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Why to Charge More for a Single Origin

Five Senses CoffeeDean Gallagher 16 May 2011

If you have been paying attention to trends within the specialty coffee industry, you would (or should) have noticed that there has been a growing interest by nearly everyone in Coffee-land especially consumers, in single origin or micro lot coffee. It’s hard to pin point which part of the industry is driving this trend, but in the end, the café is the coal face of this interest, sandwiched between roaster and customer. It is the café which is left shouldering the responsibility for making all these wonderful coffees accessible to the consumer.

And the responsibility is great.

Also, the work required to run a café is great — not in a ‘poor me’ kind of way, but more in a ‘wake up really early and be on your feet all day, satisfying’ kind of way. Not many people I know who work in the cafe industry go to bed the night before an early shift, fist pumping the air excitedly about prospect of a 5.00am wake up and the dark, lonely ride into an empty, unopened cafe. Not many people look forward to the tired legs at the end of the day, but most people I know in the industry understand that their fatigue is a physical validation of the fact that they are very busy and that lots of people appreciate what they do.

Sometimes, however, cafe owners think that they need to be Martyrs for the ‘Coffee Cause’.

Café owners are notorious for being overly frightened about pricing their coffee offerings to reflect the real cost of the product they are selling. On top of the long days they have to work, I’ve seen café owners lose sleep and turn grey about the prospect of adding a few cents to the cost of a takeaway. Despite the cost of every other input going up, café owners typically prefer to absorb the costs, seeing themselves as martyrs instead of just increasing the price of a cup. ’It’s all for the glory of coffee!’

The end consumers (your customers) probably form the biggest part of the chorus which is now demanding coffee with traceability. They want the growers to be paid fairly, they want coffee that reflects regional character, they want to know the names of the farmers who grow the coffee, they want freshly harvested coffee, they want specific varietals and they want coffee roasted specifically for a brew style. Then they want you to provide them with a choice of this coffee (micro lot single origins) and a choice of brew methods. They want it brewed through the espresso machine, or syphon or Clever Dripper, served with skinny milk or sometimes soy and, most of all, they all want it served NOW.

Cafés are now offering extraordinary quality and choice.

Whilst the line may be a fine one, there is a big difference between being a martyr for a cause, just ‘doing something’ for a living, and doing that something for a living with measured sacrifice because you’re totally passionate about it. Typically when you’re a martyr, you’re in the minority and you spend your life (literally and figuratively), persuading others to think the same as you. Using this definition makes it nearly impossible to be a martyr in the coffee industry — that’s because so many others think pretty similarly to you already. You’re part of a majority. You love coffee, you love making coffee, your customers love coffee, and your customers love drinking the coffee that you make. That’s why they are your customers; they love the coffee that you serve them. Being the one making all of the sacrifices to give every customer a great experience doesn’t make you a martyr, it makes you an idiot. It also diminishes a customers? ability to feel good about what they are buying. When a customer pays a price that they know reflects the real cost of their coffee experience, this provides an opportunity for the customer to feel good about making a fair contribution to that positive experience.

But all these experiences cost a lot to provide.

The price pressures will continue to rise. I haven’t heard any economic forecast that predicts the cost of living coming down. Add to that the increasing price of coffee on the New York Exchange (the ‘C’ price) and then recognise the growing demand by your customer base for increased coffee quality and choice.

Share it around, keep it fair.

The journey from cherry to cup is a long one and involves so many people. The end consumers are as much a part of the journey as the rest of us. It’s a fair thing for everyone — farmer, miller, exporter, roaster, café and end consumer to share equal amounts of sacrifice and reward. So let’s keep the prices real.

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