Underextraction/Overextraction: Espresso

Wednesday January 17, 2018

Distiguishing the two terms "over-extraction" and "under-extraction" have always been two things that I found to be slightly confusing.  In espresso terminology, under-extraction is the idea that the coffee particles are too coarse and the water doesn't have a chance to grab everything or as much as desired and fully extract the shot.  This creates a sour/unpleasant and acidic result. Under-extraction can also be a ratio that is not quite enough in the end result or yield, which means you are not getting enough of the coffee extracted resulting in a short and muted shot with very little complexity.  The other component to look at is the brew temperature, because if the brew temp is too low the coffee will be thin, and sharp.  These are the common areas that I face when dialing in coffee at work.  I believe that over-extraction in espresso is something that I don't deal with as much, unless the grind is really off or the brew temperature is way too high.  I am not saying that over-extraction doesn't exist, but I do believe that in my situation recently I have been confusing the two and have had to revisit some basics to get myself on the right track.  So here are the corrections I have been making and the results to go along with them.

Most of the time, taste flaws are directly correlated with the grind setting.  When the espresso has that sour taste with very little sweetness I usually draw out a little bit more of a yield to lengthen the shot which will give a little more complexity and extract more chocolate, vanilla and those sort of flavors.  If it is still not quite there, I will tighten (make finer) the grind until that sourness/under-extracted quality is eliminated.  As I tighten the grind I just barely ease up on my tamp so as not to create this impenetrable puck, because the particles are smaller it is important to do so.  I can usually get right in the zone there, but when you extend the yield of the shot the strength will decrease.  Extraction increases but the body of the shot can become thinner and more watery.  This is not a bad thing but in my case I want to optimize the sweetness, the viscosity, and the complexity.  That is where our espresso at Vertigo is at its best.  

This is where Brew Temp comes in.  I will keep all the numbers that I have locked in, but sometimes taste this weak/acidic flavor that I can't get rid of.  Since the dose, yield, and time are all in place I will then increase the brew temp up just half a degree and go from there.  By doing this it thickens up the shot and cuts through that acidic bite that it has, but by also doing this you are gaining back this "heavier taste" that wasn't there before.  Be careful not to take the temperature too high, because that will scald the espresso.  

These are just the small details that I have been dealing with recently and hopefully have shared some answers to questions some of you have, and if not I hope you enjoyed the nerdy of this one.



Take Care everybody! Below I attached Matt Perger's guide to the dial-in method




Palate Recognition: Quick Guide to Tasting Coffee/Understanding Coffee

Monday January 8, 2018

When looking at the universe of coffee it is really easy to get caught up in tasting notes, varietals, processes, brew methods, and all the other stuff that we in the industry study and look at.  For anybody who is looking to truly sit down and understand some of the things that we look at, then there are a few basic things that I learned that I believe are important to lay down a good foundation.  Palate recognition is what I believe to be the most important component to understanding coffee, because everybody tastes things differently and some people are more prone to tasting certain things over others.  We can taste sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami (something more on the savory side).  Understanding where your taste buds line up is for you and you only to truly understand.  For example: I am very aware of the fact that I love rich and fatty things and sweet and tart foods, like nectarines....oh my god, I love nectarines.  I am naturally drawn to coffees that give off a very particular tart like quality and coffees that have a rich and lushous body.  I love Kenyan coffee for the reason of having a very jammy-like quality (similar to a berry preserve).  I also loved this super sweet and luscious Colombian coffee from Verve Coffee that Alan Flanders (thanks again, my guy) let me try one day and I can still recall this brown sugary, buttery like quality that was seriously one of the best coffees I have had.  

If I was only in coffee for a short amount of time at the time when I tried these specific coffees I may have not appreciated what they had to offer, but because I knew exactly what a "jammy" coffee tastes like or what a full bodied coffee with a good balance to it I could recognize these flavors.  Through practice I have been able to understand what I like and just as easy, what I don't necessarily care for.  My palate will naturally be drawn very quickly to these sweet, jammy, and rich coffees.  I practice understanding what coffees taste like and within that I have been able to not so much pinpoint what a specific tasting note actually taste like, but I have practiced differentiating what these tasting notes are like.  This is what I call Palate Recognition. It can become pretty convoluted when you look at a bag of coffee and see nothing but tasting notes and all of this information so here is what to do to strengthen your palate.  

1. Tasting Notes are not everything:  When you buy a bag of coffee and it is described as tasting like spice cake, cola, cherry, and all of these other tasting notes, don't focus on those.  Know how to make that coffee and let it sit for a minute before trying it- coffee that is closer to room temperature is easier to taste, cause it won't burn your tongue and the acidity and sugars in the coffee have had a chance to cool.  Once you try the coffee, look to see whether or not the coffee  is sour, sweet, bitter, and begin to understand these types of sensations you'll pick up. Those types of sensations will allow you to understand beyond the "cola" or whatever the bag tells you.  If the coffee is sweet, then try to think about something you recognize as being sweet like a fruit, chocolate, or something in that nature.  You will be able to figure out what you're tasting if you separate your mind from the actual tasting notes and focus more on what you recognize or what seems familiar to you.

2. Your Nose Knows: Do not underestimate the power of your beak.  You nose will tell you things before you even try the coffee.  For me in particular I can smell a natural coffee (which tend to be syrupy, sweet, and very fruity due to the natural process) and immediately I get this remerging recognition of sweet/cherry/berry.  Once I taste it, my mind is predisposed to knowing what the coffee will be similar to.  Even when you taste coffee some of it makes its way back into your nostrils which is called retro nasal olfaction, a fancy phrase for saying that when you eat stuff small particles enter the back of your nose from your mouth.  That is why when you have a cold you can't really taste much, because your nose is a primary catalyst for tasting things.  So put that thing to work!  

3. Write Down Your Thoughts/Interpretation and InfoWhenever I am trying any coffee, I always keep a small notepad or I have my phone to record what exactly the coffee varietal is, who roasted it, the region, farm, how I prepare it, and any other information I can get on it.  I will usually write down my own interpretation of what the coffee tastes like, what the coffee reminds me of, whether I enjoyed it, and what the beginning/middle/end all tasted like.  Be honest with yourself and talk about what it reminds you of or what you think it tastes like and maybe when you look back someday with another coffee you may notice some similarities and start piecing that puzzle in your brain together.  Like maybe those two coffees are from a similar region/farm/etc.  I associate memory in my sense of smell all the time, have you ever gone anywhere and smelled perfume, or food, or anything and instantly your brain takes you back to a nostalgic place? Your sense of smell is super powerful, use it!

4. Understand the Difference Between Tasting Notes/ Body/ Intensifiers: Tasting notes are aromatic compounds in coffee that are actually very similar structurally to things you can actually compare the coffee to like an orange, baker's chocolate, strawberry.  Tasting notes mainly stem from fruit, herbs, spices, chocolate etc. according to the Counter Culture Coffee's Taster Flavor Wheel, which is what I use myself and many people in specialty coffee use.  Body is the physical impression that the coffee gives off in your mouth which can vary from light to heavy.  These can be anything from crisp and light all the way to chewy and velvety. Mouthfeel is also important in understanding the body of a coffee, and helps people understand what the difference would be between something watery and something creamy.  Finally, intensifiers are like the adjectives for a coffee, and these can range from bright and vibrant to dull and dry.  Intensifiers in my opinion are how the coffee makes your palate react, whether your mouth waters or becomes parched (Counter Culture Coffee). For example today, in tasting a coffee from Vertigo Coffee I noticed that once I was done, my mouth felt slightly parched and dry afterward give me the impression that the coffee was dry. 

5.  Honestly you just gotta practice! The only way you will ever know what these tasting notes, body or intensifiers are really like is through practice and truly developing your palate.  Starting out with some knowledge helps- once you understand your own palate you can delve deeper into what you like, don't like, and have the ability to understand how your palate reacts to certain coffees.  Try lots of different coffees and get your hands on a little bit of everything to familiarize yourself with all coffees from different regions.  Go to public cuppings or your nearest roaster and see if you can get in on a cupping.  Brew coffee at home, but also don't forget to enjoy it all.  Drinking coffee should be a pleasant and peaceful experience, so don't get caught up in all the fluff and just enjoy what you're drinking. 

Thanks ya'll!

Don't forget to download that flavor wheel!


Kalita Wave: Why I Like This Pour Over Method the Best

Wednesday January 8, 2018

Throughout the years I have experimented with many different pour over methods like a Chemex, V60, French Press, Malita, Timolino, Able KONE, Aeropress, and so forth.  Only a few years ago after going to Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters in San Francisco and talking with José Ortez I decided to invest in a Kalita Wave set-up, because he had made me a few different pour overs over a few visits and they were delicious.  José is the Lebron James of the coffee scene in SF and I value his opinion very much so that was all I needed.  I bought the Kalita Wave 185, some cupcake filters and let it rip a few times.  I wasn't too crazy about how it turned out so I decided to do some research.   After researching a few different brew recipes I stumbled upon Bird Rock Coffee Roasters youtube video of their barista Jeff doing a 25g to 325g brew recipe (a 1:13 ratio) and using that model I have tightened that recipe to create my own which has been working great ever since.  The majority of my recipe is mainly Bird Rock's so I won't take the credit at all, and if you want to watch the video where I got this recipe from I'll attach it at the bottom of the blog.

Being a fan of a chemex and using a 6-cup with paper filters I found that the Kalita offers a really sweet and balanced cup of coffee.  I loved how the chemex cleaned up the coffee and offered a ton of sweetness with a fairly delicate body and tea like quality. As time has gone on I have really grown to like a much more dense cup of coffee with all the sweetness and complexity that other pour over methods like the a Chemex offer.  The Kalita Wave offers that heavy richness that I have grown to love, along with an overall sweetness throughout the cup (especially as it cools down).  The Kalita is also very easy to clean and if you have the stainless steel model like I do, you don't have to worry about shattering it into a million pieces.  

The recipe that I have been going off of recently has gone something like this:

25g of dry coffee, medium-coarse grind setting (drip), 325g brewed total, brew time 3:00

Pre-wet your filter with just hot water from the kettle, this will wash away the paper taste/particles and pre-heat the vessel/brewer.  You don't want the vessel to steal any heat, so pre-wetting/preheating is crucial. I usually start with a 50g bloom for at least 40 seconds with the water just off of boil.  If the water is too cool in temperature (below 205) you're going to get a slightly flat cup of coffee with very little character because the water needs to agitate the coffee enough to release all that acidity and activate all the other compounds. From there I add in an additional 125g of water in slow concentric circles covering all dark areas to take the total up to 175g at about 1:05.  Avoid hitting the filter directly with water. After that I do additional 50g pulses starting from the center and then going out covering all the dark areas.  I will continue these 50g pulses every 10-15 seconds or so until my final pour around 2:15 finishes at the grand total of 325g.  The whole process should finish between 2:45 and 3:10.  If the bed is flat and not very porous, and titled you should be right in the ballpark. That is pretty much it! Pretty simple!  

If you are a beginner in making coffee at home and you want to explore using a Kalita Wave I would definitely recommend this pour over method to start out, because this is the least technical method in my opinion.  You will need filtered water, a digital scale, a timer (don't buy one, just use your phone), a grinder or pre-ground coffee from your favorite shop, a goose neck kettle, Kalita Wave, filters, and a good mug.  Below I will list the cheapest way to go about getting a set-up. Unless you get some used gear be prepared to spend about $180.00 for everything. 

Kalita Wave Stainless Steel Dripper $40.00, Kalita Wave Filters $13.00, Hario V-60 Electric Kettle $72.00, Escali Primo Digital Scale $30.00


Additionally if you want to grind your coffee at home and not sit on ground coffee for too long the best grinder for home use a Baratza Encore Grinder is the ticket, they are a very cool company, super helpful, and their grinders are AMAZING! $130.00 and they will run for years!



Thank you for reading, please be sure to check out the......

Bird Rock Coffee Kalita Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mr__Va0WpkU&t=20s

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/calavera-coffee

Merchandise: https://www.calaveraspecialtycoffee.com/merchandise/

Complexities and Simplicities of Coffee: COMMUNICATION AND UNDERSTANDING

Tuesday December 26, 2017

The big questions many curious people have when asking about purchasing coffee are: 1. " What does the 'natural/washed/semi-washed process' mean?"  2. "Which coffee is least acidic?" and finally when deciding between drip or a pour over, 3. "What is the 'darkest' coffee available?"  There are pretty easy ways of answering these types of questions and being able to not further complicate the questions. From each perspective the best way to clarify is through simplicity on the end of the barista.  There are many complexities that don't necessarily need to be complex to the customer.  


For the Customer:  The three main coffee processes are the natural process, the washed process, and the semi-washed process.  Think of the natural or "dry" process as the process that is done without water.  The coffee cherries are dried in the sun and as a result the coffee is sweeter and more fruity, with usually less acidity.  The washed process is done with water, which means the coffee cherries are washed and then dried which creates a little more complexity and balance in the coffee.  The semi-washed is not a common, but this just basically means that the coffee is washed and then dried without going through the full washed process.  Semi-washed coffee beans are usually very similar in complexity and clarity with a little bit less acidity overall.  

For the Barista: When you are really excited about telling somebody about the coffee you are serving, you have all of this knowledge packed in your brain and you really want to display this knowledge, but always remember that complicated questions for the customer don't need complicated answers.  Whatever you have to say to them, make sure it is clear and concise.  Imagine going to a car dealership and you just want to know which car does better on gas mileage: you really just want to know which car has better gas mileage, but then the mechanic begins telling you all the intricate details of how the motor was built to make the car function that way.  Unless you love cars and want to nerd out, its going to take you down a very confusing path.  Now that being said, when somebody wants to nerd out, you should take advantage of those opportunities and NERD OUT. Its all about recognizing who is who, and what they want.  


For the Barista: When somebody wants to know which coffee is least acidic (in terms of bagged coffee or what is being served) just always try to suggest a natural coffee or something a little bit heavier/sweeter like a blend.  Whenever a customer is looking for a coffee without much acidity it is easy to get into the different types of acidity in coffee and flavor profiles/tasting notes, but always go back to setting yourself up to having a small explanation, rather than a long drawn out discussion.  If the customer really wants to go into all of that, then by all means differentiate acidities in coffee and talk about elevation and terroir.  It is important to know these facts about coffee as it is, because the coffee industry is complex, really scientific, and continuously growing.  Understanding these elements in coffee also legitimizes what we do and gives our industry these mysterious intricacies, but these are not for everyone.  

For the Customer:  Acidity is present in all coffees, because coffee by nature creates acids.  Just like grapes, coffee cherries creates acidity.  This all depends on a few key factors in Arabica coffee beans.  1. Elevation- Coffee plants grown at higher elevations will naturally produce more acidity and multiple acids at that.  2.  Terroir-  depending on a coffee's climate and rainfall this will determine the different types of acids formed in the coffee.  3.  The processing-  As noted before the washed process will result in more acidity overall as opposed to naturally processed coffees  which will be more syrupy and sweet.  


For the Customer: If you are going into a specialty coffee shop that doesn't have "dark roast" then your best option is most likely going to be a drip coffee or batch brew.  Most of the time, the single origin coffees being served are going to be a little bit lighter due to the way they are brewed or their roast profile.  It never hurts to ask the person working which coffee is a "darker roast" but they sometimes hit you with the "Oh, they are the same, both are medium roasts."  If that is the case then getting a drip usually means it is going to have that grittier, heavier feel which for the most part won't actually be "darker," but will give off the impression of a heavier more dense cup of coffee.  

For the Barista: If somebody happens to ask if you have a dark roast and you know for a fact that you only have light/medium roasts available, don't hesitate to suggest a drip and if you feel like the person is not going to want a pour-over and they just want a quick cup, it easy to tell them that batch brew is the best option.  Let them know that you would suggest a batch brew and that it is the best option available instead of saying, "Oh we don't do dark roast here."  The customer wants something and instead of guiding them away from everything, guide them to what you have.  "Oh our batch brew is a little heavier and really tasty.  I really love it."  Most of the time they will say "Sure, I'll take that." Every once in a while people will be bummed, but you take those people with a grain of salt.  You can't make everyone happy, but you can at least try, Haha!

We still have merch up, the gofundme is still poppin, and be on the lookout soon for BIG NEWS!

Evan Morris



Monday December 18, 2017

So far in our gofundme campaign, we have reached a total of $5,775.00 out of our total goal of $30,000.00.  That goal is quite a ways away, but we are slowly earning more money with donations here and there and gaining some funds from merchandise sales.  We are steadily putting out the gofundme and the merchandise to keep it fresh in everyone's mind, however the ULTIMATE goal has been to get a café open, serve coffee, and showcase what we have been discussing.  

At this point in time, there is officially a location set in mind that looks like it is "a go" here in Hollister.  The process now goes from searching for a location to configuring how exactly to set this up in this space: how exactly everything will look, feel, sound, and smell.  I have very specific ideas that I really want to see come to fruition, and some of that involves the overall aesthetics of the café as well as small details involving café/bar flow.  There are so many details involved that all at once it is hard to structure everything in a particular order, but what I do know is that I have to figure out what exactly the café is going to look like.  I need time to sit and just imagine it, before I write anything down.  I want my focus to be on what my vision is and try to create that.  So from here on out I plan on compartmentalizing the most important pieces of what needs to be done and then trickling down all the way to what types of cups I am going to have (smaller details).  

My café is not going to be large in size, because I don't necessarily want a large café.  I have not seen in my vision a large space with lots of seating and open area.  The café will have somewhere between 15-20 seats including bartop seating as well as some smaller tables.  I wish I could give out more details of what I want to do in this space, but I will just leave that up to everybody to check out as we progress and when we open.  The difficult part right now as I mentioned before is placing everything into a list as what needs to be done, but this stressful/uncertain part of the process is supposed to be super fun, right?  Although it is stressful it is really fun, because this is what I have been waiting for.  All of the work and preparation up until this point is all for the final result, and although my stomach is in knots, I am ready.  I hope all of you are too!!!!!

The link to my gofundme is right here


If you would like to donate, share, or tell your friends I would greatly appreciate that.  We still have a lot of merch in the website so be sure to check it out in the merchandise section of the site! Thank you!


Evan Morris 

Our Logo/Our Brand: Why We Chose "Calavera Coffee"

Monday December 11, 2017

Recently many people have approached me and asked why I chose Calavera Coffee as the name of my coffee company.  For those of you who did not know, Calavera is the Spanish word for "skull" and is the representation of a human skull.  In any case, the origin of the name for this company came from my brother Ryan Morris, who thought "Calavera" would be an excellent name for a coffee company.  Ever since we had discussed this, I stuck with the name and began to really interpret what this name meant to me as time went on and exactly how it influenced my beliefs in what my company represents.  There is no secret that many people think of a skull as morbid, ghoulish and kinda creepy.  However, what the name means to me is on the opposite end of that.  Hollister CA is a community of mainly English speakers, but almost half of our population is a Spanish speaking community.  Breaking down the barriers of language and creating a different specialty coffee culture within my community involves (in my opinion) a draw on different levels, including reaching out to both demographics.

The Word "Calavera"

When I think of the word "Calavera" it represents a physical human skull, but the word itself might be the determinant for a Spanish speaking person to walk into our café more comfortably if that barrier of language is already removed.  Language itself can be a genuine barrier, but doesn't necessarily have to be especially when people of different cultures live alongside one another in such close proximity.  I believe that specialty coffee should be all inclusive, which means anybody should be able to walk into our café, order something that they like, and have a pleasant conversation with somebody behind the counter.  Because we have no specialty coffee here in Hollister, opening a specialty coffee shop is not as easy as opening a café in a community already familiar this type of business.  Opening my café will involve introducing, creating, and stabilizing this new idea of "specialty coffee" with my community.  Half of my community happens to be Spanish speaking.  I feel that by creating a logo understood by everyone in the community it will help everyone feel more connected to our company and what we represent.  Because I have been working in coffee for almost a decade for both Starbucks and Vertigo Coffee I know that many different people enjoy coffee, coming into a café to talk, work, and engage with everyone there.  When a customer walks into a café and gains a feeling of comfort they are more than likely to find something that they like, as long as somebody is there to help them.  Language may be a small barrier, but it requires a willingness to want to help somebody find what they are looking for despite any small miscommunications.  Having a well trained staff who are slightly bilingual, or fully bilingual can easily communicate with our Spanish speaking customers and bring down those barriers of miscommunication.  I want to break down the barriers and create a business model where everyone feels comfortable.  If the quality of our menu and items being served are ALWAYS consistently amazing then the focus on communicating with our customers what we have will only help with grow a stronger and more diverse customer base.     

The "Calavera" Itself

The logo itself and the design was all created by Bryan West and Ana Kahana.  I worked with them on developing a simple, clean and straightforward logo of a skull.  The skull itself is a direct representation of a calavera and what this skull represents to me is this idea of transparency in our company.  We are all about coffee, the products we will sell, and providing a comfortable environment for our customers.  We want to provide people with a nice experience, great coffee, and offer our products as something for people to be excited and proud of.  The skull signifies this "bare-bones" model of a café being built from the ground-up.  Skulls have always been something I have admired, because they are truly in their simplest form.  As I mentioned before many people might see a skull as a grim symbol, but our logo is more synonymous with our transparent business model and desire to be true to our customers and ourselves.  

We have HOLIDAY BOXES in our store right now, so go check those out and get your orders in before the holidays!!!!  Thanks for reading, talk with you all soon!

Evan Morris


Monday December 4, 2017

This past weekend I participated in the Cold Moon Pop-up Art Show at Vertigo Coffee Roasters.  My co-worker Erin put the event on and did an amazing job of setting it up, getting artists out there to participate, and involving the community in raffles for prizes.  We had a very busy event that night and were able to draw a large crowd due in part to the Christmas parade that night in San Juan Bautista. I shared a half-table with my good buddy Victor, a local artist who is the epitome of true devotion to art.  I really enjoy working with Victor, because he is not only a true professional in what he does, but he takes what he does very seriously in the most light-hearted and humble way.  Victor is a dedicated perfectionist in the best sense of the word and it shows in his intricate designs and compelling artwork.  The whole day was very busy and we saw a lot of familiar faces and many people that I did not know.  I served complimentary Vertigo drip coffee (our newest coffee- Burundi).  At first people walked by curiously, but as the night went on people became more and more interested in what we had, not only because I had free coffee but because Victor was wearing his illuminated "concession stand" uniform displaying his merchandise.  When we finally got the chance to engage with people, they became very interested in the idea of a future café in Hollister and what was in store for the near future.  They were visually engaged in all of Victor's amazing pins, prints, and works of art.  Needless to say we were the perfect pair for the event and I can't wait to do this again soon.

As I talked with many of these different people I began thinking about how important community is and why we as a small community here in Hollister can only benefit from supporting one another.  With my goal of wanting to provide a service to my community and give people the opportunity to have another option for coffee in our downtown area, I also want people to know the person behind the action.  I feel that if people get the sense of what a person is truly all about it will give them more of an incentive to want to support that business.  In the specialty coffee community, although spread out across many towns and states, business owners want to give their customers a sense of who they are through their business models.  Part of that involves having to put yourself out there and interact with your community to get a sense of who they are.

The importance of working with others and showcasing these local talents is stimulating and very influential to that said person and everyone else around them.  For example, at Vertigo Coffee we shut our kitchen down for the night and had the opportunity to allow Lucas Morris-Lopez (a local chef) to put together a menu that left everybody in awe.  He used local ingredients from the farms in our area and cooked everything to absolute perfection.  He prepared Pork Belly with smoked pineapple/onions, mushroom tostadas with heirloom beans/ brown butter & sage, and a nice sunchoke soup with chorizo & coriander yogurt.  Sounds pretty damn good, right?  We were more than excited to showcase what Lucas can do, because we were confident in his capabilities.  Watching him work motivated me and everyone who was working that night, because we saw his passion and the support of his team.  All of this came together, because of community, confidence in one another, and creating a frenzy to get people excited about Lucas and his food. 

Seeing all of the artists at the event reassured me that no matter where you are, there are talented people all around you and it is important to surround yourself with positive people who want to see each other succeed.  Part of the reason why specialty coffee has become such an important industry for me is because in this community you are surrounded by people who want to watch the industry grow and want the people in this industry to flourish.  This sense of growth and prosperity in our industry is what we want to build upon. By working with other industries, incorporating them in what we do, and finding those companies or individuals who align with our vision our community only grows and thrives. 

I have a lot of merchandise left in the store and the mugs will be available online this week! Please check out the rest of site and the story on Cat & Cloud and Vertigo Coffee.  

To see more from Victor his instagram is packed full of incredible artwork!

Instagram: @hermitvictor @baristaev @calaveracoffee @vertigocoffeeroasters



What does the "Specialty Coffee Culture" mean to me?

Monday November 27, 2017

Many people have a very different definition of "specialty coffee."  Some interpret specialty coffee strictly as: lightly roasted coffee, or brilliantly designed cafés with brand new equipment, or places that follow the latest trends with merchandise, branding, and all the above.  The specialty coffee community is growing which means it is going to become  harder to differentiate which cafés are considered to be "specialty" because more of these companies will be following these trends with the coffee, merchandise, and buildouts.  The idea that the coffee alone is what makes a café to be a specialty shop is also where the confusion comes into play.  If a company is using top quality coffee, does that mean that they are automatically considered to be a "specialty coffee" shop? Not necessarily.

Coffee is definitely the main dividing factor in what separates a specialty shop from the previous larger companies in what many people call the "second wave" of coffee.  Most of the roasters in the specialty coffee industry are buying better green coffee and consciously roasting their coffee in smaller batches deliberately trying to increase overall quality in every cup.  Also, if the coffee wasn't a major determinant then it would mostly delegitimize what many specialty coffee companies are doing.  Roast profiles, sourcing amazing green coffee, dealing directly with farmers all over the world are largely important in our industry. However, these (behind the scenes) intricacies are something that take place in every roasting company.  The truth is that customers don't really need to know all of the intricate details that go on with coffee unless they want to be educated.  When the product speaks for itself and people come back, because they love what they are getting then something is being done right.  Most customers don't need all the fluff to go along with their drip coffee.    

A friendly aesthetic is another determinant in what I believe makes a specialty coffee shop different from an average shop.  When you encounter a friendly staff, a stylish set-up, in a café with a nice atmosphere this definitely adds to the customer experience being in a comfortable place where you have a sense of belonging.  The most important component to the aesthetic is how well you are treated when you walk up to the counter and order.  Having a positive interaction with the person behind the counter is far more important than what the café looks like and can change a shaky experience to a positive one.  Customer interactions are vital to whether people want to return to a café, and if their experiences are not good then the company doesn't deserve the business from those customers.  That's one area I think the industry can improve upon.  Cafés may have incredible coffee, but if people are getting a nicer experience at the Starbucks down the road then automatically the overall aesthetic of the café declines for the customer.  The coffee in specialty shops may be better, but people in my experience are much more drawn to a friendly face rather than a cup of coffee.  I worked for another coffee company for a few years and have actually seen old customers prefer to get coffee from me when I moved to Vertigo, because we established a relationship of trust and they relied on that more than just coffee.  

There are a lot of details within what the definition of specialty coffee is, and much of it is subjective.  Everyone has different visions, priorities, goals, but to me these are what are most important.  Higher quality coffee, a friendly atmosphere, and dependability are what usually keep me going back to a coffee shop.  When I go to a city that has numerous specialty cafés I am going to go to the one where I have the best experience, because I believe in paying for more than just coffee.  I would not go to a shop where I know people are probably going to be rude or dismissive, even if their coffee is good and the space is immaculate.  If I can depend on a café having a familiar/welcoming atmosphere, good coffee, and some nice merchandise I am more likely to return and want to support that café over others.

Specialty coffee shops should be a proud staple of whatever neighborhood they are in and customers should be able to recommend a shop based on its delicious coffee, amazing staff, and their confidence that their recommendation will be appreciated.  When you wrap all of that into one concept, then that's where a company should want to be.  Otherwise another company with just as good coffee and an equally impressive space is winning on an imperative part of the business.

Evan Morris