Prufrocker: The Blog

The Coffee Abacus

A short play about coffee quality, customers and communication.

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Act 1, Scene 1
Prufrock Coffee shop; a public place. Two espresso offerings.

Enter (regular) Customer, a lawyer of Grey’s Inn, converses with Barista. On Barista’s shoulder sits Narrator, a small coffee-fairy, maybe Canadian, wiry beard yet handsome.

The Customer: Morning, can I get a latte please?
Barista: We have two coffees on today, which would you prefer?
Narrator: A good opening.
The customer: What’s the difference?
Barista: This one tastes like nuts and caramel. This one tastes like fruits and flowers.
Narrator (to barista): You say nuts and caramel, the customer hears ‘Coffee’.
You say flowers fruits and herbs, the customer hears ‘some weird shit’.
Scene 2
Jilove, Czech Republic over a plate of Svíčková.

Jeremy: The choice someone makes as to which coffee to go for depends a lot on how the dilemma is presented to them. After many years of presenting this choice to customers, the most persuasive rhetoric seems to be ‘this coffee is higher scoring.’
Gwilym: Why do we have to be persuasive? Shouldn’t we be directing them to what they will like best, not what we want them to drink.
Jeremy: I don’t mean this is the best thing to say, I mean it finds the mark the quickest, and affects their decision immediately because numbers are a common language.
Gwilym: What if the more expensive coffee has a lower scoring? Price is effected by costs like labour/ transport and demand.
Scene 3

Gwilym: Prufrock is currently a fast food model. I would like upstairs to be an emotional coffee experience. And a technical coffee experience downstairs in the training centre.
Scene 4

Narrator: Prufrock is piloting a new system for ordering that should communicate the value of our offerings in a single glance. We will be labelling our espresso coffees according to their roast assessment scores. Let’s say Square Mile’s blend, Sweetshop might be labeled as an 86.25 and on the guest coffee grinder we might have Aida Battle’s Washed Kilimanjaro and we’ll pop an 88.75 label on it. This should communicate to the customer that Aida’s coffee is more special. We want to affect your decision making without getting too technical and make quality choices more concrete.

Scene 5
SCAA Symposium in Portland

Ric Reinhart: Customers communicate emotionally about coffee. They love coffee.

(See Ric Reinhart talking on ‘portafilter’ podcast)
Scene 6
Handsome California in the past. Dire Straits playing faintly in the back ground.

LA Customer: Yo Dude, can I get a coffee?
Mike Phillips: Sure. And will that be Comfort or Adventure?
Scene 7

Narrator: An argument against advertising your coffee’s green grades on the hoppers is that communicating in numbers is rather unemotional.
Jeremy: A technical number system should help facilitate an emotional dialogue. The same can be said of our barista technique. Once you have a reliable technique you can concentrate all your attention on the customers and their emotions. I’d say you can only multitask once one of the tasks you are performing is entirely built on muscle memory.

Gwilym: Easy to geek out on a customer who wasn’t actually soliciting for any coffee information.
Narrator: The point score should get across the message of quality, leaving non-home-barista-customers to enjoy conversations with the baristas free of jargon and recipe specs.
Scene 8

Mark Prince (aka Coffee Geek): Who is Specialty Coffee’s Robert Parker? He or she doesn’t exist yet. Well, they may exist (I can think of a few candidates – and they are in the UK and Ireland) but they haven’t tackled this weighty issue yet, as far as I know.
Scene 9
Narrator: There have been some attempts to amend the SCAA cupping forms already. Notably Cafe Imports on naturals. (Everyone seems to think sweetness should be a 6-10 like with acidity including me.) When using our espresso journal we dial-in to the highest overall score, with out a focus on a particular element. But if we took the reductionists approach, I’d say we prefer the sweetest coffees and smoothest coffees most of all. These two words the average customer definitely understands and uses already about coffee. The 100 points is the overall score. It isn’t entirely necessary to display the breakdown of the score unless of course they ask. If they do ask how the score is broken down, the first thing you tell them about is sweetness and smoothness. If they are still curious you might tell them about acidity and flavour and if they are falling over themselves to know more you show them a cupping form and invite them to your next cupping. Better still your next cupping class. You might even email the SCAA cupping protocols to them right off the till.
Scene 10
Barista: Would you like the Sweetshop (86.75) or the San Raphael (86.25)
Customer: Which one is stronger?
Scene 11

Seth Taylor: Both the WBC score sheets and SCAA cupping forms give the same kind of key where a 6 is good a 7 is very good, and 8 is excellent and a nine is extraordinary. It’s a multiple choice. What word comes to mind?
Scene 12
Prufrock staff induction.

Jeremy: Hey guys, after someone places an order and it’s not on the menu, try not to use this sentence “we don’t really do that.” It’s quite alienating and exclusive to say that. Try to say yes as much as humanly possible.
Scene 13

Customer: Can I get a latte please?
Barista: Ah, we don’t do lattes. We only do 8 Oz espressos with milk.
Scene 14
Flash Back: Gwilym. Colombia Road in the past.

James Whittingham: Is the customer always right?
Gwilym: I don’t want to give the customer what they want, I want to give them what is tasty…….

Flash forward. Present day.

Gwilym: The market was almost non existent at the time i said it. We created a market, the customers had no idea what they wanted because they did not know it existed (blue ocean book). Now we would be out of touch with our customers if we thought it.

Scene 15

Narrator: Did you know Harris and Hoole buy in at 84+ and even do a loyalty card and they use organic milk too!
Gwilym: we will see a lot more global speciality coffee chains over the next few years with very structured training programs. We can’t expect equipment to make us different. We need to be seen as knowledge leaders.
Scene 16

Nordic Barista: How do you respond to a customer who puts sugar in their coffee without even tasting it?
Doug Zell : You have to kill them with kindness.
Scene 17

Angry Trip Advisor: I paid £3 for a coffee and it wasn’t even bitter, only sweet?
Scene 18
London. The Present

Narrator: That is the project. To communicate the technical ingredient quality information visually. Prufrock’s QC results can go on the hoppers to help us nurture the first time customer and disabuse their notions of value with immediate and technical visual communication. Then the kind barista steps in and the emotional experience can take over.

The End.

Deleted Scenes

Scene 19
Customer: I’ll have the 8 inch with milk please.
Scene 20
Somewhere a long way from Sweden

Experienced coffee professional customer: Hi can I get a filter coffee.
Barista: I’m not really happy with how the coffee is tasting at the moment. It’s a bit old. We’re waiting on a delivery from Sweden.
Scene 21

What does the 86 mean?
Barista: It’s based on a 100 points system for grading coffee where there’s 10 points for 10 categories. You know, Aroma, Flavour, Balance, Overall.
Customer: so what’s the difference between balance and overall?
Barista: Well the balance is how all the overall elements except aroma work together. You know, did anything stick out?
And the overall is your subjective score, did you like it? Did you under score it? It’s your chance to correct your score if you feel you were too harsh.

Meanwhile in another part of town…

(Sang Ho Park, a Post grad student of flavour science and head roaster at Square Mile in conversation with a Professor of Sensory Science.)

Sang Ho: Can you please take a look at these coffee score sheets Professor?
Professor: (Glances at the first sensory score sheet. Starts laughing…….)