Learn About Coffee

Before starting any business, understand and ideally enjoy the product that you offer. The specialty coffee industry has enjoyed stellar growth in and received positive publicity. As a result, it seems new coffee shop owners sometimes forget to learn about coffee!

What could be so difficult about coffee? It’s a bean, grind it, mix it with hot water and you’ve got a high margin drink… right? Well, perhaps, but only in the sense that wine is old grape juice in a bottle.

Some are surprised to learn that coffee is more complex than other food businesses.  Wines, cheeses, oils, vinegars and other specialty foods are arguably less difficult.

Coffee has a steep learning curve.  Its flavor profiles are as unique and wonderful as the more than 65 countries and millions of people involved in its production.  Beyond individual varieties, there are different methods of processing, roasting, brewing and more.

Even water.  Water is over 98% of the coffee that you will serve. Coffee shop owners sometimes mistakenly give little or no thought to their water source.  For best results, one should always test the water source and treat it accordingly.

Imbalanced water formulation will alter the flavor of any coffee or tea and can damage valuable equipment. Once you learn about coffee, you will understand the elements that are part of the beverage and recognize issues like these.

Just as if starting a restaurant, strive to gain a level of competency in coffee to master traditional beverages and abstract your own.   Signature beverages can become a  hallmark of your brand.

Start with the Basics

Immersing into the local and regional coffee culture is a great way to educate yourself about coffee. Attend conferences, sign up for education classes offered by local artisan coffee roasters. Join the SCAA Education Pathways program and pursue its certificate programs.  Both SCAA and the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe offer resources for learning about coffee.

Sample as much coffee in as many coffees and styles of roasting and preparation as you can. Do not model a business solely on the offerings of a major chain shop in your region. Small businesses have the competitive advantage from the ability to do better.