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“I’ll have a Dirty Kari.”
“I’ll have my Lemon Joy.”
“I’m so ready for my Millie’s Capp.”
Kari, Joy and Millie are ordering their favorite coffee concoctions from the baristas at Espresso Vivace in Seattle. Each of their selections is an individually customized beverage. The Dirty Kari is a caffe latte with caramel, cinnamon and orange zest. Lemon Joy is an iced latte with simple syrup and lemon zest. Millie’s Capp is an extra foamy cappuccino made by pouring half of it into the cup, sprinkling cinnamon, pouring the remaining foam and adding liquefied honey.
As is the case with many coffeehouses and restaurants, Espresso Vivace is riding an on-trend tsunami that is gaining momentum nationwide — the ability for customers to put their own personal spin on their coffee and tea orders. Some, like Espresso Vivace, make this possible by offering an array of syrups, sweeteners, garnishes and dairy options available and allowing customers to make their own selection.
David Schomer, who is Espresso Vivace’s barista trainer and quality control person, says that while ultimately personalizing customers’ orders is a competitive strategy, the overriding goal is to make the customers happy and loyal. At the three Vivace locations in Seattle, Schomer says customized options are “infinite,” with 29 syrups, different chocolate and caramel flavors and 10 varieties of milk.
MILLENNIALS DRIVE THE TREND
Not surprisingly, millennials — who have always liked things their way — are driving the trend. The Orlando Business Journal recently reported that 30 percent of this cohort buys brewed coffee at least three times a week. The National Coffee Association’s blog reports that older millennials — ages 25 to 39 — are the most likely to drink espresso-based beverages. The blog also states, “Personalization is a high priority” and “Millennials expect to get exactly what they want.”
What conclusions can be drawn from this data? The fact that Kari, Joy and Millie — all children of baby boomers — want what they want when they want it is well known. The implication, when applied to coffee, is that they want a cup that is customized to their desires. When a millennial drinks an espresso-based beverage three times a week or more, he or she wants a satisfying experience each time. What better way for restaurants and coffee houses to achieve this than to customize the cup?
PLEASING SOPHISTICATED PALATES
Some operations, like Biggby Coffee, offer a broad menu of options to please sophisticated palates. Biggby, a chain of more than 245 locations headquartered in East Lansing, Michigan, offers a menu of 61 different coffee lattes and 13 tea lattes. How about a Blueberry Bliss coffee latte with blueberry and white chocolate? Customers can have it hot or cold, any size, with their choice of milk, whipped cream, reduced caffeine or no sugar. The Avalanche Latte contains chocolate, white chocolate and mint, while a Lotta Love Latte adds strawberry to white chocolate.
Each order can be customized by heat (hot, iced or frozen); size (10, 16, 20, 24 or 32 ounces); and served with or without whipped cream or sugar or caffeine. Allergen information is also available for each drink.
As for Biggby’s tea choices, the Spice of Life has black tea, cinnamon, orange peel and chai. The African Autumn boasts rooibos tea, cranberry, orange and vanilla. The Chumpkin, not surprisingly, is a blend of chai tea and pumpkin.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
Never before have consumers had so much power at the counter. No longer is it enough to have a certain type of bean or roast or tea leaf. Baristas must be ready to deal with a plethora of syrups, sweet flavors, herbs, spices, zests and fruits.
The customer looking for a taste of Maine at one of the two Arabica Coffee Company shops in Portland, Maine, can request a shot of real Maine maple syrup. Portland has become a great foodie town over the years, a characteristic which seems to go along with coffee shops which offer a variety of flavorings to tempt foodie palates.
According to Scooter’s Coffee, their flavors will “have you dancing to your own beat.” The chain offers flavored lattes with vanilla, caramel, hazelnut, almond, cinnamon, butterscotch, coconut, Irish cream, peppermint, raspberry or toffee nut. There are 155 Scooter’s locations, with 40 more planned to open this year. The company’s tagline makes this promise: Amazing People, Amazing Drinks . . . Amazingly Fast.
MAKING IT PERSONAL
Scooter's coffee drinks can be served hot, iced or blended. The Salted Honey Caramelicious contains espresso, caramel and honey, topped with whipped cream and salt crystals. Customers can even bring their own favorite candy bar — in a wrapper — and Scooter’s baristas will add it to their Candy Bar Latte.
Entrepreneurial coffee and tea shops have figured out the best way to lure consumers away from the national chains. By making coffee and tea drinks personal, they satisfy the need to feel special, to be treated like a coveted customer. As Biggby Coffee proclaims: “We exist to love people.”