Coffee is complex, incredible, and can provide sensory experiences unlike anything on the planet. The coffee industry is young and we have only scratched the surface of how lovely coffee can be. Furthermore, the economic impact the industry can have on communities on a global level is massive. Coffee brings the world together. Most excitingly, the coffee industry is teeming with potential because millions of people around the world have yet to truly experience how lovely it is. This big picture is the main idea of specialty coffee and, as a coffee professional, this aim gives me purpose in what I do every day.
However, the idea of specialty coffee is contingent on more people buying in, and the industry will continue to grow only as long as more people get involved. Increased involvement means increased capital, which means additional access to discover, buy, steward and sell better coffees. Without an increase of new people involved, the industry cannot grow. In order to promote and ensure the growth of the industry, coffee professionals need to continue to focus on selling the idea of specialty coffee.
The idea is sold by providing “observation points” into the coffee world, which are opportunities teach a consumer about coffee. Observation points, typically provided by baristas, can have differing forms. A discussion regarding taste notes, an informative introduction to processing methods, or a dialogue about the specialty aspects of coffee can be a good introduction for some consumers, while a fantastic cappuccino, a cup of well-extracted filter coffee or a bag of whole bean can introduce others. All of these examples of observation points are relevant to the idea of specialty coffee, all can be interesting and engaging, and—when done right—all can create and stoke fascination with coffee. Furthermore, each example is contingent on a welcoming and hospitable environment, built on sales-focused principles and attitudes that begin with training.
Most barista training generally prioritizes the palpable mechanics and theory of making coffee—crucial for properly translating the sensory experience—but tends to downplay the role of baristas as salespeople, which is equally important to growing the industry. The more involved baristas become with making coffee, the easier it can be to get lost in the details, focusing on new techniques, observing and remarking on old ones, and experimenting with equipment and technology, sometimes at the cost of becoming overly critical and forgetting that learning about coffee is a process. In this way, focusing too heavily on perfecting the product can incubate elitism and snobbery, pushing people away and furthering the insulation of the industry.
Sales-focus training should teach baristas the basics of engaging and welcoming consumers, encompassing hospitality training with specifics on how to approach those who know little to nothing about coffee. Baristas and trainers alike should remember that the very wellbeing of their industry is dependent on their ability to win consumers, and their attitudes should reflect this as well. It is vital to remember the big picture, and that every new consumer’s introduction to and acceptance of the specialty aspects of coffee ought to be celebrated, no matter how small. This focus combined with the ability to make great coffee gives baristas the ability to truly navigate the tension of perfection and invitation, pushing forward the idea of specialty coffee and working to see that people around the world continue to be exposed to how lovely coffee can be.