Your coffee is not my coffee.

In my short stint as a cafe owner, I was given a valuable lesson by a salesman when we were shopping for a commercial coffee machine.

The first lesson. If there’s no budget or intention to hire good baristas, then buy a semi-automatic or automatic coffee machine. Because you want a one-touch solution that serves good coffee at a consistent quality – something that won’t mess up the proportions of milk-water-coffee, and something that brews at a consistent temperature.

Second lesson. Buy a coffee machine with two compartments for two types of beans. We ended up buying something that looks like this from Franke:

I remember asking the salesman why the need for two compartments?

His answer is a question: Are you in this business to make money?

The explanation. Fill the first compartment with good (but expensive) beans, and the second compartment with cheaper beans. If the customer’s order is Expresso or Americano, use the good beans. If the order is a latte, cappuccino, or some fancy inventions such as pumpkin-velvet-chocolate-vanilla-latte, use the cheap beans. Customers like these aren’t the real discerning coffee drinkers. The milk and the add-ons would have overpowered the coffee.

The best part? A Hazelnut-vanilla latte can be easily priced at 1.5 times more than the price of a black coffee.

I only drink my coffee black. I’m never the spice-pumpkin-festive-latte type, but I get it – those are simply more lucrative as products to move. A cafe has to make money.

A former colleague once said “Let’s hire some of the NID guys. They can easily expand any design proposals by at least 20 more slides to elaborate on the design. They are good in design-thinking talk.” He was dead serious. He wasn’t saying that as a joke.

During my short stint as an employee, I was taught a lesson in perceived value when dealing with clients – bloat up your design proposals so that the clients feel that they have got their money’s worth.

I had a hard time adapting – Remember, I am a black coffee kinda guy. I pride myself on being able to strip away excesses, zoom into the core, and present simple but effective design solutions. Here I found myself in an environment where more is equal to value. Frequently, I ended up doing my usual 20 slides to present the solution and passing the deck on to others, where 20 slides will be added in front (usually some philosophical mumbo-jumbo ranging from Maslow hierarchy to Vastu insights)) and another 30 added after (usually some shoddy options which we all know won’t work, but added so that the client can appreciate the amount of work done).

Sometimes amusing, sometimes horrifying.

Which leads to this.

There are people who appreciate good black coffee. One can run an artisanal coffee outlet, hire a bunch of fine baristas, price the Expresso and Americano at a premium price and make a decent profit. Just don’t expect the masses to come. On the other side will be the people who want anything but pure black coffee, and they are happy to pay for the excess.

It is a matter of choice. Be a purist snob, or buy a machine with two compartments.

The coffee machine salesman’s question captures it all: “Are you in this business to make money?”

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