So what makes a good coffee?

Over the past two to three years I have become convinced that in order to be one step ahead of your competitor – you need to be able offer a good coffee to your customers. Not one of those where the customer presses a button on a machine, places a paper cup underneath – and presses a selection of buttons! They are beyond redemption. You get a part of whatever the last person chose to drink. So if you press cappuccino, and the person before you selected a hot chocolate – your drink has a part coffee and part chocolate taste.

In my view you are better off serving any of these selected drinks from boiling a kettle of water and putting the hot chocolate powder or coffee – into a cup and filling it up!

I digress here. I only converted to drinking coffee a few years back, along with millions others around the world. And as a convert I am perhaps harder to please than most? That being the case I quickly became an addict of the Wild Bean coffee served at many Bp Express shops. This also meant that because I was on the site I made use of their other offerings while waiting for my fix of caffeine. But of late I have become more and more disenchanted with their coffee – and this is the point of article today.

It has given me the opportunity to explore and experience other coffee offerings at other convenience stores. And that is perhaps not a bad thing as I am bit of a creature of habit – if I know you will serve a good cup of coffee I won’t go elsewhere. And so I have frequented a few Brazilian outlets, Seattle Coffee, Gloria Jeans, and Wimpy outlets. It became if you like, a bit of a personal mission for me to try and understand just where my (what used to be) favorite brand went wrong. I even tried the new offering at SASOL delights where they have one of those automated dispensing machines and those old ones used at Steers outlets.

My thoughts on dispensing machines have not changed – in fact my attitude is I would rather buy a bottle of water than waste any more money trying to drink something that sort of tastes like coffee – but is not the real thing.

And so for the past 6 months I have been trying to find out just what can go wrong with a good strong brand suddenly losing its appeal to an avid loyal customer? Here is what I found:
1. Today I stop and buy my coffee from your outlet and it is just great. So I come back tomorrow – and it is awful. It is the same outlet, the same bean and the same – in many cases – very expensive machines. So how can it all go so horribly wrong? It is the inconsistency that I came across – both in taste and in presentation that became an issue for me.
2. Today I stop at a branded outlet and get a great cup of coffee and tomorrow I stop at the same brand but a different outlet – and it tastes awful. Same brand, same machines, same bean?
3. I then started to watch the preparation that goes into making a good cup of coffee. In some cases care was taken when preparing the coffee – and in other cases it was a downright “don’t care attitude”. Just pour the stuff, and hand it over.
4. And then I started to look at the hygiene factors – the cleanliness of the machines, the lack of hygiene when putting the lid on the cup, and so on.

My view is if you are going to serve coffee well – either do it properly or not at all. Hot drinks as a category are still growing both here in South Africa and globally. And that is good news for those of you looking to grow your market share and improve your overall profitability. So if you do choose to ignore this trend, you do so at your own peril. But do it properly.

Here are some of the reasons I think we have such inconsistency in this market offering:
1. The grind being used by the person serving the coffee is different. The grind makes the difference between a good cup and a poor one.
2. If you use porcelain cups – the cups should be warm not cold when making the coffee.
3. The temperature of the machines can vary – and again add to the inconsistency.
4. The pressure of the machine will also add to the inconsistency.
5. The pressure applied to the head needs to vary based on the temperature of the machine and speed of dispensing. This is perhaps the hardest one to teach our staff – but practice makes perfect.
One tip I did learn on this personal journey of mine – is to look at which header the staff are using when making the cup of coffee.

Most of our sites have single header and double header machines. When making one cup of coffee at a time – your staff should be using the single header. But they don’t. They invariably use the double header – and that automatically tells you that the grind of the coffee is wrong and the staff knows it. So to compensate they use the double header. As a customer when you see this – you know you will get served yet another bitter cup of coffee!

One customer that saw me commenting on this said – that he thinks he gets better coffee when this happens as they have to put four spoons of grind into his coffee instead of the normal two! Two things with this – the flavor of the coffee will be more bitter than need be and secondly you the owner will be halving your profit!

So where to from here? Next week we will discuss some suggestions.

Take care out there!

Jocelyn Daly
If you are looking for assistance in this regard you can contact us directly via our website at http://www.cstores.co.za or email us at cstores@iafrica.com.

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  1. #1 by Wayne Langford on June 29, 2010 - 12:38 pm

    I agree with your synopsis of the inconsistencies across different cups of coffee. I have a mobile coffee business and have trained all my Baristas to make the perfect cuppa. I believe that training is the key to getting it right. Why can we do it consistently right, and other companies don’t? I have been really disgusted at times to see the condition of a coffee machine, and when I ask who the Barista is on duty, I usually get “Huh?” as a standard response. If we have to move the bar a notch higher to ensure that only trained Baristas are allowed to make coffee, we will be well on the road to success – but we will still have to ensure that no short cuts are taken. Then again, we have to ask ourselves why anyone would want to take short cuts and provide a bad cup of coffee, when a good cup receives so much joy: both from the person making it and the one drinking it. My company focuses on outdoor events, so please feel free to try us out the next time you are at a run or cycle ride, or anywhere that you see a Bean-A-Mania unit, and let me know if you get the same consistency across all orders. We will also be happy to provide any training needed to ensure that you get the consistency that you should.

  2. #2 by Li Lai on June 29, 2010 - 1:24 pm

    Great insights !!! Lots of food for thought to get our coffee industry better.

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