To S.O. or not to S.O., that is the question?
Single origin espresso is one of the trends sweeping specialty and third wave coffee shops these days. It is now commonplace that, upon entering a third wave style shop, you will be offered a choice of two espressos: a house blend and a single origin, or coffee from a single farm or cooperative.
For coffee lovers:
I relish the opportunity to taste an interesting coffee, brewed as espresso, if it is well dialed in. It gives me the opportunity to have a clearer connection to how the coffee is grown and allows me to see the supply chain of the coffee to my cup. A single origin espresso option is the sign to coffee geeks that you care about their preferences. It is a gesture to your commitment to fine single origin coffees and care that you take in sourcing coffee.
Certain coffees taste better as espresso than drip:
I think that espresso can show off certain nuances in a coffee that may not be present in a coffee roasted for drip. At Black Oak, for example, a good quality, but not exceptional, lot of Ethiopia Kochere coffee, when brewed as espresso, displayed an incredibly dynamic palate pleasing sweetness. The coffee lacked acidity as a drip coffee but really shone as an espresso.
Downsides: While I don’t want this to seem like I’m suggesting that coffee shops not offer this option, there are a few important considerations before you launch a single origin espresso program:
Twice the dialing in work for baristas
Espresso is fickle and needs constant attention. We need to taste our espresso several times per shift to make sure the shot is still sweet, complex and delicious. With single origin, we are now asking our baristas to do this twice as much. In addition, if we aren’t very busy, we may have to dial in before every shot we serve of a single origin to make sure it still tastes great. We also waste coffee every time we make grind adjustments, so inevitably single origin espresso is going to produce at least twice as much waste.
Proper dedication of resources, a few questions to consider: Is a new grinder and dedicating staff resources to a single origin espresso program your best next move? This is a really interesting thing to consider. What percentage of the drinks you shop serves are espresso? We are always operating on the margins in the coffee business and we need to make sure that we are getting the most bang for our buck out of each improvement we make to our café experience. Are enough of your customers ordering espresso to make this a sound decision?
Parting shots: I think the ultimate test of a good café is a shot of espresso. It requires skill, both from the roaster and barista, as well as attention to detail, respect for the ephemeral nature of coffee, and willingness to iterate constantly. Single origin espresso is an opportunity to double that love and attention with our customers that are really serious coffee drinkers. In addition, it allows us to get to know two coffees at the same time. This is a really great opportunity for both customers and staff.
Before we embark, however, have we thought about if single origin espresso is the café improvement that will really make a difference with our customers? Perhaps there is a risk of serving single origin shots that aren’t perfectly dialed or making a customer wait 10 minutes for an espresso that tastes memorably good. Perhaps you are introducing one more confusing menu option to customers that may feel somewhat intimidated by the coffee shop ordering process to begin with? Perhaps you should dedicate those resources to speed of service and consistency training with staff?
We should always keep in mind that we are in a customer service business and changes that we make to our offering should make our customer experience better. The ultimate decision should come down to knowing what your customers want and how capable your staff is to consistently deliver.