Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ideas shared, nurtured, and cultivated grow into dreams realized

It was an early summer evening in 2001, Yiching called me and said, "I think we should start our own (coffee/tea) business."

I was making the bulk of my income delivering pizza at the time, "Let me run some numbers," I replied. I spent the next several hours driving around, furiously jotting down notes and figures on a stack of napkins, until I eventually called her back.

"We can do it." I said. The napkin never lies.

And at that moment, we forever changed our lives.

From an early feature on caffe d'bolla

A seminar or two from the Small Business Development Center. Determining how to best fund our venture. Two years of traveling to CoffeeFest, and the SCAA with each of us taking different sets of classes with reams of notes, and figuring out by the following year what was and was not relevant to us. This was followed by months of hitting numerous coffee shops and espresso bars locally, in the Pacific Northwest, and overseas, where we quickly developed an understanding of why that first sip is so important.

We also sought out those owners who were doing something special and did our best to pick their brains with what limited understanding we had at that time. Sprinkled in the midst of it all was an on-going search for wares and ceramics, as well as eighteen months of location searching and lease negotiations until we found the right spot. Design decisions, planning, re-drawing, and more planning. Menu development, espresso testing, and a whole host of other decisions made on the fly, which was only possible because of our extensive research and planning.  And that barely scratched the surface of what happened.

The beginning comes and goes so fast that you barely have time to appreciate it. There were many relationships being built behind the scenes, most which we still maintain today. It was a time of discovery and a time of challenges, but soon a greater challenge loomed ahead. There came a day for both of us, in the early summer of 2004, when we said goodbye to the our former lives, unlocked our doors and pulled the string on the OPEN sign for the first time.

caffe d'bolla first year store front

When I look back to how this all started as an idea some fourteen years ago, just a few short months after we were married. I am most proud of the support and belief we had in each other so early in our lives to know that together, we could accomplish anything.

Best of State 2015, our third straight.

And as soon as Alex learns how to pull shots, we can think about our next adventure.

Alex, Yiching, and me. Kansai, Japan 2015.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Coffee and Inspiration

We have hundreds of amazing customers who come for our espresso and coffee, and each one is met with a cheerful, "Hello" from my wife, Yiching. She knows most everyone by name, and always remembers their drinks. 

She catches the eyes and stomachs of many who come in with her cakes, brownies, muffins, and cookies, which she bakes daily. 

She helps me identify flavors in all of our espresso. She takes the simple and makes it beautiful, whether it's with an addition to our china and ceramics or her latte art. She consistently makes the best cappuccino around, and always gets a smile when she tells our customers it's because she makes them "with love".

So every time you taste an espresso, enjoy a siphon, or wonder why the coffee you take home is so good, thank Yiching. She is the reason I am inspired to create something wonderful.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Teacher. Leader. Friend.

nuki by caffe d'bolla
nuki, a photo by caffe d'bolla on Flickr.
Masterful disguise
Buddha wrapped in a fur cloak
Your new path begins.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A new model for new expectations in coffee

For me, it's always been about "the coffee", and that's a great way to go, but it's not just about the customer coming and getting coffee, it's about them having the time to appreciate and understand what they are getting. We're in a hectic world, and as coffee professionals we should change our business model(s) to cultivate an atmosphere that will entice customers to slow down and enjoy.

But how do we convince them that we have something worth taking time for?
How do we approach this idea?

Gone should be the long queues of impatient people wanting to grab their coffee and go. Excellence needs patience. More owners should make the move to focus on the experience of their in house customers rather than focusing on numbers through the door. As long as we cater to impatience, we will never adequately convey what coffee has to offer.

In terms of design, do away with the tacky "coffeeshop" look. No more Starbuckian browns and tans, nor should we be too avant garde with bright neon walls. Simple colors. Clean lines. Refined and/or casual. When the customer opens the door they should know that a different experience awaits them.

It's not just about the customer slowing down and enjoying the coffee, it's about the barista slowing down and enjoying the process of making it. It goes without saying that all drinks, whether coffee or espresso, should be made by the cup.

Think of coffee as a dish, not as merely a beverage. In fact, it's the main dish, and everything that accompanies it is a side item. As such, guests should be seated and put at ease, simple one-sided menus given, options quickly explained, and after a few minutes, orders taken. A lot can change with customer behavior and customer expectations when the standard chalkboard menus and extended queues are a thing of the past.

We need to be cautious about service. Unobtrusive and casual, but providing support and answering questions when necessary. In order to elevate the experience and have the opportunity for the customers to see and appreciate what is happening, this is the direction we need to move.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Educate and Elevate! The role of the artisan coffee shop

Customer service is about quality and care, not convenience. Customer service is about education, not platitudes. Ultimately, the customer is best served by delivering them the best product possible, and seeking to improve upon both product and experience each day.  When you put the coffee first, you put the customer's coffee experience first. Customer service is a coffee first decision.

Sadly, there are those who fail to take a leadership role and opt for convenience and platitudes. Theirs is the world of pre-ground coffee and smiles. Of duping the uneducated customer into paying for product that is rapidly declining by the minute. Convenience in order to make a sale is patronizing the customer rather than serving the customer. The best way to serve the customer is to provide them the best tools and education to continue their coffee experience at home. That is why an Artisan coffee shop should only sell fresh, properly roasted whole bean.

Once you take the role of an Artisan coffee maker, excellence is more than a set of words, it's a set of actions. The Artisan coffee provider has an obligation beyond the average coffee shop, an obligation to educate the customer to help them elevate their own coffee experience. The customer looks to the coffee shop owner, to the barista for guidance. To outwardly speak of cultivars, sourcing, brew ratios, and craft, and then sell the customer ground coffee demonstrates a pure and calculated facade. When a customer comes to buy coffee to take home, the care for the coffee does not end in the coffee shop, it begins at the grinder in the customer's home. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The right mindset will take you far

When you are starting your coffee business, the mindset you have will determine your path down the line.

Be like the Samurai warrior.

Develop your skills through discipline and training.
Understand the battlefield.
Implement your plan of attack.
Strengthen your core to counter any opposition.
Master your skills through continued discipline and training.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Add Excitement to Your Roasting!

For many roasters out there, roasting is a routine. There are different philosophies when it comes to sourcing, blending, and roasting espresso. The problem is: the same roaster producing the same espresso every day is monumentally boring.

What I wonder is: Why don't more roaster/retailers adopt the multiple espresso model? I know there are some that have gone the Experimental espresso route for a time, and some are actually doing it quietly without making a stir... ala the ever changing "Black Cat Project". So I'm not talking about whole bean you put on the shelves for your customers, or what craziness you dare to do for the online coffee consumer. I'm talking about what you're serving in your coffee shops on a daily basis.

Now there are several new shops that have opened in the past few years who promote the multiple roaster model. They realized that they wanted to offer their customers the best that various roasters had to offer, so they could experience a variety of interpretations of espresso. But there is a commonality - All the espresso is pretty damn good!

I understand there's a marketing component that's in here. "We found a profile that is great, our customers love it, we sell a boat load..." And to that I say, get your game face on and take the ball to the rack! Yea, I know you can do an awesome windmill dunk every time, but how about through the legs and behind the back? Or how about behind the back and blindfolded? We know you have the skills. So bring it!

Do roasters need to abandon their long standing espresso in their own shops? No, of course not. But if your vision of espresso never changes, are you growing as a roaster, and if not, that's kind of sad. Of course a roaster might bust out something new a few times... and then a few more, and maybe there will be new espresso on a regular basis. Maybe bi-weekly. Maybe even weekly.

I've done both. I've stayed with a general flavor profile, and rocked that for a while. It was good. It was very good. And it was also very boring. The notion that it's more difficult is simply not so. Manipulating an El Salvador and a Nicaragua to taste like a Brazil and a Guatemala to taste like a Sumatra isn't a display of amazing roasting skill. Note that the chocolate/berry/hint of nut sweetness espresso, whatever variation, is not that difficult to duplicate. And is it exactly the same every time? Well.... not really. And since we know there are variations, both slight and obvious due to crop availability, seasonality, and a whole host of other reasons. Why not source the best ingredients (coffee) that you can, relative to the season, and present your customers with the best espresso you can make from those ingredients. A great chef doesn't try to make steak taste like lamb, or make every tart, even the lemon tarts, taste like chocolate.

From my personal experience, I contend that roasters will learn more about coffees that do work together as espresso by trying all those coffees that you shouldn't -- washed Centrals, bright Africans etc. And you will surprise yourself. "What the hell... I never thought THAT would work!" So fellow roasters, especially those of you who know you can, don't just think about doing it, try roasting something new today. You might find that what was once routine has now become exciting.