“I’m going to try all your coffees one by one until I find the one that has the perfect flavour” I have heard this said so many times, when meeting a customer for the very first time, and though I appreciate their intention, my heart has sunk.
“Why?” Because the idea that there is only one perfect flavour that will fulfil expectations and suit our palates is a mistake, and often doomed to failure. It can completely spoil what should be an interesting journey of discoveries. For that is what the coffee experience should be, an interesting and pleasurable journey into one of the world’s most fascinating and challenging natural products.
I have always thought it important to try to discover just where the customer is on that journey, of course it’s personal and unique to them, but at the start of a conversation to ask them to put into words the flavour they are looking for can be counter productive. Within the coffee and tea trade we have words to describe flavours and varieties, but I learnt a long time ago that flavours that I describe as “full bodied or sharp, fruity or smooth” may resonate differently for a customer. Getting alongside in terms of language is vital.
So, I usually begin by some straightforward questions such as “Where have you most enjoyed a cup of coffee?” Sometimes the reply has been a cup of coffee tasted outside the UK. Countries traditionally source their coffees from different producers and roast them in their own distinctive styles to suit their local populations. Coffee being part of cultural identity. Coffee drunk in Scandinavia or Germany can have marked differences in flavour to say that enjoyed in Italy or Spain. Whatever the reply, and however surprising, it can reveal some helpful clues about the person’s palate.
“Do you enjoy your coffee drunk black or white?” This is useful to know because though most coffees can be enjoyed black, not all varieties take milk or cream without losing a lot of their individual characters especially when served as cappuccino or a latte. The subtle delicate flavour of coffees such as Jamaica Blue Mountain or Galapagos San Cristobal, don’t feature at their best when prepared and served in this way.