From house blends to single origin: How to build a successful specialty coffee shop menu
Yker Valerio speaks to the owners of Bean Theory Coffee, a specialty coffee shop in Thane, India, about the impact a menu can have on a coffee shop’s success.
A menu can make or break a business.
After all, it is the menu, along with branding and service delivery, that first attracts, then satisfies and, ultimately, retains customers.
For a specialty coffee shop, it is no different. For these establishments, a solid menu sits at the intersection between buying top-quality coffee and catering to customers’ preferences.
As such, a menu should be varied in flavour and type, offering both new and unique drinks, as well as traditional options such as lattes and cappuccinos – two of the most popular coffees in the world.
It should also take consumer demands for qualities such as sustainability, a key consideration for 85% of consumers according to the Global Sustainability Study 2021, into account, all while being profitable.
Finding that sweet spot is an ongoing challenge for coffee shops.
But creating an excellent specialty coffee shop menu isn’t impossible. For instance, combining in-season single-origin coffees with a signature blend is an easy and effective way to simultaneously build a strong brand and cater to different tastes.
Additionally, to attract younger consumers, a menu should include decaf coffee options, ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee products and a good selection of plant-based milks.
While more traditional coffee consumers may look down on decaf coffee, it is a growing trend among millennials who favour healthier food and drink options, with the decaf market share expected to reach $2.8 billion by 2027.
Another burgeoning trend among this younger generation of coffee consumers is the consumption of RTD coffees such as cold brews and iced coffee.
Although neither is exactly new, their rediscovery has attracted young consumers, looking for alternative ways to enjoy coffee-based drinks.
Beyond freshness: The importance of buying seasonal coffee
For specialty coffee shops, purchasing seasonal coffee is key.
It’s especially vital for coffee shops that rely on single-origin coffees.
Coffee is harvested once a year, with the harvest season lasting approximately two to three months. Harvest times depend on geographical location and, as such, sourcing fresh coffee from a single location year-round is impossible.
This allows shops to consistently offer a fresh, quality, traceable product. In addition, making coffee production more transparent creates a more engaging experience for consumers curious about the process.
According to Saigopal Medepalli, one of the owners of Bean Theory Coffee, when customers “understand the minute details behind cultivating, processing and roasting coffee, they appreciate the cup even more. Especially single origin coffees – we always have customers who are very interested to know the source of the coffee.”
In this regard, buying seasonally enables coffee shops to implement several advantageous business tactics simultaneously.
First, it allows shops to regularly update their menu and better cater to consumers looking for novelty while also catering to seasonal preferences. (It, of course, also ticks the all-important sustainability box for customers).
Second, buying seasonally reduces the risks related to coffee storage, such as damage to the beans and fading flavour profiles.
Last, buying seasonally expands a coffee shop’s network, connecting them with a wider community of coffee producers, which can help nurture a broader, more robust business network.
It is evident that buying seasonally available coffee is a business decision that hugely impacts coffee shop operations. As such, it is crucial that specialty coffee shop owners train baristas and other personnel about the benefits of offering single-origin coffee that is in season rather than coffees from a specific region.
House blends: A recipe for success
Technically, specialty coffee roasters have been selling blends for decades.
That’s because of the ambiguity of the term “single origin”. For some, it refers to coffee from a single geographical region or country; for others, it refers to beans sourced from a single plantation.
As such, many coffee shops and roasters have been selling mixed beans from the same country as a single-origin coffee rather than a blend.
While single origin’s reputation has been growing from strength to strength over the past decade, blends have only recently renewed their standing, shaking off the yolk of being “less than”.
This is in large part due to the growing popularity of specialty blends in coffee competitions and the opportunity it offers baristas to better communicate their style, skills, and character.
Alongside baristas, specialty coffee roasters and shops are participating in this trend, offering signature blends created with top-quality coffee beans.
Traditionally, blends were looked down on because of their lack of traceability and poor quality. Yet, blends aren’t synonymous with substandard coffee anymore. In addition, a house blend can be a key market differentiator.
“Every coffee shop should have a signature blend”, Saigopal says. “That’s what makes a coffee shop unique.”
Continuing, Deepika Gowda, co-owner of Bean Theory Coffee, explains that it was easier to offer a signature blend than single-origin specialty coffee when they opened their coffee shop.
“Being the first specialty coffee shop in town, we marketed our coffee in that manner,” Deepika says. “It made it easier to explain to our customers why our coffee was different from the Starbucks next door. Nobody understood what it meant when we said: ‘It is a specialty coffee’.
“But they instantly understood it was unique when we explained that the house blend was our signature coffee. Of course, we also had to explain what specialty coffee was (we still have to) but having a signature blend helped us gain popularity and get a consistent cup every time.”