Hold the Pickles Hold the Lettuce

by laura everage on May 16, 2013 · 0 comments


Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce. Special orders don’t upset us. All we ask is that you let us serve it your way.

For those of you who are not old enough to remember this little jingle, it’s from an early 1970s Burger King commercial that was created to promote the fact that you could have your Whopper any way you wanted it.

That concept may seem a bit odd by today’s standards, but in the world of fast food burgers 40+ years ago, you ordered the burger, and got whatever came on the burger. By pointing out to customers that they could actually have their burger made especially to their liking, Burger King was differentiating itself from other Whopper-like burgers available from its competitors.

Translate that concept to the world of coffee. Think about the cup of coffee served at restaurants and diners 40 years ago. Black or decaf were your only coffee choices. (You added your own sugar or cream.) But these days, you can ask to have your coffee or espresso beverage customized just about any way you like it. You’ve got choices, and, that is a good thing. Because most of us are pretty adamant about our favorite coffee, how we brew it, and how we drink it.

Which leads me to this anecdote:

Earlier this week, I received an email from a business colleague explaining a recent experience he had while at his neighborhood Starbucks in Miami. Here is an excerpt from the email:

“This morning I made my normal pilgrimage to Starbucks and for my free birthday drink the manager suggested I try the coffee made in a new machine, called Clover.    The process is a reverse of a French press and it is fascinating to watch the coffee being made. The result was a terrific tasting, robust, non-bitter brew that won me over immediately.”

He was psyched about the coffee and immediately sent me this email. He proposed that the Clover brewing concept might merit coverage in a beverage trade publication I edit. I immediately crafted a response, giving him a short history of the machine and explaining that, while notable, the Clover was not ‘new.’

I then pointed out to him the reason he may not have seen the Clover machine in action before at the local Starbucks, touching on the potential challenges of brewing using the Clover in a fast-paced environment such as Starbucks. I rounded out my explanation with a question about how he felt about the price of that Clover-brewed coffee.

As it turns out, my colleague was so enthralled by brewing method, that he didn’t notice the price tag for that cup of coffee.  But, during his next visit, he inquired, and sent me this follow up email:

“Since it was new to the store and it was my free birthday drink, I did not notice the price.  However, this morning when I went into Starbucks and ordered by Vente Bold with steamed milk, which is $2.40,  I inquired how much the Clover Vente was and learned that it was more than double – $5.40 – per drink.  I then thought about it, “Yes it was certainly good. And, yes, they do brew it individually in front of you, but double the price — plus? I returned to my Vente Bold and was very happy. Too rich for my blood.”

It appears as if the novelty of the Clover-brewed had already rubbed off, despite it being a terrific tasting, robust, non-bitter brew that won him over immediately.

Where am I going with this?

Well as this email exchange was happening, I read the New York Times article: Want Coffee Brewed Your Way? Be Specific.

The following paragraph from the article will give you an idea of what it’s about:

Two coffee bars opening in Manhattan reflect this ascendant interest in brewed coffee. This week Stumptown Coffee Roasters reveals its most ambitious project to date. The company spent nearly $1 million to transform a neglected Greenwich Village storefront (it was once the Eighth Street Bookshop, a literary hangout that closed in 1979) into a coffee shop with unusually sumptuous details: coffered ceiling, walnut bar, custom wallpaper screened by hand in Portland, Ore. The shop includes a separate brew bar, where you may order any coffee in the catalog prepared on your choice of gadget, including AeroPress, Bee House, Chemex, French press, siphon and V60.”

It continues, “The brew bar is as much a workshop as it is a place to get a coffee and buy some gear. There will be demonstrations, free cuppings and an easy flow of jargon-laced conversation. If you want to learn how grind size affects extraction, here’s your chance.”

With the exception of the French Press, I would guess that much of this would go over the heads of middle-of-the-road coffee drinkers –like the colleague I mentioned above. And, I’m pretty confident that the words, “If you want to learn how grind size affects extraction, here’s your chance,” will not excite the majority of coffee drinkers.

Now, before all you coffee professionals get on my case, let me say that I totally understand what is going on here. The new coffee bar is the perfect forum to help drive momentum and interest in all things coffee – from brew techniques to the latest limited edition harvests. And there is clearly a market for this kind of coffee experience. I am confident that there are coffee lovers who will flock to a place like this. It’s kind of the coffee world’s version of the latest restaurant serving the latest trending foods, and I get it.

Further,  when I’m in town, I’ll certainly visit and experience the coffee. But if I had one of these coffee bars in my back yard, I’m not sure I would partake in it on a day-to-day basis. Too rich for my blood? Maybe. Too much to think about when all I want is a cup of coffee? Perhaps.

Just like I enjoy a great bottle of wine on certain occasions, but on a daily basis I opt for a mid-priced, middle of the road wine. Same it true with my food. I’ll make my meals at home, and head out to restaurants on a special occasion. (I don’t frequent fast food restaurants).

Tomorrow morning, I’m heading back to my kitchen for a cup of drip coffee from my Capresso brewer. This weekend, when things are a bit more leisurely – it’ll be my Chemex. And, if I happen to come across a brew bar highlighting different brewing options and delicious coffees, I will venture in — but not for my every day cup of coffee.

So, my question to you is Where will you be heading for your cup of coffee? To Starbucks for your vente? To your kitchen for a home-brewed coffee? Or to a new coffee bar for some limited edition coffee brewed in a Bee House?

Wherever you decide to grab a cup of coffee, remember:

You can have it your way . . . all you have to do is ask.



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