Open Letter to Specialty Coffee Roasters

Dear specialty coffee roaster,

Let me start by saying that I love you, each and every one of you. I love what you’re doing and respect the work you’re doing to bring better coffee to us all and fight the apathy of people sinking in them chain-oil-like substance just to get a fix of caffeine.

That said, it’s time for some tough love. Tough in the sense that I’m going to be quite outspoken and love in the sense that it’s all for the common good of you and me. So here we go.

Here’s the problem with your coffee: It’s sold stale. Why? Because you set the expiry date to something ridiculous like 3 months or (gasp!) a year. And retailers will sell it until that date and not order fresh coffee until they nearly run out of the previous batch. They will do this because it’s more economical for them and it’s not their coffee that’s sold and their reputation that’s on the line. Thus, your coffee is sold stale. And you don’t want that.

But, you say, every coffee in the supermarket is sold with an expiry date of up to a year in the future. So what? You’re not in the specialty coffee business to be just like everyone else. First of all, their coffee is probably stale in any case since it’s sold pre-ground, which makes it go bad in a matter of days. And secondly, their coffee is of so bad quality in the first place that who the fuck cares whether it’s stale or not when used?

Your coffee can be the most awesome single-origin bean in the history of micro-roasting, but when it’s used four months after roasting, it will be stale. And it will be sold until the very last day, because it’s a niche product with fairly low turnover.

Maybe your argument is that most buyers will never notice. That gets us to the heart of the problem. You will want them to notice. You want them to become coffee conoisseurs if they aren’t already. Because if they don’t notice the difference, they shouldn’t be your target market in the first place.

Here’s a little Marketing 101 to you: you want to target a niche. In your case, the niche should probably be the people who really care about the taste and quality of their coffee. Like said above, most people will probably not notice the difference between your Kiawamururu AA and the generic supermarket blend destroyed with robusta. Their taste buds are long since burned. And of those who can taste the difference, most just don’t care enough to justify the significant price difference and inconvenience of sourcing and self-grinding specialty coffee. Trying to convert them is a one-way street of frustration ending up in a bankruptcy.

You are, by definition, a small fish. Trying to target everyone is as good as targeting no one. It will cost you a fortune and be much less effective in actually finding your ideal customers. And this is just from the marketing standpoint. An even more important point to make here is that by making it not only possible but very likely to make your coffee available as stale, you are alienating the very core of the niche market you should be aiming at – the people who not only buy your expensive coffee, but the ones who talk, nay, rave, about it; the ones who serve it to their friends and perhaps convert them as well into your customers and evangelists.

Here’s the thing that I’m quite sure you know: good, fresh coffee is freshware, sold to a small subset of coffee drinkers. Don’t pretend it’s something else. Don’t be like the one-person consultancies talking in enterprise-y terms and about “we” instead of “I”, destroying their personality in the process. Milk producers don’t set the expiry dates of their produce to several months in the future just to get retailers to sell every one of the cartons because (regulations aside) they don’t want their milk to be sold sour. You don’t want your coffee to be sold stale, either. So do something about it. There is no reason in the world for not to do the same as Square Mile:

Brew within one month of roasting.

Could you please do the same? For me, and in the end, for you.