When I sat down to write this blog, I began by reminiscing about my time in coffee. After some time I came to a realisation: While there has been a huge shift in everything from production techniques to extraction styles, there has been one thing that has always remained constant: The Customer. The Customer we educate, challenge and support.
Change in inevitable in this industry, which is becoming one of the most dynamic parts of the greater ‘Hospitality Umbrella’. Change has occurred in our customers as well: their needs for drinking coffee at a base level are the same; however their expectations, desireas and reasons to go forth and find a good ‘Cup of Joe’ have definitely shifted.
In 1993, when I was first shown how to make a cup of coffee, the culture as we know it now did not really exist outside of Greek and Italian circles and possibly the Melbourne scene. Up here in the big country town that was Brisbane, coffee was something that you had with breakfast, but even that was more often than not the granular, dissolvable form that we shall not speak of again in this post.
In about 1990, when I first tried coffee, it was from my step-father’s percolator. Dry, watery and made with frozen, stale and pre-ground coffee. This was the norm for a lot of households, as there was nowhere near the staggering numbers of local, suburban cafes as there is now.
Oh, how the humble filter/soft brew coffee has evolved. You used to have plungers and percolators. Now we have a choice of Hario V60, Melitta, Trinity ONE, cold drip, Toddy, AeroPress, Seraphim, Steampunk and Clever Coffee Dripper, not to mention the tried and true Chemex, all sorts of different percolators and batch brew systems, and — don’t be a hater — the French press/plunger.
What was old is new again.
Soft brewing has, I believe, elevated the art form that is coffee roasting and extraction. Lighter roasts to accentuate the inherent bean flavours and minimise roast characteristics have taught a whole new generation of baristas about acidity, complexity and balance. This has then fed the hunger to achieve this in the espresso-based market.
Many younger baristas are very lucky in that they may have never tasted truly bad, bitter coffee, as the market has changed so much that the thick black gunk that was once common is actually quite rare these days. (Phew!)
Anyway… back to the espresso.
The search for quality that our customers go through each day is the biggest reason that cafes and baristas have constantly refined their offerings over the years. Nearly everything to do with coffee has changed for the better over time, driven by our customers’ changing expectations.
Milk was the first big change. From spooning froth onto an espresso shot to start a cappuccino (or holding all of it back with the same spoon for a flatty), milk has now become one of the defining markers for quality. As we now fully understand, it needs to be smooth, shiny and sexy. The advent of this also allowed us to start to do amazing things to the presentation. I can still remember the mind-blowing moment when I first saw someone pour a heart on the top of a cup… it was like the lady was some sort of magician, practicing secret arts!
Now, I’m sure I am probably preaching to the converted when I say latte art does not necessarily mean quality coffee flavour, but our customers eat with their eyes first and foremost. We started giving them a well-presented cup so, naturally, that soon became their expectation.
As for the espresso itself? Where do I even start?
It’s all the Italians’ fault. There is no denying that. They gave the world espresso coffee and it’s blown out from there. It took a fair while for the rest of the world to truly accept espresso, but now that it has been accepted, there is no stopping it. Cafes used to be a bastion of Mediterranean culture in Australia, but now the number of ‘Anglos’ owning, operating and visiting cafes would almost definitely outweigh the original trendsetters.
While there are still some misguided humans out there who believe coffee is just about caffeine, the general populace now have really gone down the path of finding quality and the next great cup. This is obvious if you look at the amount of cafes now offering filter, batch brews, cold drip/press and single origins on top of the more traditional espresso blends.
The shift from coffee being a sort of ‘dark art’ to a more open source of information has bred a generation of customers that truly know what they are looking for. Whether it is just a pick-me-up on a rough Monday morning or a sparkling long black over breakfast with friends, our customers now are so much savvier than they were even 10 years ago. And I think this is a great thing.
Change will always occur through fair means or foul, however it is up to us as an industry to drive the coffee industry forward, while always looking out for number one: The Customer. They are the reason we are here, whether we like it or not (and if you don’t like customers, that’s your problem). If we can educate and inspire them to search for quality, then the change that will come will be of benefit to all of us!
And if you’re wanting to chat more about coffee or try out some of the brewing methods I mentioned, you can drop us a line or visit one of our Training Centres.