May 16, 2024

Confessions of a Coffee Roaster: Embracing Mistakes and Listening to Customers

By Oaks The Coffee Guy
Confessions of a Coffee Roaster: Embracing Mistakes and Listening to Customers
As a coffee roaster, I've come to accept that mistakes are inevitable, no matter how much expertise I've gained over the years. The art of roasting is a constant journey of experimentation and learning. Recently, I had a batch that just didn't turn out the way I expected, resulting in a roast that was underdeveloped and lacking in flavor. Instead of simply writing it off as a failure, I decided to embrace it as an opportunity.

I roasted the same beans at three different levels - a light filter roast, a baked Vienna roast, and finally a dark roast. Each presented its own challenges on the cupping table. The light roast was extremely vegetable-tasting and acidic to the point of being unpleasant. The baked roast was better but still one-dimensional. It was the dark roast that finally unlocked some of the sweetness and body I had been looking for.

From there, I applied different brewing methods, from the traditional drip to immersion techniques like the Aeropress and cold brew. I found that the cold brew particularly helped round out the light roast, taming the harsh acidity. For the baked roast, the French press strutted its stuff.

The process reminded me that sometimes the greatest growth happens when we don't bat a thousand. By leaning into our mistakes and remaining curious, we can discover new approaches. That constant tinkering is what drives us coffee professionals to steadily improve our craft.

Customer Feedback is Everything

Of course, none of that experimentation matters if we aren't creating products that delight the people we serve. On that front, I received some valuable feedback from a customer about one of my flavored coffee offerings.

When I asked how she enjoyed her recent order, she admitted that she didn't love the flavor - a stark contrast from her previous orders of the same product. Rather than being defensive, I asked her to describe what she didn't like and what she typically preferred. Vanilla, it turned out.

It was a humbling reminder that too often, we in the food and beverage industry make assumptions about what our customers want instead of simply listening. Just because someone has ordered the same thing repeatedly doesn't mean they can't change their minds or tastes. An open dialogue is always worthwhile.

When Good Products Go Bad

Another recent frustration involved one of my favorite health supplement drinks changing its formula. This particular magnesium-based beverage used to have a bright, citrusy meyer lemon flavor that perfectly balanced the mineral's metallic notes. It was genuinely enjoyable to sip, not just something to choke down for its health benefits.

Lately, however, the brand has changed their formula across all flavors so that they are now monolithically, cloyingly sweet. All semblance of the tart lemon essence is gone, leaving a beverage that tastes like miscellaneous sweetener. What used to be a refreshing daily ritual has become a chore.

As exasperating as it is when a product we love is diminished through misguided changes, it drives home a crucial lesson - a brand must be vigilant about preserving the core qualities that won over customers initially. Why mess with success and risk alienating your loyal fan base? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The Ultimate Lesson: Listen to Your Customers

Through all of these experiences - the failed roast batches, the customer interactions (both positive and negative), the product missteps from other brands, and the musings on my target demographic - one message keeps repeating in my mind: Listen to your customers.

We may be subject matter experts, but our customers are the ultimate stakeholders; the people who will sustain or sink any business through their dollars and word-of-mouth power. We'd be foolish not to obsess over understanding their needs, their preferences, their pain points in navigating our industries.

As I continue pushing my own coffee roasting skills through a perpetual cycle of experimentation and revision, I'll be certain to keep my ears as finely tuned as my palate. Admitting mistakes, owning up to shortcomings, taking constructive feedback to heart - these are the hallmarks of a customer-centric business built for longevity.

Wish me luck as I move forward on that journey. In this craft, as in life, the learning never stops.

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