Sponsored content provided by FoamAroma LLC
One of the lesser-discussed, yet vitally important, areas of the science of providing coffee doesn’t have anything to do with sequencing the genome, the chemistry of chlorogenic acids, or even the thermodynamics of brewing. Where the rubber really hits the road in terms of determining success in the industry is a much softer science: the psychology of our consumers’ satisfaction. This is the true indefinable variable that determines the value of our products in the marketplace; nothing which is done prior to that point truly has worth unless that worth is reflected in the mind and heart—not just the palate—of the person at the end of the chain.
In April of 2014, SCAA’s Symposium featured the work of many notable sensory scientists, and deep thinkers about the design and function of cafes as social spaces, who shared a trove of fascinating information about various factors influencing the processing of flavor in the human brain and the customer’s overall experience with a cafe from an anthropological and historical point of view. But there’s a facet of our consumers’ experience that was not discussed and is rarely addressed in our industry: what happens when a customer asks for coffee to-go?
Slapping it into a paper cup and rushing off to the rest of life is far from the ideal experience we’d wish for our guests. We’d like them to treat coffee as we do: a ritual, a brief retreat from the mundaneness of the day-to-day into a world of craft, attention to detail, and blissful sensory immersion. We’d like them to stay a while and participate in the spaces and communities we’ve created for them as a safe haven. But sometimes, this simply can’t happen with every cup. Are we putting enough thought into what we do then to make sure the to-go experience is the best it can possibly be?
Any deep discussion of this issue has to start with the lid. Picture the average to-go cup lid: a simple circle, with a small, rectangular slit for liquid to pass, and a pinhole to allow air to escape under the pressure of affixing it to a cup. For a deeper look into the coffee experience provided by that lid we turn to an inventor and coffee convert from Vancouver, WA—Craig Bailey.
Bailey was not professionally “born” a coffee person; the majority of his career was spent as an engineer at a paper mill. However, one day in 2007, he had a latte which literally changed his life. He’d never experienced an espresso drink before, and the sensory stimulations floored him. He couldn’t wait to return the next day and repeat the experience. However, this time he took his latte to go—and had another life-changing experience. He couldn’t believe how inferior the second experience was, and it was immediately clear to him that the difference was the lid. And thus began what can only be called an obsession with every tiny detail about the to-go cup lid that plays even the most infitessimal role in causing that difference.
There’s a lot of science behind the lid Craig eventually created, all of which is meticulously documented on the FoamAroma® website. Fluid dynamics: the sometimes-painful “geyser splash” of the traditional lid, solved. Sustainability: each FoamAroma lid is made with less material than the average lid and can be reused if so desired, (a compostable option is in the plans as well). It can even be said to venture into art: the triangular opening for sipping mimics the feel of a ceramic cup, rather than a child’s sippy-cup.
But of course (it’s right there in the name), one key is the unique shape and slant to the drink hole specifically design to allow access to the foamy mixture of the espresso based drink. FoamAroma delivers the froth that fills the mouth with velvety yumminess. Why would you insist that the barista work so hard on perfecting the microfoam and then use a typical lid that will not allow the to-go consumer to enjoy it?
The other key is in the large center hole created specifically to release the coffee’s aroma. Flavor is an experience which requires the subtle dance of two senses: taste and smell. It’s not just what’s in the brown liquid that counts, it’s the unique fingerprint of volatiles which each brew gives off. When first being trained to cup coffee, one is encouraged to slurp mightily. This use of air to atomize the coffee (which is possible with the FoamAroma’s drinking aperture) drives those volatiles across the palate, for the ultimate immersion in the fullest flavor the bean has to offer.
Sitting down to actually taste coffee side-by-side from an average lid and from the FoamAroma lid is an incredibly revelatory experience. A gorgeously-roasted Gesha from Klatch Coffee (who has recently switched to FoamAroma lids) was a characterless, bitter liquid when sucked through a tiny rectangle with no escape for its full-bodied fragrance—but was completely restored to its full flavor glory when sipped from the FoamAroma. Again, this effect is well-documented on the FoamAroma website, with testers ranging from consumers to Q Graders.
Once you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to believe that the FoamAroma hasn’t already become the standard for specialty coffee providers nationwide. Currently, sales are evenly split between the U.S. and Britain, partially because the tea industry has been an early adopter.
Hopefully, this article has provided some food for thought when considering the consumer’s takeout experience—or even an impetus to think about it at all. How many of the “coffee-curious” have been held back from fully embracing their new interest because of a substandard experience with a to-go cup? It’s the rare person who stops to think about why the experience is different and goes off to invent a whole new lid (obviously). It’s far more common to vaguely, even subconsciously, register your disappointment, that drop-off in reward from the last cup you had, and never think about why—until you’re making your next coffee decision. We in specialty coffee would never take that risk with the coffee service taking place inside our cafes—why are we playing dice with the beverages we provide to be consumed outside of them?
Authored by Mya Stark, SCAA in collaboration with Craig Bailey of FoamAroma LLC. For more information, visit www.foamaroma.com.