Coffee News: from Seed to Cup

3 Things You Need to Consider When Designing Your Coffee Menu

Your coffee menu is more than just a list of items that you sell. It’s the tangible representation of your approach to specialty coffee. It’s your brand. It’s the reason your customers keep coming back to you.

Or it’s the reason they don’t.

Whether you’re a coffee roaster or a café owner, there are certain factors you need to consider when designing your menu: seasonality, market trends, diversity, customers’ palates, pricing and profit margins…

Let me talk you through the three most important points: flavor, cost, and seasonality. These will help you design a menu that attracts customers and supports the growth of your business.

Lee este artículo en español 3 Cosas que Necesitas Considerar al Diseñar Tu Menú de Café

coffeeRoasted coffee samples, ready for purchasing decisions to be made. Credit: Sam Kayser for Lone Oak Coffee Co.

1. Flavor

When considering what coffees to carry, you need to think about your customers’ wants as well as your personal preferences.

Take Ethiopian coffees: their bright acidity and sometimes intense berry flavors can excite specialty coffee lovers and introduce newcomers to the wonders of coffee. However, not everyone loves them.

As a roaster or café owner, if your menu consists of mostly sparkling African coffees, you could alienate an entire section of your local coffee-drinking community. You need diversity. You need to also have offerings suitable for those who don’t like, or aren’t yet ready for, beverages with  so much brightness.

You might also like: Why Are Some Coffees More Acidic Than Others? A Brew & Roast Guide

coffee beansDifferent roast levels, different coffee profiles, different consumer experiences. Credit: Sam Kayser for Lone Oak Coffee Co.

Because if not, those who prefer flavors on the opposite end of the taste spectrum, say a low-acid, nutty, and more caramelized beverage, may buy their coffee elsewhere.

It may be beneficial to carry a few coffees from each producing continent or major region. In this way, you can showcase the great variety of flavors possible in specialty coffee. A full-bodied, chocolaty, Brazilian may be more approachable for a new specialty coffee drinker. A clean, floral Central American or Colombian could offer the sweet flavor and creamy mouthfeel many customers desire. A fruit-forward African will dazzle with acidity and be the exotic taste someone craves.

Make sure you roll with the whole flavor wheel. Serve coffees that everyone can can joy and appreciate.

You might also like A Coffee Roaster’s Guide to Creating Coffee Blends

roasted coffeeRoasted coffee offerings from Mexico, Colombia, and Ethiopia. Credit: Sam Kayser for Lone Oak Coffee Co.

2. Cost

How much are your customers willing to spend? Only offering expensive coffees may limit how many customers you can gain or how much mark-up you can charge.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have exclusive coffees that are from expensive regions, experimentally processed, or micro or nano lots. But it’s worth also carrying a couple of less expensive yet still good-quality and sustainable coffees.

Roasters, you can often purchase these from the same specialty importer. They will serve as potential alternatives for smaller shops or restaurants.

And café owners, doing this will enable you to better mark up the beverage as well  as offering accessible, affordable brews. Remember, a US $5 or $6 pour over will be outside of many people’s budgets.

Abbie Whitehurst is the owner of King Street Coffee in Leesburg, Virginia. She tells me, “The Kenyan AA we bought from our local roaster was an amazing coffee. However, the wholesale cost was very expensive. We couldn’t afford to brew it by the cup and customers weren’t buying it at such a high price. We had to source a different coffee from another roaster that was more cost-effective, but just as intriguing to patrons.”

coffee roastingFreshly roasted coffee in the roastery at Lone Oak Coffee Co. Credit: Alex Mangione

3. Seasonality

You need to plan ahead (especially if you’re a roaster). Most coffee-producing countries have one annual harvest, meaning their crops will only be available at certain times of the year. Once the beans run out, you’ll have to wait until the following year for more of your favorite origen.

Of course, large roasters may be able to keep a good supply of beans stored in their green warehouse, meaning seasonality isn’t necessarily as daunting for them. But for most smaller roasting companies, it’s something to consider when choosing coffees for your wholesale menu.

coffee cherryGreen coffee cherries on a Costa Rican farm; they will take months to ripen. Credit: Sam Kayser for Lone Oak Coffee Co.

As a wholesale roaster, I prepare for coffees to go out of season by picking out potential alternatives for those customers who routinely buy them. I suggest you do the same.

When the Mexico Chiapas is getting to the last few bags at the importer’s warehouse, for example, request samples of potentially similar-tasting coffees. Sample roast them to see which ones are comparable in flavor.

Before the customer is taken off guard by the absence of their frequently bought coffee, have them try the new sample. Reassure them that, even though it is a different origin, the flavor has been dialed in to taste very close to the one they have been serving.

And if coffee is a component of a blend? Slowly begin adjusting the ratios and making the transition so that  it’s less noticeable for the end consumer.

Coffee shop owners should be aware of this eventuality as well. Make sure you know in advance if your prized single origins will no longer be available – and what you can offer instead.

Parchment coffeeParchment coffee rests in a warehouse in Alajuela, Costa Rica. Credit: Sam Kayser for Lone Oak Coffee Co.

Menus can attract a wide range of customers or just a few select ones. They can be approachable or niche. And how you build yours will ultimately determine your success – or lack of it.

When choosing your offerings, consider the demographic of customers in your area. Find  out what they can afford, what tastes they lean towards, and how you can cater to all local coffee drinkers.

Because the more diverse your menu is, the more people with whom you can share your approach to coffee, and the better the coffee industry becomes.

Enjoyed this? Check out A Coffee Roaster’s Guide to Creating Coffee Blends

Written by Sam Kayser, Roaster of Lone Oak Coffee Co.

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