Saturday, May 22, 2010

Skill Building Workshop in Ann Arbor a hit!

The SCAA Skill Building Workshop, May 13-14, in Ann Arbor, MI was a treat for coffee professionals and a watershed for the coffee industry in southeastern Michigan. Maybe even for the Midwest as a region.

Tom Isaia and the crew from Coffee Express as well as Allen Leibowitz from Zingerman's and Greg Miricle from Great Lakes Coffee were all instrumental in getting the event together. As if those 3 names aren't big enough, the event also brought in Trevor Corlett from Madcap Coffee Roasters in Grand Rapids, Jack Groot frim JP Coffee and the Midwest Barista School, and a large contingent of Canadians, such as Richard Ottenhof, of Multatuli Coffee in Kingston, Ontario.

I was the only green coffee importer represented, as far as I know amongst this crowd of ~ 100 top notch coffee professionals. As Artisan Coffee Imports I cupped some amazing coffees during Allen's Comparative Cupping course (see video). As a generic SCAA member, it was fun for me to be a porter for Trevor's Milk & Latte Art class (see video).

The informal Motown Barista throwdown of latte art at the Plymouth Bean coffee company was my first throwdown. Three judges (Allen, Jack Groot and Sherry from JP Coffee) quickly gave a thumbs up or thumbs down as two baristas at a time competed to create delicate rosettas in the foam and crema of the lattes they pulled. The excitement and suspense created a wonderful and fun atmosphere -- collegial even.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The big "a-ha!" in Anaheim

Caravella and Virmax coffee companies apparently organized a watershed cupping of Colombian coffees during the SCAA's Anaheim trade show. A fine micro-lot Huila Colombian A was on the table along with it's decaffeinated counterpart. It was a blind cupping. So the 6 or 8 highly respected roaster/cuppers in the room had no idea what was on the table or which was which. They were just asked to taste and score.

More than half of the roasters rated the decaf version of the Colombian A higher than the regular version! Amazing - yes! Is there an explanation? Perhaps. Virmax is using the ethyl acetate process at the Descafecol plant in Colombia. The theory is that if you start with excellent coffee (of which Colombian A is a good example) the fruitiness of the ethyl acetate solvent actually enhances the fruity taste of coffee.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Roasters question: is great decaf really feasible?

"Is it really feasible for a roaster to offer a high-end decaf (i.e. Micro-lots/with certifications), when the demand for it is only part of an already small market segment (all decaf being 15% of total)?" This was on one of the great questions during the Q&A part of my co-presentation for the Roaster's Guild seminar on decaffeination at the SCAA conference in Anaheim. Reuben Mood of Signature Coffee was the "asker" and he was right on target -- this is also one of the most challenging and frequently asked questions I get as an importer of specialty green decaf.

My answer in brief, "niche marketing and niche pricing". One may ask a car manufacturer, "is it really feasible to sell an outrageously fast sports car with no room for luggage and only 1 passenger?" If your entire system is geared up to manufacture and sell low cost, high volume automobiles, it probably isn't feasible to add the high end, branded coup. But if your current business is selling high end SUVs (like Hummers), it might be a profitable expansion of your business to also sell high end sports cars. [Analogy; if you're already promoting high-end regular coffees that are selling for a premium, it won't take much to include high end decaf.]

To bring the analogy a little closer to home, I believe some crazy guys at Peet's wondered one day if they could build a franchise on coffee that costs $3 a cup instead of a $1 a cup. America was very used to $1/cup coffee. But here we are 15 years later with Starbucks on nearly every corner. They used marketing savvy and the let the consumer decide. The same will be true for decaf. Find a great decaf, promote it as premium and make sure you put a price on it that earns you, the roaster, a profit. Our data show that decaf consumers are extremely price elastic and loyal.

Stay tuned for the next question in this series...