May 13, 2015

Catering to Coffee Customers in Rural Guatemala


At the bottom of every menu in La Fábrica, you will find this sentence: “No aplicamos azúcar a ninguna bebida si no lo pide”, basically saying we don’t put sugar in your drink unless you ask for it. This is quite a revolutionary concept in rural Guatemala where the norm is every drink has sugar unless you specify you DON’T want sugar. This custom is so prevalent that when I went to purchase a fruit smoothie in the park one day, I watched the man put a full cup of sugar into the blender – yes, a full cup!

SEE ALSOWhy Is It Difficult For Coffee Shops In Producing Countries To Purchase High Quality Coffee

For me, drinking coffee, smoothies and frappes without sugar is the most natural thing since I’m serving a Cup of Excellence coffee that scored 88 out of 100 in this year’s cupping, and we are always looking for the freshest ingredients for our smoothies, juices, and food.

Sachets of sugar

The great debate. Have sugar out and ready for the consumers to use  or make it only available at the consumers request.

However that hasn’t deterred a number of my customers from putting copious amounts of sugar into their cappuccino and also did not stop a young girl from one time pouring the sugar directly into her mouth from the sugar shaker. Obviously wherever you are in the world, your customers are or at least should be the most important factor in determining what to place on your menu and at what price. Determining the menu and price was especially challenging for me as I was looking to open a coffee shop knowing that other coffee shops have previously failed before in this town. I live in a rather warm climate area and people who drink coffee tend to pay $0.15 for a bag of instant coffee mixed with flour so they can prepare it at home. To a certain extent we as lovers of specialty coffee have the need to educate our customers, but at the same time we must meet our customers in the middle so we can get them in the door.

With all this in mind I began to frequently visit restaurants and coffee shops both in the town where I was living in Antigua and also in Guatemala City, Jalapa and Jutiapa all with the purpose of looking at price points, discovering what would sell and what wouldn’t, how to introduce the culture of drinking good coffee, all the while marketing it to the consumption habits that were already present in the culture to get customers in. My desire was not to copy an already existing model, but to take the best of different worlds and open a shop I felt would attract people to us and get them to drink our coffee.

Lattes with latte art

Selling specialty coffee to a market accustomed to paying $0.15 a cup is certainly a challenge. Latte art  can serve as a means to promote specialty coffee.

As a result of all my efforts in planning the menu, the price points and with the atmosphere I have tried to create, I have a very diverse client base passing through my shop. There are groups of older ladies who come by on their girls night out, teens who stop over after school to hang out with their friends, and then there are Guatemalans who have lived in the United States and who grew accustomed to drinking coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks and are now looking for a higher quality beverage. I, of course, feel conflicted when being compared to Starbucks, but it opens the door to allow me to talk about what makes a good coffee.

Trying to provide quality products in a market that is dominated by cheap fast-food style tacos and quesadillas of lower quality doesn’t come without its difficulties. In times of lower sales, the higher quality restaurants (like mine and several others) are the first to see their sales drop. Meanwhile the cheaper places and park vendors (who aren’t registered legally, don’t have sanitation licenses and many of whom don’t pay taxes), continue to maintain a decent level of sales due to their lower prices, which are allowed by lower quality ingredients and lower overhead.

Costumer in a cafe

Higher quality restaurants, such as La Fábrica, are the first to see their sales drop in times of financial difficulty.

This presents an interesting paradox because my customers are constantly complaining that other restaurants that are in Monjas started out with great flavor and quality ingredients, but over time have started to dip and are now serve lower quality products and are dirtier places to eat in. This is not due to the fact that the owners are all cheapskates, but because the same people that say the wanted quality aren’t willing to pay for it! Owners are then forced to either raise their prices and lose competitive edge or lower the quality of their products – seeing how the people don’t want to pay more, this usually occurs. Obviously, this is not a unique problem to this area but I am now encountering this problem on a first-hand basis as a shop owner who desires to serve a quality product and if anything see my quality rise over time.

The menu at La Fábrica cafe

The menu at La Fábrica.  The same dilemma faces coffee shops in both producing and consuming countries – consumers demand high quality but often aren’t willing to pay for it.

Overall, we’ve been very blessed in the way people have flocked to our shop to eat our food and drink our coffee. The majority of my customers continue to pour copious amounts of sugar into their drinks, but what gives me hope are my employees who are starting to set aside the sugar and are beginning to appreciate the coffee for its natural flavor and sweetness. This is a learning process and we will continue to modify our menu, prices and better our service to ensure a great offering to every customer that walks in the door – even if they put sugar in their coffee.

Article edited by N. Bhatt.

Perfect Daily Grind.