Baristas, we have all experienced this before. A customer read something about coffee roasting on the internet, and decided to flaunt his new-found knowledge on you.
"Is your coffee light roasted?"
"When was the coffee roasted?"
It is great that customers are talking to you about coffee and it opens up an opportunity for you to share with them your product. However, if you have only 2 minutes to respond to their questions (like those examples above), what is the best way to do it?
Here are some tips:
1. Avoid talking about roast colour and technical details
There are many ways coffee professionals talk about roast colour, and most of them are quite subjective. You hear terms like city/full-city roast, light/medium/dark roast, French/Italian roasts etc. Avoid them! The only objective way to measure roast colour is to use colour analysers, which can give a accurate reading. The Agtron scale is most often used.
To the untrained eyes of your customer, roast colour descriptors are meaningless. Most importantly, they do not really say anything about the roast development or the cup quality.
Similarly, technical details like charge temperature, roasting time, air flow, development time etc should not be discussed.
2. Talk about stories
Every roaster has plenty of stories to tell. It can be adventures encountered during origin trips, the story of the espresso blend name, the eureka moments, their beliefs and philosophy etc. Go ahead and share those stories with your customers. Stories are a lot more memorable than boring technical details of roasting, and are great marketing tools.
So lets say you want to introduce a Kenyan coffee in your hopper, and here are 2 ways to do it:
A. "This coffee is roasted rather lightly, probably a City roast. Development time is short, just a minute past first crack. This roast profile brings out lots of berry notes."
B. "Our roaster visited Kenya late last year, and almost lost his life in a car accident on the way to the co-op that produced this coffee. He is always searching for great coffee at the origin and buying directly from the producers. And after all this work getting great quality coffee, he roasts them really carefully in small batches to make sure the coffee tastes great in your cup."
So which is a better introduction of the coffee? A or B?
3. Focus on the cup quality
Everything about the roasting does not matter if the coffee does not taste great. Do get your customers to taste the coffee first, before explaining that roasting is just one of many steps towards a great coffee. I like to use the example of cooking a steak to better explain coffee roasting to a customer.
Firstly, we need to start off with quality ingredients. Roasting a coffee is similar to cooking a steak, we are just trying to bring out the best potential in the coffee or steak. And it is not a miracle process to turn lousy coffee into something great.
Secondly, chefs do not cook a great cut of beef to well done, just like how roasters will not want to over-roast a great coffee. The more you cook a steak, the more of the meat's flavours and juices you will lose. The cheapest and most expensive cut of beef from the butcher will taste the same if you cook it long enough. And this applies to coffee too.
So baristas, do try these tips the next time you engage a customer about coffee roasting. But of course there are exceptions and if your customer is well informed about coffee roasting and really want to discuss the technicalities of the roast, then by all means engage them at the appropriate level. =)