Caffeinated Marketing: How Coffee Tastings Can Help Build Your Business

It’s no mystery why wine tastings are so popular: as a participant you get to drink something delicious, enjoy time with friends, compare descriptions and even compete (if that’s what you’re into) to identify the flavor profile and origin of each sample, and more than likely you leave feeling a little more buzzed than when you arrived. All those same attractive attributes could describe a coffee tasting, too. If you’re looking for outside-the-box ideas to help promote your restaurant, café, or newly released blend of carefully roasted coffee beans or newly imported green coffee beans, a coffee tasting may be just the thing.

Knowledge is Power

Having lots of options for your customers to try is appealing – each person buying 3 bags of coffee or 4 types of coffee syrup is potentially three times the income, after all – but people like to buy with confidence, and not knowing what that fancy exotic roast is will turn out to be a major deterrent. A coffee tasting is education made fun. Guests mingle as they sniff and sip demitasse portions of whatever it is you want to highlight, and you can even brew to order in coffeemakers you have for sale.

Meet the Neighbors

Open houses are a beautiful thing. People find safety in numbers and open houses allow interested parties to drop by, peruse the goods, and get a feel for your establishment’s atmosphere without making an appointment or feeling like they’re on the spot. You can certainly do invitation-only coffee tastings that require reservations in advance, and there are some advantages to those for sure (more on that in a moment), but you’re also greatly restricting your audience. Get a reputation for being a business that is welcoming and approachable – people like that, and they’ll spend money where they feel comfortable.

Build and Reward Loyalty

Remember those invitation-only coffee tastings we talked about earlier? The fact that those give your business an air of exclusivity can be a negative if that’s the only types of tastings you’re doing, but in concert with come-one-come-all events these tastings with a VIP invite list can actually create more buzz and excitement. A KiteWheel study showed that 73 percent of customers surveyed believed that company loyalty programs should be used to show how much that brand cares about the customers that are loyal to them. What if you could reward your customers, based on either longevity or frequency of patronage or both, by inviting them to a special coffee tasting featuring high-quality brews tailored to their likes and dislikes – based, of course, on the information you’ve gathered every time they’ve purchased something using that aforementioned loyalty card.

Partner with Local Businesses

What’s better than marketing to your own mailing list? Marketing to someone else’s on top of it. You can exponentially multiply your marketing power by buddying up with local businesses for a coffee tasting with a kick. Perhaps you take a cue from the current wine-and-art night trend and bring in someone who will coach caffeine lovers through painting a still life while they sip their espressos and lattes. If you know an Irish dance troupe or talented singer-songwriter you can serve up your newest imported coffee from Papa New Guinea or JBP’s Classic Blend while that evening’s entertainment does whatever it is that they do best. Both sides of the partnerships in these scenarios benefit from exposure to the other’s following and the coffee tasting is now something even bigger and more exciting.

Short and Sweet

One thing to keep in mind is that not everyone will have the same love coffee-related minutiae that you do. While a three-hour taste-a-palooza on a Saturday afternoon might seem like a little slice of heaven to some, other coffee lovers prefer their java on-the-go – or at least less fussy. Appeal to these people by offering a compact, happy hour version of a coffee tasting. Every night at 5 or so, line part of your countertop with a few samovars and insulated single-serve cups and maybe even mini muffins or bite-sized bagels. It’s a win-win for everyone involved – you’re drawing in customers who may opt to buy something beyond your free samples and building goodwill along the way, and customers get an after-work recharge to help get them through their kid’s soccer practice or a PTA meeting.

Build a Better Brew: Exploring Alternative Coffee Makers for Commercial Use

Once upon a time, building out a café was a comparatively simple affair: line up a few commercial-grade automatic coffee makers, ensure there are a few coffee syrups and assorted milk and creamer selections, and install a few cozy places for customers to sit and sip. Today, an increasingly savvy clientele has pushed coffeehouse owners to explore alternative brewing methods, and those machines are showing up in retail sectors, too.

For businesses used to a simple and familiar auto-drip system, integrated single-brew or other less convenient methods might seem daunting. Still, the customer demand is there, and having alternative brewing systems in place is not only a point of interest that could prove useful in promotional work and word-of-mouth advertising, it also gives baristas another opportunity to interact and build rapport with guests. Perhaps most enticing, these artisan coffees command higher price tags; after figuring in initial investments in the actual gadgets themselves and the increased labor costs, the profit margin is still impressive.

On the con side, some of these coffee makers come with a learning curve that requires additional training (although it would likely only take an afternoon to acquaint staff with the new acquisitions), and the cleaning and maintenance of the machines can be tedious. They also require storage and/or display space that may not be readily available.

Ultimately, the decision to add any or all of the alternative brewing systems below is best made on a business-by-business basis, with target demographic, counter space, training commitments and labor requirements all taken into account. Here is some information on a few of the more popular systems to help get the wheels turning.

The Chemex

The name hints at geek, but the product is downright chic, so much so that it’s almost hard to believe that this modern-looking vessel was invented back in 1941. Chemex brewers are sleek glass beakers with a narrow middle (think hourglass minus the sand) that provide the ideal spot to nestle a Chemex-specific filter. The technique is simple: Insert the filter, spoon in ground coffee, and add hot water, first “blooming” the ground coffee with a small amount of water and then adding enough liquid to produce the desired serving size. (There are models that brew anywhere from one to six or more cups.) This is referred to as the “pour over” method, and because the water only stays in contact with the grounds long enough for gravity to pull it through, the coffee itself is never overbrewed, overextracted, or overly bitter.

The French Press

To operate a French press, coffee grounds are measured into the glass beaker-like base, hot water is added, and then the mixture sits. Brew time depends on several factors, such as water temperature, the size of the press and the desired potency, but somewhere in the neighborhood of two to four minutes usually does the trick, meaning the coffee can essentially brew as it’s carried to the guest’s table. To serve, fit the lid to the top of the beaker and slowly press down; the lid doubles as a plunger, filtering out coffee grounds and trapping them against the bottom of the carafe. Unlike auto-drip machines that filter out not just coffee grounds but also the bean’s oils and, some people argue, its flavor, French press machines allow the water and coffee to intermingle for a more aromatic and full-bodied brew. Many cafés and restaurants already use the French press as a way to serve multiple guests or a single guest multiple servings without the need to come back repeatedly with refills. The growing ubiquity of the French press makes it a safe and familiar option for less adventurous guests, and because the brew increases in intensity the longer the water is left to sit in contact with the grounds, the coffee made in a French press is highly customizable, as well.

The Vacuum Pot

Vacuum-style coffee makers were invented in Berlin in the 1830s, and even modern interpretations evoke a decidedly vintage (and perhaps a little mad scientist-y) feel. While this stacked, double-bubble coffee maker is certainly eye-catching, it’s the siphon action drawing water from the bottom chamber up through the coffee-laden top chamber that has everyone buzzing — literally. Proponents claim that vacuum pots make superior coffee because the temperature at which water turns to vapor and initiates the siphoning action is also the ideal temperature for a smooth, rich, tasty cup of joe, and the cloth filters promote a smoother, cleaner mouthfeel as well. This might not be the brewer of choice for every customer, but those patrons who like it love it, and it’s not unusual for them to become loyal to a particular coffeehouse just because it keeps a vacuum pot or two on hand.

The AeroPress

The AeroPress consists of a clear tube that’s open at one end and fitted with a filter – easily removable for post-coffee cleaning – on the other. To use, sit the tube on top of a mug, filtered end down, add ground coffee, and fill to one of three clearly marked water lines that correspond to the size and intensity of the coffee desired. When the brew is ready, a plunger is pushed through the tube in a manner very similar to the technique used with a French press, but with the AeroPress, the coffee filters out straight into the drinking vessel. AeroPress coffee is soft, supple and almost buttery due to the preservation of its natural oils, but the biggest selling point here is that the AeroPress filters out coffee grounds far more efficiently and thoroughly than the French press.

Seven Ways to Compete with a Big Coffee Chain

Believe it or not, you have a huge advantage over your local chain coffee house. Your very independence is one of your biggest assets. If you walk into a chain coffee shop anywhere in the country you’ll likely get the same thing, as there is not much innovation that goes on at the store level. Want a cookie to go with that coffee? You’ll get two or three choices, mass produced to have a long shelf life and exactly match the cookies in other chain locations. You have the flexibility to test out new offerings and see what your clientele goes for – and what they don’t. And of course we at Java Bean Plus ( are here to help.

Incorporate a few of the following ideas into your marketing plan to grow you customer base one cup at a time.

Offer a Personal Touch – In any industry, personal service sells. There’s a reason a big corporation selling everything from pharmaceuticals to baby formula hires local people to visit customers personally. Their customers relate to and recognize “their” salesperson and begin to develop a relationship. Having a relationship with your clientele can keep them loyally and habitually coming back for more, and will make your work environment a friendly, cheerful place.

Get to know your customers in different ways: Have friendly front line staff, greet customers by name and remember their favorite blends or bakery items. Hire full-time, regular staff if you can so your employees can get to know your customers as well. With a high-employee turnover, your local chain shop may not be as adept at making customers feel like they are welcomed guests. Make your customers feel at home and they’ll keep coming back for more.

Build a Brand – Come up with a recognizable logo and use it on everything from your staff aprons and Facebook page to your cups and bags. If you don’t already have a great logo, consider hiring a graphic designer to create one. It is worth investing money into your image and, with a good quality logo, you’ll only have to pay for design services once. Use the image on everything you print or order and you’ll build brand recognition.

Use plain white cups and you may save a few pennies – but you’ll miss out big time on free marketing. When one of your customers stops in and picks up her latte to go in branded cup, she’ll take that cup with her to the grocery store, playground or office. Other people in her circle will see the cup – with your logo –giving you a little marketing boost with every sip. Taking the time, energy and cash to build your brand shows your customers you care about your business and that you don’t cut corners.

Offer Something Special – From offering your own house blend to featuring exotic coffees and teas from different international origins, give your customers something special. Make sure your employees know a bit about the coffee and what makes it special or put the information about the coffees and teas you feature in your newsletter. Use your flexibility as a small, independent shop to serve up something special your clients can’t get elsewhere, and they’ll come back for more.

If you want to build a reputation as a coffee or tea expert, consider offering classes or tastings that promote your newest or featured blend, along with a snippet of information about the coffee and why you chose it. Don’t overlook the accompaniments, from exotic syrups and flavorings to non-dairy creamer options and toppings. Offer something your big chain competitor doesn’t and you’ll give customers a reason to stop in regularly.

Get Involved – Get involved with your community whenever possible. If your community has a farmers’ market, it may be worth getting a booth and both selling full-sized coffee and giving samples. Why? Because the people who venture to the farmers’ market already value local items, so they represent some of your ideal demographic. You’ll also be at the right place at the right time since farmer’s markets open early in the morning, prime time for a cup of premium coffee. Farmer’s markets are seasonal and space is generally inexpensive as well – and don’t forget to bring along some used grounds for recycling – your customers and fellow sellers will snap these right up for composting.

Use other initiatives to get customers to come to you. Display art from local artists on a rotating basis and you’ll benefit in several ways. The artists themselves will send customers your way – to see the art. You’ll also benefit from any media promotion the artists are doing since your business will be listed as a place to spot the work. Get a reputation for supporting artists and you’ll soon have them lining up to show off their wares and build your community awareness at the same time. You’ll also stand out from the big chain down the street, since they likely display only corporate approved art.

Don’t forget schools and churches. Consider offering a fundraising evening or weekend, where a percentage of every cup sold benefits the school or charity. The charity can then promote this for you to their members, making it a winning proposition for everyone.

Promote a Product – Select a special item to be the “Coffee of the Month.” It could be a new private label blend or something that fits in with the season. Offer iced tea in June and spiced lattes in December and watch the promoted item fly out of the shop. You can offer a discount if you’d like or simply feature the chosen item in your newsletter and advertising. Order a little extra of this product when it is featured, since you’ll likely sell more of it.

Big chains offer seasonal specials as well, but while they offer a single product that will appeal to most shops across the country, you can time yours to match what’s going on in your community. You can choose a gingerbread blend to match your town’s famous gingerbread house competition or name a coffee after the local high school team. Think about how you can appeal on a personal level and take advantage of your local status to build your customer base.

A member’s card can be a great promotion as well: Use a simple business card with your logo (remember the branding) and areas to punch out using a unique punch. When customers reach a certain number of cappuccinos or lattes, they can turn in the card and get their next cup for free. Offer a free coupon for birthdays via your email list and customers will sign up for the freebie – and you’ll be able to send them your newsletter via email as well.

Upsell Items – The average amount a customer spends on coffee at a big chain store is $4.05. How does your average stack up? Can you get your customers to switch from a medium to a large or tempt them to add a bagel or pastry with that cup? Upselling your customers to a bigger size is a great way to increase your profit, since you can charge more, but only add a few pennies to your cost. Sometimes, simply asking what size a customer wants is enough, but offering bite-sized samples of a featured pastry will help, too. Consider making your medium size the “default” and have customers ask for small if they want it; once your customer has come through the door, they’ve already made the decision to buy. Boosting the amount you sell them each time will help you catch up to – or pass – that chain store down the street.

Make your shop accessible and easy to use and more customers will follow. Fast and friendly service, top-quality coffee and mixers and a presence in your local community will go a long way towards allowing to you to compete with the chain across the street.

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