Wednesday, November 4, 2009

This article features my cafe. It concerns the guerilla efforts of Illy Coffee, and Italian coffee conglomerate, to break into the American retail market. Illy has been selling specialty coffee in the United States for the past twenty years, but their product has largely been isolated to high-end grocers such as Whole Foods and Fresh Market. As brand recognition and demand increased, Illy felt it was time to expand, offering retail outlets to move their product to a wider demographic.

Basically, instead of setting up their own retail venues, Illy utilizes independent coffee shops all over the country to feature their products. These shops are help to a stringent code of quality in an effort to control the brand equity of the roaster and distributor. Shops are chosen based on location, predicted sales volume and general commercial values. If a shop is approved, they are set up with an espresso machine, grinder, branded swag and various amenities necessary to conducting a profitable coffee business.

The deal is win-win, as Illy sees it. The independent business gains one of the most well-respected coffees in the world, and with that brand they gain a global customer base. The coffee company gains a foothold in the retail market without expending capital on property and all entailed costs. The independent shop involved is held to contract, however. They maintain that they will provide, exclusively, Illy coffee products for a duration of 3 years. In exchange, the roaster agrees to maintain all equipment, provide continual training and provide business consultation all along the way in order to develop a highly profitable business entity.

My experience with Illy has been excellent, mostly. Their training is indeed top-notch, if slightly infrequent. Our sales rep is knowledgable and shows genuine interest in seeing our establishment flourish.

If I had one complaint about the arrangement, it is that I see Illy as being slightly behind the specialty coffee times. The trend of the foreseeable future is towards more sustainably-run establishments, promotion of single-origin, direct trade, organically-produced coffees than large-scale, mass-production coffees. Even Starbucks, sworn enemy of Illy and independent coffee shops around the world, recognizes the publics demand for single-origin, differentiated products and provides them readily. Illy espresso is indeed fantastic, but it represents a blanket flavor profile of all good coffees and does not emphasize any given source in its blend of 14 varietals.

My question for the company is, if you have access to farms around the globe, why not provide some single-origin, small-batch offerings every now and again. How fantastic would it be to drink a Yirgacheffe from one of the finest roasters in the world. Or, better yet, how fantastic would it be to be able to offer that same Yirgacheffe spreezy-style to a discerning customer in his morning latte.

In my experience, a fulfilling coffee experience is an adventure. It is pulling a super-bright, fruity or chocolately single-origin, widely known as a pour-over specialty through my Linea just to see what would happen. It is playing with dosage and brew time to compare a coffee at various stages of the brewing process. I guess what I am saying is that an enjoyable coffee experience is about embracing the natural variety in coffee. It is an organic product and is therefore succeptible to variation. This should be welcomed and worked with, not worked out through careful screening and blending.

That is my challenge for the company. Show some single-origin love. Your customers will love it and your retail venture will benefit. There's nothing worse than losing a customer to Starbucks becuase you're not carrying the customer's favorite Peruvian vartietal that just happens to be in season at the moment.

In other, related news...

Thursday, November 12, 2009
9PM @ Octane Coffee Bar and Lounge

Come support me as a try to bring it home for CafeNineteen in an Atlanta-area latte-art pour off. The event is a blast. There's good music, good drinks, friendly people and the electrifying atmosphere of healthy competition.

Sign-ups start at 8. I'll be there at 830-ish. Pouring starts at 9. Stop by and cheer me through the first few rounds. And, back by popular demand, I will be taking requests for which shape I pour.

That's about it. Keep dreaming, but be awake when you're awake.


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Daniel Stewart Mueller at 10:30 AM |


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