Opinion – The Struggle to Remain Relevant

Similar to most other industries...

the struggle to remain relevant is always there in specialty coffee.  Things are changing rapidly, even if it doesn't appear that way.  Behind the scenes at some of the worlds best, and even relatively unknown cafes and roasters there is industry changing movements going on.  Outside of the cafe level, there are major changes happening in the world of green coffee.  No more are there just three (washed, natural, and honey) standard ways of processing green coffees.  It's an exciting time as a technology and science-focused generation takes on the job of moving the industry forward.

Yet, along with all these changes is the struggle to remain relevant.  To keep up with the trends.  Not only with the coffee itself, but also things like cups, equipment, decor, and philosophy.  These are things most of a cafe patrons don't really notice, until one or more these things negatively effects the overall experience.  Of course these all sound relatively simple, and to be honest kind of odd.  Sort of a tomato, tomato kind of thing.

You may be asking yourself. "how much difference can a cup make?", or "what do you mean by 'philosophy'?"  Well don't you worry, I'll feed you baby birds.  A third wave cafe is a carefully curated experience.  Even if it appears to be chaos, there was intention behind it.  To touch on cups for example. Some cafes only have paper cups, which to me detracts from the experience.  Coffee to-go is not my jam.  I like the weight of a porcelain or glass cup.  Having been involved in quite a few cafe build-outs I've seen, and now personally experienced, the painstaking lengths owners go through to find the perfect fit for their cafe.

Now philosophy is an interesting thing. In the United States, and I think also abroad there are a few things that cafes have latched on to.  Most of which have to do with the coffee, or more broadly the products the company serves.  Others become more focused on other, more divisive grounds. This is a decision a business owner must make, and go all-in on.  There is no such thing as halfway anymore.  Information is always readily available, and the average customer is more savvy (or thinks they are) on many things.

For example if you advertise your cafe's focus on traceability, you damn well better be able to talk about it intelligently.  The industry as a whole is pushing this philosophy more and more.  Having coffees that come from one particular region, and on the extreme end having direct relationships with farms, is becoming more so the rule than the exception.  More divisive philosophies (i.e. religion and politics) need to be approached with the understanding that it may alienate a certain percentage of clientele.

In the end staying relevant is a balance that needs to be made in careful consideration to your business's needs and clientele.  Whether its the newest and coolest gear, special coffees, or broader statements, it all is something that can effect your bottom line for better or for worse.


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