Coffee, Communication, the plan Cafe, Cardiff!

There has been some truly exceptional coffee this week!! (I can only say this because I’m also the first to say when it’s not good as well!) Caffe Naturelle is tasting more amazing than ever at the moment with the latest seasonal adjustment bringing Bolivian Finca Irupana into the blend, sending the fruitiness to a whole new level, whilst remaining exceptionally clean and delicate and delightful. Then I put The Brownie Blend back on for the weekend yesterday evening, the temp goes up, and BAM! the rich, sweet perfumed natural fruitiness and the mouthfeel hits you like the best surprise ever!

All this is aided in part by the presence of a great grinder. Even though there are still inconsistencies here and there, especially when you make espresso sporadically (and the rain showers today also kept me on my toes with an unprecedented degree of adjustments throughout the day!), the effect of the superior grinder on shots continues to be undeniable, and stunning. Now I know more intimately why those in the know see the grinder as absolutely an equal part of the coffee-barista-machine-grinder equation, where each part must be as good as possible, and as good as the others to have a hope of achieving the best results.

When you work with some amazing coffees as standard, and walk the tightrope of striving to prepare them as well as possible within a given setting, its intriguing and perplexing to think about the perception from the other side of the counter now and then. Amongst the growing number of those who love and return for what we endeavour to offer, as part of something special emerging in the UK, you still sometimes overhear the romanticism of  ”everywhere in Italy cappuccino is amazing, but it’s never worth bothering with anywhere else in the world”, you still realise that when you mention ‘barista championships’ people have absolutely no clue what you’re on about (I dread to think what quaint images pop into their heads before you then attempt to explain?!), and you still encounter the notion that claims about the integrity of the coffee, or your skill, are just some sort of unfounded, self-generated marketing ploy.

But it really is fresh! It really is craft-roasted! It really is seasonal, traceable right back to individual farms of exceptional standing, and ethically sourced on the basis of quality, rather than just Fairtraded! And it really is hand crafted at the bar at the final stage with a (…albeit barista-specific) level of delight, intuitiveness, expertise and attention to detail at every level that is far from ‘mass produced’, ‘push-button’, or the high street average.

But with this sort of coffee there also often comes more ‘modern’ (less Italian!) un-coffee-like flavours that might not be expected by the customer, and dangerous variations in the consistency of the product, both of which might unfortunately throw people off the scent, quite understandably. Therefore, whilst taste should ideally do the talking, sometimes, even when all goes well and it’s great, taste might fly under the radar, or be misunderstood, without some gentle communication of what it’s all about… And it’s worth remembering that the stunning experience of a fine ristretto naked double shot which you take the fleeting opportunity to savour when you know it’s been a successful pour, might not correlate to that single shot latte for a customer, or standard spouted single espresso, which, whilst lovely, might not speak as loudly and might not get the potential across as vibrantly. Certainly these are some of the most challenging aspects of the whole endeavour – not just the attempt to develop barista skills (and I include my own) in order to maintain consistency in what is a hand crafted, non-mainstream product, but equally the crucial importance for staff (in an ideal world) to have a genuine understanding, belief, and pride in the quality of what’s actually on offer, and the ability to then sensitively articulate this to customers. It’s a case of developing a sense of when and where it’s appropriate too, and finding a way to quickly respond to positive (or inaccurate) reactions even when it’s busy and you need to dash straight away from the table …otherwise the opportunity to convey something special is lost. And it’s not pretentiousness, snobbery, or sales flim-flam, as people sadly often assume, but, ideally, a communication of a sincere passion for the great coffees and the craftsmanship. At the end of the day, it not only engages the customer but also enables them to make more informed decisions and conclusions about what they’re buying and tasting in place to place. Do I expect too much? Absolutely! Always! …Hopefully that’s a part of what keeps making the coffee even better!

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