Just how strong should a good coffee be? Many trained baristas and specialist coffee brewers tell us that the independent industry standard is somewhere in the region of 10%.
But that answer that doesn’t necessarily account for the origin of the beans, the particular blend and flavour of the coffee, the type and capabilities of the commercial coffee machine, the coarseness of the grind or, most importantly, the taste buds of the consumer.
We came across some rather revealing research findings, released by London coffee roaster Assembly Coffee, in its 2016 Consumer Insight Survey. It’s worth noting that almost 82% of their sample surveyed worked or had worked in the independent coffee industry. That means – in principle – that the majority of people giving their opinion know their coffee pretty intimately.
It could also mean that these people have, to an extent, received views on coffee brewing, or at least different expectations of their perfect coffee.
And that’s worth bearing in mind, because the results of the survey’s second question contain something of a surprise.
The survey subjects were asked to taste black coffee brewed at three different strengths – without being told which was which, of course. The brew strengths were 1.5%, 5% and 10%.
70.8% of the home consumers chose the 5% brew as their favourite of the three. That’s a major show of preference. 17.4% chose the 10% brew strength, and just 11.8% the weakest at 1.5%.
So your typical coffee consumer doesn’t necessarily want their coffee particularly strong – but they’d rather it was strong than weak.
But customers – what do they know, right?
Surely the independent coffee pros would embrace that 10% brew. They did. But not to the extent you might think. 59.1% of the coffee pros surveyed favoured the 5% brew. 31.8% favoured the 10%, and just 9.1% the 1.5% brew strength. So even among the industry specialists, a 5% brew came out tops.
So are we overstating our preference for strong coffee? Certainly the average consumer drinks more white coffee than the typical independent coffee shop pro, who’s more likely to drink black, which suggests a tendency towards taking less of a kick to the system and the taste buds.
Maybe focusing more on what’s popular with the consumer can help boost business. Right now, around 32% of the British coffee industry comprises coffee shop chains. Some 39% per cent comprises businesses where coffee isn’t the primary focus – like a service station with a bean-to-cup machine or a pub with a commercial espresso machine – and 30% of the market is made up of independent businesses. By offering coffees at a lower brew strength – or at least one nearer the 5% mark than 10% - could independent coffee shops pull in a greater market share?
There’s only one way to find out – conduct your own tests with your customers and see how they really prefer their coffee…
Reference: Our thanks to Assembly Coffee for their inspiring survey.