Starbucks cos it's shit, Costa cos it's too expensive."

"I do go to coffee
shops, for lunches generally, um, for Cake. Definitely Cake. I'm not
sure beverages come in to it too much! I tend to go for more
accessible places. Where in particular? Where my friends happen to
be. Again, places located around where I live in Broomhill, or in the
Union area. If I happen to be in town shopping then it might be that
I'll pop in somewhere and get a piece of cake. And a drink to go with

And finally, on value for money:

"Total rip off."

"It's why I don't
usually go to chains, cos I find they generally charge more than
like, more independent ones."

"They don't pay
their staff that well either, as far as I know."

"I assume you are
buying the ceramic as well, so I usually take that with me!

"The prices have gone up
and the cups have got smaller!! This is now £1.95 and the cup
is smaller than the ones you used to get for £1.60! It is
smaller! I swear it!"

"They are just trying to sell you the brand though aren't they? The atmosphere! You are paying for
coffee but you're also paying for a pleasant environment to sit in."

"I think, in here you
can expect it to be reasonably expensive, just by the appearance of
the place, If you like that
setting then you'd pay for it, I mean for me, I just like the safas"

"It's probably about 10p
isn't it? The fact that they're giving it away... I mean, you can't
buy ten cakes and get a free cake, can you? Or juice or anything, so
it must be the cheapest thing.Rachel: Well I've seen
people in here give them away to their friends and so on so they
can't be that expensive."

"You know, they
say that, like, people don't like things if they are cheap, like they
think they're not good. We've all had the wool pulled over on us, in
that this is better than filter coffee or something."

"It's just
marketing though, isn't it?"

"i think that espressos
are a rip-off, but i wouldn't have it any other way. A coffee shop
once tried to give me my money's worth of a espresso - a cappuccino
mug filled to the top with double espresso; but it just felt wrong."

"I actually think they
are [good value for money], cause they give you a variety of things and are very
professional about it all - plus the service is nice and fast. It's

That will do for now - but there is plenty more. And I have another group scheduled for tomorrow. I will add my thoughts in soon when I've had a chance to digest it all. Until then, please feel free to add your comments and suggestions! All feedback very welcome!

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Comment by Bel Townsend on October 4, 2008 at 11:25am
Thanks, all. Plenty more are on http://drcoffee.wordpress.com - mainly for amusement factor as most of my "research" groups haven't been spectacularly useful so far!!! the best one IMHO is called "Caffeinated Musings of the Teenage Fanclub"
Comment by Mellisa on October 3, 2008 at 9:32pm
Thanks for gathering this, Bel. What a great page you have here, also. I'm looking forward to the next batch....
Comment by Bel Townsend on October 2, 2008 at 2:42am
Rumour has it he "left to go back to university" - to study art, funnily enough. A more accurate version of events is that he was told "he doesn't work there any more."
And he's still a prick.
Comment by javaqueen on October 1, 2008 at 6:58pm
Great stuff Bel!

Isn't it interesting climbing inside the heads of people.

And the guy with the latte art... well, it sounds to me like he needs a little more training and a lot more practice... and maybe even a new line of work if your adjective is accurate.
Comment by Bel Townsend on October 1, 2008 at 7:37am
Yeah, I've met the guy responsible for that "art" - frankly, he's a complete prick. And for that reason he better stay anonymous!!!
Comment by Brady on October 1, 2008 at 7:30am
Beautiful! Thanks Bel.

I'm still laughing at this:
"So i looked at my fresh coffee, then back at him saying "You
spat in my foam?!" I think it was meant to be modern art of some
description, but it did look more like something from the recesses of
his lungs."

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