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by Rocky Rhodes

AHA! Moments in Coffee">The AHA! Moments in Coffee

Categories: 2011, NovemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

No mat­ter what your expe­ri­ence level is in our indus­try, you should always try to stretch your­self fur­ther. When you do this you are often met with an AHA! moment. In the begin­ning, they come more often. Later in your career, they are fewer, but are often shak­ing your belief system.

An AHA! moment is that instant when clar­ity occurs. Sometimes, like with chil­dren learn­ing a new math con­cept, just fig­ur­ing it out for the first time can be an AHA! moment. Other times you will find some­one says some­thing that ties together loose ends like “The rea­son your back is hurt­ing is due to your strained knee which is mak­ing you stand awk­wardly. Fix your knee and you fix your back.” Still oth­ers are the ‘real­ity movers’ that undo a known fact. Examples here might be when your daugh­ter dis­cov­ers that Mickey Mouse at Disneyland is just a guy in a suit. (Yeah it’s true!)

The AHA! moment is impor­tant for the cof­fee indus­try for two main rea­sons. The first is per­sonal; it proves you are still grow­ing and learn­ing. The sec­ond is finan­cial; shar­ing these expe­ri­ences and pro­vid­ing your clients with their own AHA! moments builds a bond. You are an expert will­ing to give away your expe­ri­ence. A deeper bond with clients means more loy­alty and more word of mouth advertising.

Where you are in the sup­ply chain also effects your AHA! moments. Listed below are moments that peo­ple shared for this arti­cle. The moments will be clas­si­fied in seg­ments of the sup­ply chain. Some are ‘entry level’ that we all have had. Some much deeper.

AHA! Moments in the Coffee House
If you want to cre­ate loy­alty with your retail cus­tomers, do this: Brew a nat­ural process Ethiopian, an earthy Sumatran and a flo­ral, bal­anced Guatemalan and put them on a self-serve table in your shop. Put down some forms and ask your cus­tomer to vote for their favorite. Here are the AHA! moments you will be pro­vid­ing for your customer:

  • Not all cof­fee tastes the same. In fact they can be VERY different!
  • I can taste the dif­fer­ence! Maybe I am bet­ter at tast­ing than I thought!
  • I NEVER drink cof­fee with­out stuff in it. Maybe I hide the taste when I do that!
  • If these taste dif­fer­ent, what do OTHER cof­fees taste like?
  • 
Maybe cof­fee can be enjoyed rather than just consumed.
  • I really like this taste and not that one. Are there more that taste like this one?

Here is another good one you can do. Get a sequen­tial pic­ture array in the fol­low­ing order: Coffee tree with flow­ers, green cher­ries, yel­low cher­ries, red cher­ries, cof­fee being picked, cof­fee being car­ried to the mill, cof­fee being pre sorted, cof­fee in hold­ing tank, pulp­ing cof­fee, fer­men­ta­tion tank, dry­ing patio, rak­ing, dry stor­age, hulling, screen sort­ing, grav­ity sort­ing, defect sort­ing, cup­ping table, green cof­fee in bag, bags in con­tainer, con­tainer on ship, cof­fee in ware­house, cof­fee near roaster, green bean, yel­low bean, three more roast lev­els, cup­ping table, brewed cof­fee in a cup with a bis­cotti. The customer’s head usu­ally starts spin­ning at this point! Here are some moments:

  • Coffee is grown on trees!
  • It’s not a bean, it’s a pit!
  • It’s green not brown!
  • It can be dif­fer­ent shades of brown!
  • 
It’s roasted!
  • SO MANY HANDS! SO MANY STEPS! What if one per­son screws it up!

Assuming a pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words, that is about 30,000 words with­out your staff say­ing any­thing! If you do this for your cus­tomers, you ele­vate the con­ver­sa­tion beyond cost and focus on qual­ity con­trol points. This solid­i­fies a cus­tomer for life! This is a cus­tomer that will want to share this infor­ma­tion with oth­ers and thereby be ‘the expert’ to their friends. That’s more cus­tomers for you!

AHA! Moments at the Roasting Facility
Whenever you are dis­cussing cof­fee with a prospect, put out a dis­play with four dif­fer­ent roast styles of a sin­gle ori­gin cof­fee on it. Also pre­pare four pots of cof­fee made from the beans of the dis­play. Ask the prospect to pick their favorite. Also show a roast pro­file spread­sheet and graph for each one. This is what is going through their mind:

  • You can roast the same cof­fee dif­fer­ent ways!
  • There is a dra­matic taste dif­fer­ence due to roast!
  • Roasting is an art AND a science.
  • The skill of the roaster adds value to the product.
  • Which roast style is right for my customers?

You can do the same thing with blends. Take a prospect through an actual cup­ping. You get a spe­cial bond when they try this for the first time and:

  • I learned a new skill to eval­u­ate cof­fee I never knew existed.
  • I am smarter than my friends about cof­fee because I know how to cup.
  • Is there a com­mon lan­guage between cof­fee pro­fes­sion­als that use this tool?
  • I can speak this lan­guage with prac­tice but it is not an easy skill.

AHA! Moments with the Exporter / Importer
Different com­pa­nies do dif­fer­ent things to pre­pare, move, buy, track and ware­house cof­fee. The aver­age roaster really does not under­stand the logis­tics involved, let alone the com­plex­ity of a com­modi­ties exchange and inter­na­tional con­tracts. There are things you can do to have the roaster appre­ci­ate your role even more. Start with a descrip­tive break out of a con­tract describ­ing the main points: type, quan­tity, place, and qual­ity. For the first time your roast­ers will be thinking:

  • Risk man­age­ment is crucial.
  • There are more than only ‘ship­ping costs’ involved in this.
  • Maritime insur­ance? Who knew?
  • Price fluc­tu­a­tions against 37,500 pounds of cof­fee are SIGNIFICANT!
  • That is why my spot price changes!
  • Price fix­ing has sta­bil­ity AND risk associated.

Once that con­ver­sa­tion ensues you can move to a con­ver­sa­tion about hedg­ing, mul­ti­year con­tract ben­e­fits / pit­falls, and dis­pute res­o­lu­tion. Your cus­tomer should walk away with this:

  • I will not attempt this on my own unless I have pro­fes­sional help. I love that I do not have to deal with this!

AHA! Moments at Origin
As a farmer you know that what you do requires sci­ence, expe­ri­ence, finan­cial risk, luck of nature and the kind­ness of God. The aver­age roaster or retailer can con­cep­tu­al­ize what you do but do not feel it like you do.
Some of the things they will expe­ri­ence are:


  • 5 years until the 1st crop!
  • Off sea­son work to pre­pare the trees is immense.
  • Organic is only as good as the polic­ing being done.
  • This can be freak­ing hard work.
  • Mills go 24 –7 dur­ing har­vest. Coffee is raked every 15–30 min­utes for the first 24 hours.
  • Defect sort­ing is a mas­sive under­tak­ing done by skilled people.

The first ori­gin trip when they see your total process (from the farm through the mill) they get one of the most impor­tant AHA! moments in the industry:

  • It is amaz­ing that a great prod­uct makes it to me at all. I have an oblig­a­tion to honor all the work that has come before me and do my best to pro­duce the best drink I can!

If some of the above AHA! moments were new to you, you might have just dis­cov­ered a new one:

  • If you are not hav­ing AHA! moments you should prob­a­bly be expand­ing your search for knowl­edge in the industry!

Talk to the other peo­ple in the sup­ply chain to bet­ter under­stand what they do. Ask your cus­tomers what they think about you, your prod­uct, and the indus­try as a whole. Whatever you learn will be a ben­e­fit to you in the long run. You can also self-direct some of your learn­ing by find­ing classes through SCAA, Roasters Guild, Barista Guild and CQI to name a few. The more you know, the more you can share with oth­ers. If you take the time and effort, the whole indus­try benefits.

This is box title
Here are some of the authors per­sonal AHA!’s:

  • By read­ing Tim Castle’s book, ‘A Perfect Cup’ I learned you could roast cof­fee at home in a pop­corn pop­per. This started me in the industry.
  • There is no such place as Mandehling on the Island of Sumatra. It is a peo­ple not a place.
  • The caged Luwak seems per­fectly con­tent to eat cof­fee cher­ries, then poop them out in solitude.
  • Not all experts are right.
  • Dark roasted cof­fee has a higher per­cent­age of caf­feine than a medium roast. (Lost money on this bet)
  • Fire can be an excel­lent cleaner for your roaster. (Not a sug­ges­tion by the way)
  • The rea­son that high alti­tude cof­fee tends to be bet­ter is the slower mat­u­ra­tion cycle.
  • There is more Arabica pro­duced than Robusta. (Lost money on this bet)
  • Betting is not the smartest way to prove you are right.

Rocky can be reached at rocky@INTLcoffeeConsulting.com

NOT cup?">Why does a roaster NOT cup?

Categories: 2011, MayTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

On a casual inquiry of those that roast, espe­cially the micro-roasters, every one will say that they cup cof­fee on a reg­u­lar basis. Dig a lit­tle deeper and one is sur­prised that many of these roast­ers mean that they drink cof­fee on a reg­u­lar basis. They do not have a for­mal cup­ping pol­icy or pro­ce­dure. Why in the world not?

To start to answer this ques­tion I did some per­sonal reflec­tion. I started a roast­ing com­pany in 1997 on a shoe­string. Since I wore almost all the hats and was respon­si­ble for get­ting the money in and pay­roll out, I made choices about how to spend my 15 hour days. Cupping was a task I was unfa­mil­iar with and I did not under­stand its value so I pushed it to the bot­tom of the four-page to-do list. Does this sound famil­iar? We all tend to avoid the uncom­fort­able and con­cen­trate on that imme­di­ate task in front of us.

Despite a lack of time and knowl­edge, it is time to get the cup­ping pro­gram in place. To start, let’s explore why to have one. Then we can move on to how.

Why does a roaster cup?

We cup for two rea­sons: The first is to find out what is wrong with a cof­fee. The sec­ond is to find out what is beau­ti­ful about a cof­fee. They are done the same way but at dif­fer­ent times.

When mak­ing a buy­ing deci­sion on green cof­fee a roaster should cup each lot before mak­ing a buy­ing deci­sion. If there is some­thing wrong with the lot you want to dis­cover it before you buy it. I know that when you are a small roaster you rely on your bro­ker to do a lot of this work for you. And they should. But you should use the old Ronald Reagan the­ory of, “Trust but ver­ify” and cup the prod­uct your­self. If the green you are buy­ing for a blend com­po­nent has to have a par­tic­u­lar fla­vor pro­file you need to ver­ify that it shows in the cup. If you are try­ing to offer a sin­gle vari­etal that sings and dances in the cup by itself, you need to ver­ify that it shows up in the cup. Later, when we dis­cuss record keep­ing we will touch on sea­sonal vari­ances of taste characteristics.

When mak­ing fin­ished prod­uct deci­sions on sin­gle vari­etals and blends you are explor­ing your own skills and processes. I learned as my busi­ness grew that I had to do what I feared most and hand over con­trol of cer­tain processes to oth­ers. Things like roast­ing and blend­ing. In order to keep con­trol of these essen­tial processes, cup­ping is the essen­tial tool. In a short and pre­cise exer­cise you can see if your staff is real­iz­ing the cup results you want. You will also be able to cri­tique new blends that are now being invented by your team and dis­cuss them in tan­gi­ble terms to get to a new product.

How do I set up my cup­ping plan?

You can cup fin­ished prod­ucts in the same way you do green eval­u­a­tion. The tools are sim­ple but the tech­nique takes prac­tice. Below is a list of tools. What you need now is a process. I sug­gest the fol­low­ing steps:

1)    Buy the tools and get set up.

2)    Take a cup­ping class or get some­one to come show you SCAA cup­ping protocols

3)    Set a time each week, (mov­ing towards daily) to cup. No excep­tions. For about 3 hours.

4)    Always cup with oth­ers from your team so you begin to calibrate.

5)    Keep a log of every­thing you cup. History is very important.

6)    As you advance, get your Q-Grader cer­ti­fi­ca­tion from Coffee Quality Institute so you will be cal­i­brated with oth­ers in the cof­fee sup­ply chain.

So why are you resis­tant to start­ing a plan?

If you do not have a cup­ping plan I am going to share some­thing with you, which you know to be true deep down in your soul… You are a big chicken! You are not sure if you are as good as the mar­ket­ing you put out as hav­ing, “The best cof­fee in the world”. If you put a sys­tem in place you will have to prove to your­self, and your staff, that you know what you are talk­ing about. More than that, your cus­tomers may find out!

Well guess what? You are that good! Now you can just set up a sys­tem to show oth­ers. I had an AHA! moment when I took my first cup­ping class at a con­ven­tion. All of a sud­den there was a lan­guage that oth­ers spoke that said what I tasted!  I could speak up and cal­i­brate what I tasted with oth­ers. They knew what I was say­ing! A cup­ping pro­gram does this for all mem­bers of your com­pany. The tool frees you to make advances in blends, roast­ing tech­niques and mar­ket­ing. You can even edu­cate your cus­tomers to cre­ate a stronger bond.

So, bot­tom line: Get over your fear of being ‘found out’, take a class, buy the tools, set up the process and cup with your staff. You will get bet­ter at cup­ping and more impor­tantly you will improve both your buy­ing prac­tices and fin­ished product.