On the Venti Dry Cappuccino

A venti dry cappuccino can go either way. It is a pivotal moment in coffee – one that can capture a customer for life, or turn away someone who might be great-coffee-inclined.

Imagine a new customer walks into a 3rd wave Café*

*A café that roasts or purchases great roasted coffee. A café stocked with bariste who are consummate professionals, who actively seek out new information about coffee and coffee making, and who actually care a great deal about what goes over the counter

1st wave
The 1st wave was supermarket/diner coffee. Robusta, commercially roasted, pre-ground, badly (weak) prepared.
2nd wave
The 2nd wave was Specialty Grade coffee–Arabica, usually roasted dark, emphasis on espresso drinks.
3rd wave
A café that roasts or purchases great roasted coffee, stocked with bariste who care a great deal about what goes over the counter.

In she walks off the street. She has been to Italy. She knows a fair bit about food and wine. She orders a venti dry cappuccino. To any barista who is knowledgeable about coffee, a 20 oz. dry cappuccino is like ordering ketchup with a kobe beef steak. This is blackening your sashimi-grade tuna, or deep-frying your farmer’s market ramps. However, I want to argue that this order is instead an incredible opportunity to gently educate someone who actually cares to learn more.

This customer cares enough to seek out a new coffee experience in a 3rd wave café. She cares enough to use pseudo-sophisticated modifiers like dry, and orders a fairly traveled drink like a cappuccino. She is seeking a both a quality drink and quality experience. She just doesn’t necessarily know how to ask for it.

The barista is now in a position to capture or lose this customer to the 3rd wave. Here are a couple of ways that I’ve seen it play out. Mind you, there are thousands of ways that this can go.

Scenerio 1:

Customer – “Hello, a venti dry cappuccino to go, please.”

Barista (with or without judgement in the tone) – “Um, we don’t serve dry cappuccinos here, and we don’t have a venti size.” (Often they actually have a 20 oz. size, but refuse to acknowledge that is also called a venti in certain other cafés).

Customer – “Okay… um… How about a 16oz cappuccino then.”

The result? The customer feels embarrassed, walks out with drink, and, even if it tastes great, might or might not come back. Might take snotty attitude to be indicative of independent great cafés worldwide.

Scenerio 2:

Customer – “Hello, a venti dry cappuccino to go, please.”

Barista - “Sure! May I also make you a second drink on the house? It is the way that we typically serve a cappuccino – equal parts espresso, creamy foam, and milk. If you like it, in the future you can just order a traditional cappuccino.”

Customer – “Great! Thanks!”

The result? Customer gets what they ordered AND can try a new experience that is objectively better if you ask any coffee lover. Better yet, the customer can come to her own conclusion, which is always much more powerful that being told that you are wrong.

A 3rd wave café is not going to have a decaf-sugar-free-raspberry-mocha on the menu, however, customers are going to ask for it. Most 3rd wave cafes do not have a ‘venti’ size, nor do they typically call a 16 oz. a ‘grande.’

We have to realize that our industry vocabulary has been set by a couple of 2nd wave industry leaders. They pioneered terms such as bold, latte-macchiato, venti, smooth, and so on. They pioneered the order at the counter model, the pricing structure, and the way that most specialty coffee is ordered across the country.

Moreover, the majority of Americans believe that this coffee and this model is pretty good – in fact, that it is the best available. These customers shop 2nd wave chains because they have most likely been burned on quality and consistency 90% of the time (or more) at independent, 2nd wave cafés, or by attitude at 3rd wave cafés.

If we want to move beyond this 2nd wave model, then we have to prove to customers that 3rd wave is better, rather than scold them. In order to become a real market force to contend with, we have to bring NEW customers to our side. Mind you, this won’t be easy.

At the moment, I believe that the 3rd wave is a fringe within the industry. In order to reach a tipping point of customer demand for better coffee, we cannot afford to piss off the majority our potential customer base (2nd wave customers). If we do, we will always remain a fringe to the 2nd wave. We should relish more venti dry cappuccino orders, because they mean new customers.

Now, react! This post should spur some controversy, eh?


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