Choices, Choices …Too Many Choices?
I was reading an article in the April/May issue of Barista Magazine written by Michael Phillips and it made me think about the choices we offer at Dancing Mule. Michael Phillips won the United States Barista Championship and the World Barista Championship in 2010. He is supremely qualified to comment on specialty coffee and is certainly entitled to his opinion. The article is about choices Handsome Coffee Roasters (his new coffee venture) have made in setting up their retail coffee bar. The article brings up an ongoing debate in the specialty coffee community about limiting choices we offer our customers. Dancing Mule believes our customers should be able to enjoy their coffee drink the way they like it. We believe the best coffee for our customer is the one they like the best not the one I or my staff like the best. Some coffee shop owners believe milk choice should be limited to whole milk. Some believe drinks should only be served in traditional sizes so the notes in the espresso are not drowned in milk. Flavorings, according to some, should be limited to either none or a few basic flavors. Some believe in serving only traditional drinks and eliminating or minimizing the condiment bar so the customer will taste the coffee without cream or sweeteners. The drive-thru is a negative in the mind of some shop owners and baristas because they believe the customer can’t possibly appreciate the awesome goodness of coffee while drinking it from a paper cup in their car.
What is the justification for this kind of thinking? In some cases I think it is a completely negative and snobbish attitude that ultimately hurts specialty coffee shops. No one likes to be looked down on by someone serving coffee who thinks they have it all figured out. I believe most of the time the motives are pure and shop owners are trying to differentiate themselves as true specialty coffee shops. They are trying to elevate coffee beyond a commodity. They are trying to showcase the hard work of the farmer, the roaster, and the barista by serving the coffee in an unadulterated form. I respect their commitment to quality and only selling what they perceive to be the best coffee prepared in the best way. I feel the same commitment to great coffee only I want to let the customer decide the best way to enjoy their coffee. If you enjoy a 20 oz vanilla soy mocha, then the Mule Team will try to make you the best one you have ever tasted, pour a Rosetta in the top of your paper cup, put a lid on it, and serve it with a smile through the drive-thru window. I will also be happy to serve your double espresso in a demitasse with a fancy little spoon. I believe the customer should not be judged or reprimanded or lectured for how they enjoy their coffee. I believe in offering as many choices as we can manage so we can serve great coffee to a wide audience. We enjoy talking with our customers about proper milk texturing, latte art, how the espresso is carefully prepared, how the beans are the top 1% available in the world, and by the way would you like to try an espresso? I believe gently educating when the opportunity arises is the best way to turn people on to great coffee.
Dancing Mule Coffee is all about offering choices to our customers. We have 8, 12, 16, and 20 ounce sizes for hot drinks in paper or ceramic cups. We have 16, 20, and now 32 ounce sizes for our cold drinks. The 32 ounce size is certain to get our coffee purist credential revoked. We started offering the 32 ounce cold drink because some of our customers requested it for iced tea. Who am I to say someone shouldn’t have a 32 ounce frappe if they want one? We have skim milk, 2%, whole, half and half, soy, and almond milk. We have even steamed heavy cream upon request and eggnog during the holidays. We can make almost all of our drinks hot, iced, or blended and decaf. We will attempt to duplicate any combination of modifier you might have for your coffee drink even half-caf (although that is the hardest one for me to understand). We have a wide variety of flavors including 14 sugar free flavors. We serve 2 varieties of Chai, 8 Harney and Sons hot teas, unsweet and sweet iced tea, and we will ice any of our Harney and Sons tea upon request. We have juice boxes for kids, hot chocolate, Italian sodas, crèmes (flavored blended drinks like a frappe without the coffee), and six varieties of fruit smoothies for the non-coffee drinkers who come to the shop. We will serve your drink to-go, in the café, or out the drive-thru window. We have 15 – 20 different coffees available for retail sale including single origins, blends, a couple of flavored coffees, and coffee from two different roasters. We stock whole bean coffee to keep it fresh but we will grind it for you. We keep 2 or 3 coffee choices in addition to our house and featured available on the pour-over bar so our customers can explore the coffee world.
Every coffee shop owner, really every business, has to decide what they will serve and how many choices they will offer their customers. The marketplace will ultimately decide if a business is providing for the needs and desires of their customers. I respect any coffee shop that is doing what they think is right for their customers. A rising tide lifts all boats. All independent coffee shops benefit when we make specialty coffee truly special and better than what the customer expects. I would appreciate any feedback or comment on the choices Dancing Mule offers to our customers especially by our customers. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions or comments. We want to constantly improve our service and our coffee so any suggestions are helpful.