February 15, 2021

Four tips for developing coffee education programmes: What to focus on

In recent years, coffee education has become more and more popular across the sector. The rise in classes, seminars, webinars, workshops, and virtual events is testament to this. People are constantly looking to learn new things, hone their skills, and drive the sector forward.

Understandably, there is a commercial benefit to this. Alongside being another potential revenue stream, coffee education can give a customer the feeling they’ve learnt something new. It can encourage repeat business while simultaneously improving knowledge and developing skills.

To learn more about what a good coffee education programme looks like, I spoke to a few coffee educators from across the sector. With their insight, we put together four key tips that anybody developing a coffee education programme should consider. Read on to find out what they are.

You may also like our previous article on coffee education.

Tip #1 – Start by training your trainers

To create and execute a programme that attracts, engages, and retains customers, you first need to make sure your trainers are appropriately equipped.

Lauren Lathrop is an educator at Mill City Roasters in Minnesota. She says that many education programmes fail because businesses don’t train their trainers.

“Often, onboarding and training is compromised as the trainer is a lead barista or manager who is a great coffee professional, but an ineffective trainer,” she says.

Coffee businesses often appoint their longest-serving or most experienced employee to lead training sessions, without appropriately preparing them for the upcoming task.

Kathy Altamirano is a Regional Manager at Counter Culture Coffee in Texas. She says it’s common for this type of employee to end up as a manager or lead barista – but cautions that you should never assume that they can teach what they’re proficient at. 

Lauren suggests first “training your trainers”, as this will help them to develop a course that educates customers in an accessible, engaging way.

“I found the Train The Trainer course helpful,” she says. “It details what teachers have to learn and the competencies they must meet. It’s a great place for trainers to start creating a curriculum.”

Tip #2 – Teach through experience

Once you’ve trained your trainers, you’ll need to make sure you’re effectively connecting your audience to the curriculum you’re delivering. Retention is key; if your programme isn’t engaging, it will not be memorable.

Providing experiences related to the topic is always a good way to start. Research shows that content retention is improved drastically when learners can connect specific details to an experience that sticks out in their memory. 

For example, Kathy says she asks trainees to plug their nose and sample jelly beans to demonstrate how scent impacts taste. This activity, she tells me, shows how many of the flavours we taste are actually derived from our sense of smell. 

Lauren and Kathy also note that they dedicate time to exploring the journey from seed to cup, as well as the history of coffee production and colonialism.

In particular, Lauren tells me that she talks about this while pulling an espresso shot, and subsequently explains that any wasted coffee is a disservice to those who’ve worked so hard to produce it.

By integrating these experiences into your education programme, attendees are more likely to retain what you’ve taught them.

Tip #3 – Teach your customers

Lauren tells me that one of the most common questions she gets asked is how roasteries can pick up more wholesale accounts. She responds by saying that the best way for small roasteries to compete against large ones is to connect customers with their product through education.

“I tell our new customers that you need to become an expert in the product, not only how to roast it, but explaining where it comes from, what it tastes like, and so on,” Lauren says.

By passing on this knowledge to wholesale clients, roasters can strengthen their existing trading relationships and deliver additional value.

“If you can do that, you can draw a personal connection with your wholesale customers in a way that some of the bigger companies may not be able to do,” she adds.

“People want to be connected to the coffee they’re buying. Customers want to know what’s in each blend, how it should taste, and how to extract it. That kind of in-depth [information] has to come from the roaster.”

The same goes for retail customers, too. By sharing expertise with consumers, talking about where a coffee comes from, how to roast it, how to brew it, and what it will taste like, they will feel more involved.

By educating customers in this way and answering these questions, cafés and roasters can connect with customers in ways that bigger chains often can’t.

Kathy even notes that good training doesn’t have to be face-to-face, which is especially pertinent during Covid-19. She says that coffee shop owners and roasters can connect with customers at home through online classes, and prepare staff to host online educational events and tutorials.

Tip #4 – Don’t forget your staff

While training and education are often viewed by coffee businesses as an opportunity to reach more customers, it is also important to look inwards.

If your staff are well-trained, they are more likely to remain loyal to your business for longer. By showing them you’re willing to invest in their education, they will feel valued and appreciate that they have a future at the business.

In turn, these staff members can also communicate their knowledge and passion to customers, and effectively pass their education onto more people. In turn, this will likely improve their ability to attract and retain customers.

Lauren adds that having highly trained baristas on staff shows newer employees that they can learn, develop, and grow in your business.

“New employees can see that working with us isn’t going to be just another job, but instead something that they can learn to do well,” she says. “Offering them a curriculum with introductory and ongoing customised learning is huge,” she says.

Don Lawrence is a SCA-certified trainer at Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago. He tells me that education improves quality levels across the business, and shouldn’t be ignored or rushed through.

“Training increases costs, but every time a new employee comes on, training costs will increase… it has to be a priority from the beginning.”

However, he notes that any good training course should balance coffee knowledge with people skills.

“Customer service should take precedence,” Don tells me. “Make sure that baristas can answer basic or in-depth questions from customers while steaming milk or pulling a shot.

“Don’t train baristas to hide behind the espresso machine or the process of making drinks.” 

No matter the audience, designing and delivering a coffee education programme is not easy. It can be costly and time-consuming, and often the benefits take some time to show.

However, as you educate more and more people about the coffee sector, you may find they are more interested in engaging with your business in the long term. Additionally, developing a custom curriculum can be an excellent way to upskill your staff team.

With each day that passes, training, education, knowledge, and collaboration rise further up the agenda in the coffee sector. If you’re planning on putting together your own educational programme, then keep these four tips in mind.

Enjoyed this? Then read this article about how to equip your coffee roastery.

Photo credits: Julio Guevara

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