Friday, August 3, 2012

Coffee Consumer Education in Los Banos

For most people, our menu is pretty difficult to understand. That’s because the customer has to choose the kind of coffee they would want for their drink. That’s right, there are different kinds of coffee! Now for the coffee industry in-crowd, that’s not new but for 99.9%  (not based on empirical data) of Filipino coffee consumers, that’s a revelation!

I’ll be sharing our Los Banos experience in selling the different kinds of coffee that we have.
When it comes to coffee, the typical Elbi person will order according to his/her caffeine needs:

11) Gusto ko ng kape pero kelangan ko matulog. (I want coffee but I want to sleep)
K2) Kelangan ko magising ano ang pinaka matapang? (I need to stay awake, what’s your strongest coffee?)
33) Anong pinaka-masarap nyong kape? (What’s your best coffee?)

To address these needs, we named our coffee blends according to function: Sleepy Time, Hardcore, and Owltonio. Sleepy Time will not put you to sleep but it has the least caffeine among our three blends. Hardcore is kapeng barako and robusta to give you a caffeine high. And Owltonio is our in-between, mid-level, specialty of the house coffee that goes well with everything. Everyone who has been to Café Antonio knows that Owltonio is our stuffed snow owl mascot.

Now these coffee options are still within the context of ordering brewed coffee. It gets even difficult to explain that these three blends (which all work well with espresso) can be applied to any coffee-based beverage in the menu, hot or iced! MIND-BOGGLING!!! Which is good because it gives the baristas a chance to engage in a conversation with the customers. It is within these conversations that the customer learns that all three blends come from the Philippines, and four different species of coffee are used in the blends, etc. This is very difficult to pull-off, trust me!

To make things more difficult for our customers, we introduced a new line of single origin specialty coffees from different countries! All available for brewed coffee and some are fit for espresso-based beverages too. It’s always a joy for us when we explain the different kinds of coffee  and see our customers get interested and be coffee enthusiasts themselves.

Well of course, there are problems. Although brewed coffee is our best-seller, fruit shakes are its closest rival. Los Banos, Laguna reality check: We will prefer mango shakes over coffee any time of the day, no matter what the weather is. It is only here where you will find people sipping on Peachy Mango on a cold and stormy evening. To make people buy coffee, we have to evangelize to the highest level with blood pumping and hearts racing. We turn on the “patient and passionate coffee geek switch” and take our customers to a world where they’ve never been! Fellow coffee geeks find soul mates and exchange ideas and share techniques. While self-declared coffee snobs come here and go home empty-handed.

How do we educate? We literally sit down with people and involve them in the process of making coffee  beverages, like pour-over, espresso, latte, whatever. But we don’t do that to everyone, we do free demos and coffee tasting only to those who ask us questions and are willing to learn new things. Never force the issue. And believe me, we learn a lot from our customers too. We want it to be an exchange of ideas rather than a one-sided video lecture. These exchanges give us a window to the customer’s beliefs and perceptions about coffee.

How do we educate? As an entrepreneur and barista, I share my passion and the things that I learn from more knowledgeable coffee geeks to my baristas, the staff, and our customers. We simply can’t assume and expect that our customers already know the things that we know. Who knows, maybe the people we talk to would influence others as well. Thank you Mr. Bruce Milletto, you’re right. Consumer education is definitely the next step for the specialty coffee industry to flourish. 

Yes, the Los Banos coffee experience. No cramped offices, no tall buildings. Our shop is located in front of a sari-sari store, and we’re sandwiched in the middle of a vulcanizing shop and a small car wash along the National Highway. 

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