One of the questions I often ponder...
is how can specialty coffee bridge the gap and bring in more customers from the commodity side. Often times, people tell me its because specialty coffee is price prohibitive. I feel like this argument isn't all that legitimate, because we all spend our money on things we enjoy. Another common reason brought up is the flavor profile differences, specifically the differences between light, and dark roasts.
In the end though, I think it comes down to the attitude. We don't always have it, but I think we are all guilty of some form of pretentiousness at some point in our coffee careers. Whether its the customer who asks for extra whip on their non-fat latte, or asking to have their pour over topped off with some drip as they head out the door; its up to us to maintain professionalism while a piece of us dies on the inside.
Remember We All Started Somewhere -
Think back about when you first started developing an interest in specialty coffee, you were an ignorant little sponge looking to soak up all the coffee and knowledge. Think about the customers you interact with in that way. It's your responsibility to patiently educate those who want to be educated, or be sly enough to make it happen without them knowing. Yet, you should know when to just provide good old fashioned customer service, a smile, and cup of coffee. Not everyone wants a seed-to-cup at 6am.
Don't Judge Gateway Drinks -
I recently was speaking to another coffee professional about working on bar. The topics of the most popular drinks at our respective cafes came up. When I mentioned serving a lot of vanilla lattes, they looked at me and asked, "How do you like to serve those?" It's not the words that bothered me, it was tone. Like its below that person to serve a flavored drink, and they thought less of me for doing so. That attitude is not one that will succeed in the end. In fact, it will only serve to limit the amount of customers you will have. I see a vanilla latte (or any flavor) as a gateway drink. Its brought you a customer to serve, to impress, and to develop. Maybe someday they'll try a plain latte, and from there a cappuccino, and so on until they're ordering single origin pour overs. Why lose them before they even get started?
In the end, as coffee professionals we need to always remember we are specialty coffee ambassadors. Its up to us to make sure those who come into our cafes are first and foremost treated with respect, no matter their level of coffee knowledge, and what they may order. We are the frontline for ensuring the growth of specialty coffee, its a big responsibility, and we owe it to all those who played a part in bringing those beans to our shops.