The Coffee Industry, Small Business and the Retail Market
July 28, 20215 min read
We live in an amazing world full of high-quality specialty coffee. Hopefully, we can continue to provide you with some of the best coffee products out there. Working in the coffee industry takes tons of work. But we’re not just in the coffee industry, we’re also retail artisans working with and educating the public too. This adds a whole new layer of difficulties and struggles. Understanding people and their knowledge of the coffee world is tricky.
Over this past weekend, I was reminded just how much harder we need to work in educating the general public about the coffee industry. As customers, you need to be open to learning new things about coffee. As educators, we will provide you with solid, science-based information from industry leaders about coffee. If you take one thing away from this article, I want it to be this: please respect those that provide you your coffee. We work extremely hard to make sure you have that cup every morning, afternoon and evening.
You may say to yourself, “Ya, but we all work really hard, right?” Sure, most of us work really hard to provide for our families. Running a small business in this climate is even more difficult. If you never had a chance to work small business, let me tell you this. Working this business is 10x harder than my 80 hr. per week accounting and finance job. You have to be good at everything and the family is always part of the business like it or not. Weekends, nights, holidays all belong to the business. You have no paid time off and you are always tired. That said, I still LOVE this business and industry and would never trade it for anything…well almost anything.
The Coffee Industry
This industry supports 1.6 million jobs in the United States alone. That’s not including the farmers all over the world. 62% of Americans drink coffee every day with the average consumer drinking 3 cups. If you are part of that 62% of America, you should always drink something good. Here is where it gets tricky. What is considered “good coffee”? Well, some might say good coffee all depends on how you perceive the taste. If you think it tastes good, it’s good coffee. This is partially correct however; you have a bias based on what you have drank in the past and what’s currently available. For example, if you are given 4 different brands of coffee to drink, you probably won’t look past those 4 unless they are really terrible. That is a bias because you don’t have a choice past those 4 options. Now, if those 4 options are all dark roasted, 3 months old and you can only make them in a single serve machine (K-Cups) you are again limited and bias to other coffee. This is the general retail coffee market. They provide you with fairly limited options and all simple roast profiles. We provide something totally different all-together. We have 25+ offerings from small farms with complex flavor profiles. This is a world of difference when it comes to the flavor in the cup.
Awakening & Selection
Imagine you were never told you could get pizza with toppings other than cheese. Or what if you only had the choice of one variety of apple? Or you can only drink a generic brand table wine vs. an aged Merlot. Coffee follows this same “what if” scenario but it is actually happening. You are only being offered a product that makes maximum revenue for the large coffee company when there are dozens of other coffee varieties available. That’s where big coffee and Fig Leaf Coffee Company differ immensely. We offer you roast level options where others may not. Having this option is like finding out you can get pepperoni and vegetables on your pizza. It will absolutely taste different and you can more fully enjoy what are eating. With coffee, we offer you different roast levels because not every coffee in the world tastes great as a dark roast. Some coffees really shine when roasted at a light or medium level. Step away from what you think you like and try something different.
When trying a new coffee, always try it black first. Don’t load it up with sugar, creamer, and artificial flavorings before you know what the base flavor profile tastes like. It would be like adding Ketchup to a piece of Wagyu Beef before tasting it. After trying the coffee black try to identify what it tastes like. Yes, I know it tastes like coffee but there are nuance flavor notes in that sip of coffee. See the attached flavor wheel.
Starting Fig Leaf Coffee Company was my first real experience in a retail-food industry. I have worked manufacturing, accounting, finance, IT and HR but this was my first real experience in a retail industry working with the direct public. It has been difficult to say the least as I didn’t expect coffee could provoke so many emotions from customers. About 70% of our customers don’t exactly know what kind of coffee they like. They don’t know how the roast level impacts flavor and oil content of the bean. And that’s absolutely fine because we are here to guide and educate them.
On the flip side we have a solid group of people that know exactly what they love, are willing to try new things we offer and have passion for what we provide. This group of customers really understand flavor profiles, oil content and in some cases roasting technique. We call them our coffee geeks!
We also have a small group of people that have some coffee knowledge. They may know that they like a certain roast but have also been previously provided incorrect information about the coffee world. One example is that coffee that is right out of the roaster does not have fully developed flavor. Coffee needs a period of time to rest and release internal gasses. This time period is called off-gassing and is essential for the coffee to form ideal flavors. Coffee that is let to off-gas for 3 to 8 days will have optimal flavor. I personally like an 8-day rest on most offerings. While we roast just about every day, coffee on the shelf from 10 days ago is perfectly acceptable. Check your sources on your information.
We are coffee professionals and what we create is coffee magic! Roasting is an art and a difficult one at that. We can provide you the best, most accurate information available for navigating the coffee world. Accept our help and you will not be misguided when it comes to coffee. This is my profession and I do a pretty good job. This business is difficult, exhausting but very rewarding. I have met so many great and amazing people through this business and can’t wait to continue this journey with you. Thank you.
The name of the coffee you are drinking is very important. Why is so important…it’s just coffee right? Wrong! You are participating in the livelihood of dozens of families that have produced the coffee in your mug. Your simple morning (or afternoon & evening) drink impacts everyone from the farmer, processor, bagger, shipper, trucker, and finally the roaster and retail staff.
Well, we made it another year by a whisker. I want to thank everyone for all your help and support. We are wiser, smarter and more experienced running this business. Our products and retail customer base grew a great deal. This year we saw coffee quality increase from just about every country while supply was hindered by COVID and Leaf Rust.