February 17, 2016

4 Practical Ways to Teach Third Wave Coffee to Second Wave Consumers


I’ve no doubt that you love great coffee: you’re in the specialty coffee industry, after all. If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent countless hours reading, researching, tasting, traveling, and diving deeper into our favorite drink. You love reading about farmers and their best practices. You spend hours perfecting your brew methods and your espresso shots. You may even be guilty of reading through the entire archives of Perfect Daily Grind. (They’re pretty good, if we may say so ourselves.)

But many, if not most, of your customers won’t be as interested in the minutiae of TDS and coffee processing methods as we are. They simply want a shot of caffeine (plus or minus sugar). Sure, some customers will come for a quality coffee experience. A select few will even want to know everything. But these will be in the minority.

Spanish Version: 4 Formas Prácticas de Introducir el Café de la Tercera Ola a Consumidores de la Segunda Ola

The thing about us in the Third Wave is that we’re desperate to share specialty coffee with everybody – but we can’t. Great customer service means understanding your customers and meeting them where they are, whether it’s simply a morning caffeine fix or a matter of helping them along their coffee journey in small steps.

Yet while you can’t force your customers to appreciate coffee like you do, you can open the door and allow them to walk through it. Getting the balance is hard, so we’ve come up with four practical ways to teach people about Third Wave coffee without preaching or being intimidating.

desperate for coffee

All this guy wants is some tasty coffee – not your treatise on extraction ratios. Credit: Pixabay

  1. Printed Materials

Our first option is a great way to let customers engage at whatever level they want. No one is forcing them to do anything, but they are able to go as far as the texts will allow them to.

Printed materials can take the form of just about anything, from producer information on a bag of coffee to general coffee knowledge on a to-go sleeve. It could even be tasting notes and coffee information on a sheet accompanying a purchase.

Regardless of the medium, be creative, be concise, and provide varying levels of involvement for all kinds of customers.

coffee to go sleeve

To-go sleeves are an excellent way to share coffee knowledge with your customers. Credit: Christine Rondeau via Flickr

  1. Social Media

This is a good place to reach those who are already engaged with your coffee or coffee business. Remember that what we do day in and day out at our shops is new and novel to a lot of customers. If they’re already interested in you and your coffee enough to follow your social media posts, they want to know more.

Got a great story about a new farmer relationship? Share it on Facebook. Took some stellar photos of your roasting? Post them on Instagram. As for Twitter, it’s great for quick coffee facts and pointing followers to your website. For example, “We just got an amazing new Geisha from Panama. Check our website for more details.”

Not all posts are created equal, however. Sometimes, the things that you think are going to be a big hit don’t generate much of a response. And sometimes, a quick off-the-cuff post results in a far better engagement than you could ever have anticipated. So pay attention to what excites your customers and give them more of it.

At the same time, don’t just post about one thing. Coffee is incredibly expansive and there is so much to talk about. Use that to your advantage to keep a steady variety of posts coming to your customers – and to give them a broad coffee education.

social media apps

Social media: a tool for spreading coffee knowledge. Credit: Pixabay

  1. One-on-One Conversations

When done right, this definitely has the most impact. However, it’s also the easiest one to get wrong. The problem is that it can be tricky to gauge which customers are there for a caffeine fix and which ones want to know more. It’s also a safe bet that hardly anyone cares to discuss brew ratios and production methods at 6 am.

Be ready to talk with the ones who engage you, but don’t flood them with information. This is not the time for an hour-long lecture. In fact, sometimes even a five-minute conversation is too much. So let them lead you into sharing more information, rather than dragging them along with you.

Equally as important as knowing when to have a one-on-one conversation with a customer is knowing how to have it. If you come across as condescending, your customers will start looking for coffee elsewhere. For example, avoid telling a customer that they really should be ashamed to put sugar in their filter coffee because of the countless man hours and attention to detail that went into producing it. They aren’t going to enjoy that experience. Instead, in a friendly and non-judgemental way, let them know that this particular coffee is so good that they might not need sugar.

Nor is this just about the words. You can use your tone of voice and body language to communicate care for the customer – and, in doing so, make them far more willing to appreciate specialty coffee.

roasting coffee

Pay attention to customer’s reactions when talking about your roast profiles. Are they interested? Or are they bored? Credit: Pixabay

  1. Special Events

This is one of the most exciting, and fulfilling, opportunities for sharing coffee knowledge with consumers.

A public cupping allows customers to taste, side by side, a variety of coffees that they might not otherwise be able to. This comparative tasting opens up a whole new world of flavors to the uninitiated. Your role is to give guidance during the cupping, so as to help attendees make these important advances in their personal coffee education.

Cuppings don’t have to be done in the traditional method of slurp, spit, and repeat, either. A contrast of brew methods using the same coffee can be an eye-opening educational experience. Simply comparing ChemexV60, and Kalita Wave will highlight different aspects of a given coffee. Throw in a French PressAeroPress, or single origin espresso for an added dimension.

coffee cupping

Public cuppings: a great way to talk in -depth about coffee with those curious to learn more. Credit: Simon Wright, Flickr

Cuppings aren’t the only kind of events that can help educate your customers. Get creative: try screening a documentary about coffee, organizing a coffee cocktail party, or holding a coffee dinner where every dish features coffee used in some unique way. If you’re lucky enough, host a farmer or roaster who can speak about their craft, and make a party out of it.

SEE ALSO: How to Introduce Customers to Third Wave Coffee

Setting up special events opens the door for deeper conversations about coffee, and the people who attend are likely to be the ones most interested in learning more. It’s the perfect opportunity to spread your passion for the Third Wave.

kalita wave brew

Manual brewing demonstrations are a great way to communicate the finer points of brewing. Credit: Pixabay

Customer education is an important part of Third Wave coffee, but trying to force it on uninterested customers will only drive them away. Instead, implement these four steps to provide curious consumers with all the information they could possibly want – without overwhelming them.

Edited by T. Newton.

Perfect Daily Grind.