February 2, 2018

Five Practical Ways to Introduce Customers to Specialty Coffee


You serve the customer a citrusy, aromatic Ethiopian that’s been perfectly extracted. But as they take their first sip, you see them make a face. What went wrong? Perhaps they’re a newcomer to specialty coffee.

Here in Latvia, a small country with a population of just 2 million, third wave coffee has only appeared in the last five years or so. And it’s a joy to be a part this growing market, where we now have several specialty roasteries and even more cafés. But it also means that we’ve had to introduce customers to a whole new type of coffee.

So, get ready to learn from our experience! Here are five practical tips to help customers develop a taste for specialty coffee.

Lee este artículo en español 5 Maneras de Introducir al Cliente al Café de Especialidad

Specialty coffee cappuccino

A cappuccino is ready for serving at ImageHouse, Riga, Latvia. Credit: Gatis Zēmanis

1. Start With a Low-Acidity Coffee

The leap from a commodity coffee to a specialty one is huge – and the biggest difference? The increased acidity. Yes, we specialty coffee geeks love our acidity, but for those not used to it, it can be unpleasant.

A high-altitude washed Geisha, for example, may be too much for someone not used to specialty. Ease in with a drink that’s easier to relate to, such as a sweet natural or pulped natural Brazilian with hazelnut and chocolate notes. It will be familiar to your guest, yet also deliver a new, more complex taste experience.

Learn more! Read Why Are Some Coffees Sweeter Than Others?

Customer drinking cappuccino

A customer pauses while writing to look at the latte art in their coffee. Credit: Gatis Zēmanis

2. Tell The Story

Whether you’re operating in a culture new to specialty coffee, or simply with guests who are experiencing it for the first time, the customer’s expectations matter. What you present as a “black coffee” may be very different to what they think a black coffee will be – so make sure that you tell its story.

Explain how this brew is different. Why is it prepared like this? What notes have you showcased? What will the customer taste? Present this coffee as a chef would present their dish – you will be helping your guest to understand what they’re about to taste, and also make it more exciting for them when they recognise the flavours you described.

Customers drinking black coffee

Customers raise a glass of filter coffee in Miit Coffee, Riga, Latvia. Credit: Mārtiņš Kubulnieks

3. Ask for Their Opinion

It’s important to not just present the coffee, but also listen to your guest’s thoughts. Of course, this goes for anything that you offer in your coffee shop – but it’s more important than ever when the customer is trying something new. They may have never had an experience like this before. Asking about their experience not only gives you valuable feedback, but also makes them feel welcomed and supported. In turns, this makes the coffee experience even sweeter.

Barista preparing specialty coffee on espresso machine

A barista pulls espresso shots in Kalve Coffee, Riga, Latvia.  Credit: Gatis Zēmanis

4. Respect Your Guest’s Opinion

From my experience, if everything is done well, most people will enjoy their coffee. However, there will be times when your guest may feel blasé or even negatively about it. In this case, remember, it’s not just about the coffee. It’s about the whole experience. Maintain a positive expression, hear them out, and learn from what they have to say. Baristas are there to make their guests feel happy and appreciated, so even if someone didn’t enjoy their brew, make sure they enjoy their visit.  


A barista sets up a cupping for guests and customers in Mute, Riga, Latvia. Credit: Gatis Zēmanis

5. Offer Choices!

I truly believe that the best brew for someone is the one they enjoy the most. However, it is our job as coffee professionals to show our customers the diversity of tastes and aromas that is possible. What’s more, through doing so, we enable them to discover new coffees that they will enjoy even more.

Join in with the debate! Is Adding Sugar to a Customer’s Coffee Really That Bad?

Let’s say that your guest always orders an Americano and, every single time, adds sugar. However, if the barista offered them a sample of a sweet natural-processed Rwandan Bourbon, they might discover that, actually, they don’t need the sweetener. And the next time they come to your café, maybe they’ll ask for the Rwandan again.


An espresso is served, ready for the consumer to enjoy. Credit: Gatis Zēmanis

Introducing customers to specialty coffee is challenging. It’s tough in well-established markets such as Australia, Portland, and London. It’s even harder in emerging ones, such as here in Latvia. But look at it as an opportunity – if you’re the person encouraging others to try specialty, you’re supporting a whole new relationship-orientated industry. You get both the satisfaction of seeing the third wave bloom and the opportunity to become a respected leader in your new coffee scene.

And I truly believe that if you are passionate about specialty coffee, and if you want to share this passion with others, my recommendations will come naturally. Let’s always keep in mind what specialty coffee is about: quality in the cup, strong relationships throughout the chain, and a friendly experience for everyone involved.

Because when you do that, you’ll soon find customers develop a taste for your offerings.

Enjoyed this? You might also like Lessons You Learn When Launching a Coffee Shop!

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