Monday, December 20, 2010

Caribou: "We don't like to punish our decaf customers."

I had the chance last week to chat with Brett Struwe, fellow Roasters Guild member and Director of Coffee Operations at Caribou Coffee Co. The topic was Caribou's relatively unique and ground-breaking move 5 years ago to upcharge $.1o for a cup of decaf coffee. It says it plain as day on each menu board. Decaf whole bean bags get an upcharge of $1.00.

I asked Brett why. He answered that there was a strategic decision made at the time that they would upgrade the quality of their decaf offering. To them, that meant serving only water-process decaf and toll-decaffeinating green coffee they sourced from trusted vendors (i.e. instead of buying "off the shelf" decaf from a decaffeinator). To cover the costs of this quality upgrade, they had to charge more. A standard "upcharge" per cup and per pound seemed simplest. "Seems to be working, or we wouldn't be doing it, " Brett said.

He commented further on how they are dedicated at Caribou to offering a certain level of quality, even if it means they lose a percentage of the market. Then he made the comment that was so perfect I had to ask if I could quote him in my blog, "we don't like to punish our decaf customers."

Thanks Brett and the crew at Caribou!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The magic of pour-over

If attendance at Coffee Fest Seattle seminars was any indication, pour-over service for brewed coffee is a very hot trend. All three seminars (there was one each day) sold out faster than any CoffeeFest seminar in its history. Speculation abounds about why this trend is here now - is it because owners and consumers loved what the Clover machine did for single-serve brewing, and have been trying to replace it ever since it was acquired (and subsequently shelved) by Starbucks?

Whatever the reason why, it is good for decaf drinkers. First, the quality of our "freshly brewed coffee" really is on par with the regular coffee the cafe is serving. No more getting the stuff that's been sitting in an airpot, or worse yet, on a burner, for hours. Second, there is suddenly potential for soon seeing more variety and quality in decaf offerings on the menu. Since cafe owners no longer have to squirm as they pour gallons of un-consumed, expensive decaf down the drain, they can start using that money to invest in buying, storing and marketing higher quality and more variety.

It made sense in the 24-cup brewer world to limit a cafe's decaf offering to one, generic, crowd-pleasing decaf coffee. In many cafes, it was the only way to economically offer decaf at all. But now with pour over, the beans aren't brewed, they aren't even ground until someone is about to drink them. So why not buy 2 or 3 different types? Why not go for quality in the cup that equals the quality of the regular coffee? Store the little gems in pre-measured, sealed cups and they'll be fresh for a few days.

Need ideas of where to get high-end great tasting decaf? Green sources include Artisan Coffee Imports, Shrub, Cafe Imports, Royal and others.