How Do We Reach the ‘Untouchables’

On my long and complicated trip back from a weekend visiting my girlfriend and favorite London cafes I took the opportunity to listen back to a few of the coffeegeek podcasts that Mark Prince puts out. One thing that he discussed amongst others is the exisitance of the untouchables. “Who are the untouchables?” I hear you ask. Well, if you read my blog you arn’t an untouchable. You have at least a passing facination with quality coffee, the profesional Barista or just a good eye for a cup of properly brewed coffee.

The untouchables are the guys who drink coffee just for it’s caffeine and thirst quenching properties. The guys who drink their gold blend/nescafe instant every morning and who’s brains don’t function until they get it.

Mark talks about how these people account for 80% of the coffee consuming public! He says that it doesn’t matter what you say they will just not get it nor will they have any desire to ‘get it’.

How can we get these type of coffee consumers to change their ‘habits’ and get them to take more care with brewing? How do they start to enjoy quality coffee? How does someone get from the untouchable stage to buying a home grinder any brewing a freshly roasted coffee to enjoy the nuances that we all love coffee for?


25 thoughts on “How Do We Reach the ‘Untouchables’

  1. Stu I dint think we need to get the untouchables, some people are not our customers and that’s fine, as long as there are enough of the ones who do “get it” and the ones who do want something different then we will be fine.

  2. As I see it, its all about educating the masses, the same logic that pushed us to stream the UK Barista champs live in coffee aroma, it generated a lot of interest from people who, whilst our customers, had no idea there was so much going on!

    We have considered running a ‘Coffee for Plebs’ night where we can teach the masses how to make their own coffee etc and why we do the things we do, a novice coffee jam if you will.

    Though I suspect the real solution would be to get a celebrity chef to pass it on!

    Heston Maybe? Something along the same lines as Jamie Oliver did with his ministry of food….. Generating hype about quality produce.

    I can see Heston explaining the science behind making coffee, both instant and espresso and the benefits you get for that extra time and effort.

    Just need to make sure it pushes the independent coffee shop angle! 😀


    1. I love the idea of a basic jam. Just showing people how to brew coffee is a great help. However most of the 80% are not even aware that ‘goumet’ coffee exists. How do you get those guys involved?

      The publicity thing! I would love to see Heston do that or maybe even Tim Westwood, who I randomly saw in Flat White yesterday. The chains have brain washed everyone into thinking that a 20oz burnt milk latte made with two burnt overexteacted ‘expressos’ is goumet. Anything that can change image is a good thing surly!

  3. I’m with Steve on this one… Why do you feel the need to reach the untouchables?

    “Untouchables” lurk in all pages of life, be it from gastro appreciation, to the overall day to day routine of life. They are people who don’t have a passion for whatever it is that’s concerned, be it coffee, music or just life!

    But we are all “untouchables” in to some degree. For example, i think i would be such a person to someone from the Jam trade. I put my jam on my toast a badda bing badda boom, thats it. I dont savour it, ovserve all the fruity flavours etc, it is merely a simple splodge of tasty spread to me.

    However, i think the “untouchables” are essential to those who follow a real passion in what they do. They help maintain the practice as an art and a joy – giving the reason for progress, new ideas and creativity to inspire, as opposed to a simple profit-seeking organisation.

  4. I think that to even use the phrase “coffee for plebs” is damaging what you are trying to achieve before you start. I think it would do nothing but insult people.

    To try and reach these so called “un-touchables”, you just have to run the best coffee shop you can. Don’t be elitist, don’t be snobbish, don’t make outlandish claims or cover the walls in statements and missions.

    Give good service, educate those who want to be educated, just serve those who don’t. Make every coffee the best you can, and people will be interested. Even those who aren’t interested are still paying customers, and are as important as the rest.

    Chris, Common Grind

  5. Ok Stu here goes… A short while ago you probably would have labeled me as an untouchable. As the only coffee i’d consume would be instant, not because its good but whilst at work it was always easy and available. Whats more it gets made and delivered to your desk, no one can get instant coffee wrong making it the safest if not the best bet.

    Once at home this is a different story, although yet to buy a home grinder I do like good coffee and will use local independents to purchase it and I enjoy changing and experimenting with what I buy from time to time. I guess this means I am no longer an untouchable!

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that these two different coffee habits exist alongside each other in completely different surroundings. You don’t see a jar of Nescafe in a good independent coffee vendors do you, in the same way unless your really looking you wont find good fresh coffee in a supermarket where the leading instant brands take up at least 80% of their shelf space.

  6. The bottom line is that most people have no idea what “good” coffee tastes like, however most of them know coffee that they like the taste off (for whatever reason). I am not sure that I really know what good coffee tastes like, largely because I don’t recall being anywhere where I knew that it was definitely good (actually I had coffee in Wadebridge made by a UK Barista champion once). I wouldn’t know where to go in Newcastle to drink definitively good coffee.

    People see a shiny machine with an italian name and assume that it makes good coffee by default.

  7. Interesting post! With a slight nod to marketing is Mark Prince suggesting Pareto’s Law (80/20 rule) I wonder?

    In my humble opinion, of the 80% of those “He says that it doesn’t matter what you say they will just not get it nor will they have any desire to ‘get it’ …” is it not more about, as you correctly pointed out, education, and SHOWING rather that saying to or telling them the virtues of real coffee.

    The argument therefore should be that the value derived from enjoying the nuances, bloom and 2-minute properties of a freshly ground bean far outweigh the slight additional cost and time needed to prepare, and that the additional benefit of that hit of caffeine with its thirst quenching qualities is endlessly and effortlessly incremental.

    How to ‘touch’ the ‘untouchables’ is difficult. I think those 20% who you chaps, at the top of the chain, are already touching need to be your spokespeople. Those most receptive to your cause are your street level ambassadors and marketeers and need to be nurtured to help you reach the tipping point of turning the strangers into friends, and friends into customers. Teaching the 20% and turning them into experts will explode your touch-points with potential customers, and everybody remembers a good teacher!

  8. I’m taking the chance to do a “coffee for plebs” type event at the Barcamp Belfast unconference. Ok so it’s actually called Coffee 101 and the goal is to show you can make a better cup of coffee on regular home gear than you can get in most cafes (at least in Northern Ireland anyway). It’s just over a month away and I’ve had about 30 comments from people saying how good an idea it is and how they’ve love to make nice coffee but don’t know how.

    From that I’d say that there is a higher proportion of the untouchables that appreciate good coffee than we might think, they just need a bit of a nudge and some support from those of us in the know.

  9. I think all you have to do is be passionate about your craft. Passion is infectious. When people see how much joy it brings you, they become more interested naturally.

  10. Untouchables will not be swayed by education, those interested in the education by there nature of being interested are not untouchable.

    Mike White is bang on, do a good job, do it well with some passion and craft and the market will grow (as indeed it is). Who would have thought ten years ago the uk speciality scene would be where it is today. I couldn’t have predicted it at all.

    Grib Coffee 101 that has a ring to it 😉

  11. There’s obvious assumptions that have to be made here … I think coffee for most of the 80% is a mere notion, a word, that’s associated with a dark hot liquid with a stimulative property. The word ‘coffee’ embodies nothing to these people but a passive ritual, it may as well be given a completely different name! If you were to show them what real coffee is and what it can stand for, I think that you might find that many of these so called ‘untouchables’ merely haven’t been ‘touched’ by coffee in the real sense and are potentially eager and receptive customers.

  12. Bloody hell guys, where do I start responding to that.

    Well first of all thanks for your comments, it’s great to see so many people feel the need to express their opinion on this. I like that! It means people actualy do care enough to make a little bit of a difference.

    Granted, the vast majority of people who will have read this post are singing from the same hymn sheet. People have differing views on what should be done to increase gourmet coffee consumption some even ask if anything should be done at all.
    My personal opinion is that if more people can brew better coffee, they will start to source better coffee from their roasters who will change their buying to accomodate that. Everyone wins!

    How does that happen? Well, all of us, and I mean all of us need to make as many people aware of this wonderful gourmet beverage as possible. I am by no means a brewmaster but I do what I can everyday to make everyone who exits my shop that little bit richer in coffee knowledge than when they came in!

    Do we try and change the untouchables! No I don’t think we do! I think we just need to introduce then to the coffee that we know and love as well. There are still going to be times in life when all you need is caffeine and that’s ok! I think we need to give this pleasure to them rather than try and change their habbit!

  13. You can lead a horse to water, it’s pointless trying to teach it the difference between London tap water and Vichy unless it wants to know.

    Our business is all about speciality food and drink, cheese mostly. There’s only so much great cheese out there. There’s a huge amount of pap, all nicely packaged up in supermarkets.
    I want to sell great cheese to the right people, not everybody. Same counts for coffee. Trying to take it mass market has consequences we want to avoid.

  14. We had a coffeehouse in rural indy-anna, usa for 4 yrs back in ’99 (see archives 1st Nov on blog).

    All it takes is education, but not hitting anyone over the head. There was one guy who hated coming in with his wife. I made a colombian press pot and he was hooked.

    And others. Start with the milds and they’ll never go back ; )


  15. I think there is a lack of definition within the 80% of “Untouchables” I think there are the untouchables and the untouched, and I wouldn’t even hazard a guess to the where the split lies within that group. I would also imagine theres a scale of difference within that.

    For instance I regularly get customers who’ll comment on a good coffee and I’ll try and explain to them how they can get good coffee at home. Of that group some will think it isn’t worth the extra effort, others will think it isn’t worth the extra money (given that a good home grinder is over £100 and espresso machine 180+ off the shelf), and a few who have the equiptment but are completely bereft of information on how to use it.

    But I also get customers who don’t understand the properties of a good coffee (people who want a 21oz cappucino for instance, or [no word of a lie this has happened a few times] don’t want anything except nescafe) and they will not change their minds no matter due to the indoctrination of *$ as THE gormet coffee shop.

    From the PoV of a wine connessiur I would be in their “untouchables” group given that I enjoy wine, but I am quite happy to buy a £4 bottle from ASDA rather than spend £20. I’m quite happy with a cheap wine, I know I can get better but I know I wouldn’t appreciate that. And a specialty wine critic telling me that I’m ignorant and missing out on “true” wine wouldn’t make me best pleased with that person.

    So I think we have to be careful about alienating the very people we’re trying to ‘help’. Because truely, it’s not borne of entirely selfless means, if the Starbucks of this world are no longer acceptable to the mass public then we will get our way in 3rd wave coffee on every highstreet. Likewise if the mass produced cheap wines are unacceptable and the wine connesiurs get their way then they only get good wine, but for those of us that don’t want to spend £20 on a bottle of good wine what are we to do, I would probably not drink wine atall, which would be a loss for me, and also close a gate for me to ‘get into’ premium wine.

    I think we need to be careful about pushing everyone away by trying to bring them closer. If someone loves their jar of nescafe, let them be happy, but if they ask why a coffee they get from you tastes so much better, don’t be smug about it being “real” coffee, just explain to them that its freshly ground and brewed etc. and educate them, allowing them to make their own choice.

    Just my two pence on it.

  16. I think it comes with sharing someone elses coffee passion. I think they have to see a proper espresso made on a traditional espresso machine. They must be talked through the procedure until they understand all of the variables involved then they’ll begin to realise the amount of effort and skill that goes into creating a truly great coffee.

  17. The untouchables are slowly becoming the educated. I’ve been in coffee for coming up 10 years and as we’ve said more people are understanding good coffee. As long as WE keep talking to customers and educating then it will only get better. We have regular guest beans at Boston Tea Party So that helps us explain flavours etc and can highlight the differences and why.

    There will always be “untouchables” in the sameway that good chefs must dispear of mc d’s etc! I always explain to our customers that the bucks/neros/ costa etc are to good coffee what burger king is to fine dining!

    Some customers will just want a coffee. Let’s just make it the best damn coffee they can drink and eventually for reasons unknown they’ll realise that crap coffee doesn’t taste nice.


  18. Fantastic items from you, man. I’ve take into account your stuff prior to and you are simply too excellent. I actually like what you have acquired here, really like what you’re stating and the best way during which you assert it. You are making it enjoyable and you still take care of to stay it wise. I can not wait to learn far more from you. That is actually a terrific website.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s