I'm going to structure this quite simply...
What I hope happens with coffee in 2011
1 - Better focus on customer experience
2 - A move away from elitism
3 - Better consistency
4 - The pendulum swings on espresso
If, as a semi-outsider, I were to rank the perceived focus for top US (artisan) coffee companies, it would look something like:
- Volume of sales
- Green bean purchasing and management
- Marketing (coolness, buzz, brand, etc)
- Preparing coffee the right way
We now have a situation where customer experience is (depending on the company) anywhere from inconsistent to terrible. I've been to retail locations for almost all the top US coffee businesses. I've literally never had a "great" customer experience. In any of them. Ever.
At this point the customer experience almost always lags so far behind the quality of the coffee that it's insulting to the coffee. Seriously.
Folks... we need to fix this. Let's start by trying to understand who our actual customers are. Then we should probably figure out what they want from us. And what kind of experience they hope to have. Then we can determine what kind of experience they're actually getting - where the big gaps and failures (on our part) are - and can take steps to solve the problems.
But, to do so, one thing has to change first. Note the above "... big gaps and failures (on our part)." Right now we blame the customers. Always. And that's fucked up. Until we fix this - we can't fix anything else.
Coffee has always had a problem with elitism. It's an industry that - to many - seems driven by not only the need to be considered "elite" but also by the need to constantly redefine the criteria by which one is considered elite. This results in tiers of greater and greater elitism and a junior high school clique behavior that is at best irritating and at worst highly destructive.
This elitism creates some of the customer experience problems that coffee has (similar to the behavior you get from the clerks at a vinyl record store). But it also creates problems within the coffee industry. It's distracting, it creates unneeded conflict. It's just lame. You aren't really that fucking cool.
The lack of consistency in coffee is increasingly troubling for me. At this point in time, customers of the best US coffee companies shouldn't be getting dramatically different roasts of the same coffee on subsequent days. Two back to back shots of the same espresso shouldn't taste like completely different coffees. In some ways I think consistency has actually gone down in the last year or two for the top companies.
What I'd really like to see is not the above minimum level of consistency, but actual consistency at a higher level. I'd like to see these coffee companies have consistently good coffee across all coffees and all roasts over time. I'd like to see them buying consistently good green. And I'd like to see coffee prepared to consistent standards and quality (at least within their own business) across all coffees and all staff.
This is where the commodity speciality coffee companies are killing the artisan ones. Sure, Peet's coffee is usually not good. But it is 100% consistent in how it's not good. If you know how you like it - it will always be that way.
Life is all about watching the pendulum swing - and go past it's optimal point. By overshooting again and again we get a better idea of accurate targeting.
This is true with coffee as well. And right now, the pendulum has swung too far when it comes to espresso. We can see the obvious drivers (a return to brewed coffee, single origin espresso, better equipment, baristas becoming roasters / green bean buyers, etc) but what's important is to look at the results. I'd honestly say that (for the top coffee companies in the US) the espresso over all has become less pleasurable over the last 2 years. It's become more interesting, for sure, but it's not as enjoyable.
It would be worthwhile I think to start reconsidering desired flavour profile in creating espresso. The current models (particularly the "nothing but sweet and tart" model) seem to rarely produce espresso that is actually something you'd enjoy drinking every day.
So... those are my hopes.
Do I think we're going to do any of them or see any of them being addressed?
I have no idea - but I can dream now can't I.