It’s no surprise that Tracy Ging’s talk on Understanding the Specialty Coffee Consumer was probably the most discussed at Symposium 2012. The ground-breaking work of talking with coffee consumers about the very idea of specialty coffee led to pretty compelling insights about how our customers actually think – or rather how they feel – about coffee.

And that’s the important take-away: how consumers want coffee to make them feel. It shouldn’t be any surprise, really, that coffee consumers have developed a personal relationship with that warm, eye-opening, delicious, complex beverage that they wake up to every single day. It’s easy to forget that as we in the coffee industry become obsessed with the vicissitudes of the coffee market, the intricate details of coffee variety and microclimate, and the painstaking craftsmanship of the coffee professional. And it’s natural that we want to communicate those things – all of them – to the consumer.  But, as Tracy says:

“They are asking for inspiration, and we’re giving them issues. They’re seeking empowerment, and we’re mocked for giving them attitude. They want a love affair, and we’re giving them altitude and rainfall statistics.”

So what does that inspiration look like? Well, it looks a lot like love – Tracy points out the superfluity of glitter hearts on the study participants’ mind-map collages, and it’s reflected in their language. Turns out, people LOVE great coffee. And that love is romantic, personal, and empowering.

After learning that lesson, I saw the coffee world with fresh eyes. I noticed the heart incorporated in the Barista Guild of America’s logo. The blog Dear Coffee, I Love You made even more sense than it already did. And I decided that Portland’s Heart Coffee might have stumbled upon the best brand name in the business. This insight by itself might be the most valuable coffee lesson – supported by good research – that I have learned in a long, long while. Video of this session is now available – you can watch it here.

-Peter Giuliano