Some years ago I was asked to lead a turn-around of a high-end café retailer in San Francisco that was struggling. After the company had stabilized, we entered into negotiations with a well-known coffee retailer in the area to acquire our assets and operations. As part of our “get-to-know-you” plan, I suggested we temporarily swap our key baristas and managers to get a sense of how smoothly the two cultures might transition together.
When our head café manager returned after his weeklong fieldtrip, I was dying to know how things went. “So???” I asked.
He started smiling and shaking his head. “Dan, you know how seriously we take coffee and coffee prep here, right? We are very particular. But those guys…? They take it to a different level.”
What!? How? We are VERY particular. We weigh everything. We use highly filtered water. We calibrate all our equipment regularly. We carefully monitor water temps. We buy top-shelf coffee from roasters I know and trust. We pay a premium for milk from a snobby Sonoma County dairy. I could hardly imagine what a “different level” meant.
After spending increasingly more time with the founder of Saint Frank Coffee, Kevin Bohlin, I began to understand. I’ve never met anyone so uptight about EVERY LITTLE DETAIL. Kevin is a decorated professional barista competitor and winning those requires off-the-charts perfection. And the things that he did—every day and without fail—forced me to rethink my level of detail in how I roast, brew and prepare coffee.
Last Friday, I roasted two batches of our favorite Kenya. The first batch, I roasted attentively but hastily…the way I probably normally do. The second batch, I meticulously followed the roast tips we’ve been sending out these past weeks. Yes, intentionally, and with heightened focus. While we always practice what we preach around here, there are admittedly times when we drop our guard and are a little less fanatical.
Once again I was reminded how valuable these details are. When I brewed up both Kenyas this week I found the first batch to be really good. And the second batch??? Smiling and shaking my head. It was “a whole different level.” It really was.
Over the years, Kevin and I have become good friends and, occasionally, I still see him do something that seems oddly unnecessary. We were cupping coffee one day and he not only weighed the coffee, but the water into the cupping cups. These cups are identically sized and any coffee professional I’ve ever seen prepare a cupping always simply fills the cups to the brim. I mean, seriously? You’re worried about a gram of water or are you showboating?
But then I stop and remind myself it’s not about the gram of water. It’s not about showboating. It’s about being absolutely committed to following through on every detail—not because that detail necessarily matters, but because the commitment does. That, my friends, is the “Aha.”
And that “Aha” is today’s coffee tip: You, too, can take it to a whole different level!