In the new fangled age of third-wave coffee, more and more consumers are leaving coffee shops feeling alienated, and quite rightly. The plethora of complicated jargon and stigma surrounding speciality coffee, especially in more up-market areas in London and other metropolitan centres, can often become overwhelming. As a barista who has worked on both sides of the track, the line between the commodity coffee market and the more speciality culture is becoming visibly narrower. High Street chains, for instance, are making an effort to break into more niche products – flat whites and cold brew coffee being some obvious examples. On the other hand, the independent coffee shop scene is constantly trying to bridge that gap between high-end and the high-street.
So the question is, how important is accessibility in coffee products to the average consumer? There will always be those who seek out speciality, but the customers we are focusing on here are those without background knowledge. Do we make a huge, and sometimes futile, effort to educate people or do we tailor service to a level that is accessible and understandable for the everyday customer?
Much of working in hospitality is chatting to people on a day-to-day basis. This is a great starting point, from a speciality perspective, for subtly enlightening customers in the merits of great coffee. As an industry, it’s then up to us to tweak and alter the way we work so that new customers are made to feel comfortable, not overwhelmed and, simply put, to keep on coming back. A policy of ‘If you don’t like it, there’s the door’ will always lead to a bad reputation and, overall, stunts the slow bridging – and eventual collision – of these opposite worlds of coffee. Ultimately, it is about finding a healthy balance to keep moving forward and flourishing as a coffee business in a world that is fast-paced and full of niche, cool and trend-based ideals.