Morning coffee

I have a confession to make:  I used to, in a very snobbish way, hate the idea of a coffee being an “after dinner coffee” or a “morning cup”.  I thought it was one of those really stupid ways of selling coffee – like how supermarkets use the word “strength” to communicate how dark a roast is.  a

In recent conversations someone has said to me that they love a certain coffee, but not first thing in the morning.  Maybe mid-afternoon instead.  Initially I didn’t get it.  My very narrow mind assumed that good coffee was good coffee and that the rotation of the earth in relation to the sun shouldn’t have too much impact on how that coffee, my tongue and my brain all got along.

I remember doing an espresso tasting for a wine magazine a year or two ago now.  We tasted the espressos blind – the coffees rushed quickly into our room from the roasters themselves, set up on their own machines just outside the door.  I was excited to taste coffees like this, with other professional tasters and I remember my frustration when the journalist kept asking which espresso we had tasted would go best with chocolate cake, or would be best after dinner.  “This is irrelevant!” I thought, “I want to talk about how these espressos taste!  I want to talk about which come from clean, tasty green coffees, about which have been carefully and intelligently roasted.”  Except they weren’t interested in that.

I’ve written before that sometimes independent cafes are so desperate to be nothing like the chains they despise that they occasionally miss out on some of the smarter ideas and concepts that the chains use very effectively – having spent a lot of time and money researching and developing them.  I know a lot of us in the coffee industry are acutely aware that we drink coffee with a slightly different mindset to most consumers, and that we buy coffees in a different way too.

Does it devalue a great single varietal, single estate coffee to say that is great with breakfast?  If we say that it is a great morning cup are we missing a chance to say that it is an heirloom bourbon, a honey process coffee, part of only a 10 bag lot or that it has really nice red apple and red grape flavours in it?  Which is the most important piece of information to most consumers?  How are they going to enjoy that bag of coffee?  I’ve talked before about how the size of the promise we make is linked to the speed we build up trust with the consumer, but what about when we lose control of how the coffee is brewed?

I have become aware recently that I often talk about coffees in a different way, based on my own choices.  There are some coffees that almost require a little intellectual engagement – they are challenging and interesting and worthy of discussion.  There are also coffees that I drink when I don’t want to think about it, I just want to be satisfied and have a simple delicious cup.  b  Instead of talking about morning coffees – is there any value in talking more about why a coffee might be appreciated in the morning, to emphasize the tasting/sensory part more than the ritual part?

Last of all – what is your favourite coffee to drink around lunchtime and why?

  1. That still does make me angry, and a bit frustrated.  It is probably the most common misconception – that the coffee itself has something to do with the strength of the cup.  (back)
  2. We’ve touched on chuggability before…  (back)

17 Comments Morning coffee

  1. iambrianjones

    intellectual engagement

    I think everything we consume deserves some intelectual engagment at some point. That engagement does not necesarily need to be vigorous nor indeed need to occur at that particular moment. But at some point decisions need to be made – control needs to be taken.

  2. iambrianjones

    but what about when we lose control of how the coffee is brewed?

    You needn’t lose control – if you have built up trust then tell them on the bag how the coffee should be brewed (and ground). They’ve listened to you when you asked them to buy your coffee – they will listen when you tell them how to make it. I do at least :) Thanks for the lesson last week – I have a better understanding of how coffee works now.

  3. rich w

    We did a tasting Saturday with a select group of customers whose palates we respect. 20 different coffees, Chemexed It was surprising to us how the tasters would try to wrap their arms around some coffees – often using emotions or experience as well as “approved” descriptors. “Comforting”. “Involves you in different ways”. “It hugs you.” “I wouldn’t enjoy this in the morning, but on a cold night.” “This would be great with a lemon pie.” And so on.

    If it works to move coffee, we’re happy to roll with it. Personally, neither Melanie nor I like Esmeralda as a morning cup. But that doesn’t devalue it at all. If anything, connecting coffee to different experiences other than the morning cup should result in more consumption where a customer might have otherwise chosen a different beverage.

  4. ant


    I would have thought that considering all the work you’ve done in barista competitions to match flavours to espresso, it would only be natural to upsell other things in the shop alongside your coffee!

  5. John Richardson

    Very interesting post James

    One of the areas that I find most fascinating with coffee is how it will develop with food as a natural accompaniment. This is a hugely lengthy argument really and is based on a long conversation I had with Hugh (at a cupping) this morning. It also directly relates to your fascinating “why the wine model doesn’t work” post.

    From a commercial perspective I always like to encourage operators to be increasing their average spend at all times. We tend to avoid fast food “would you like fries with that?” upselling but through great food and great merchandising it is possible to keep shifting up the “bun with coffee” and “drink with lunch” ratios. These (and other) ratios and increased spend are absolutely vital to get as high as possible (as long as the customer isn’t pissed off with a feeling of being “sold, sold, sold”) – particularly in a tight economy.

    With that in mind one of the last things I did in my own coffee shop was to work with Hugh and create three “marriages made in heaven” of food and coffee. He picked out three single origin coffees and then we worked our way through the menu to get great matches. From memory we came up with matches for our apple pie and the cinnamon and apple scone that were really dynamite. Not only did it provide a great story for customers to buy into but it also dramatically improved their perception as to the amount of effort we put into the business.

    My question to Hugh (and ultimately to you) this morning was when can he see (if it happens at all) this developing like the wine model. Historically with wine we had “red with meat and white with fish” – obviously those days have greatly moved on and we have a huge range of generally accepted “marriages”. Reisling and Gewurztraminer with curry for example. Lighter reds like Beaujolias and Tarrango with fish of various types. Huge variations in grapes such as Pinot noir ranging from big Burgundies to lighter new world stuff all of which works with various food.

    And of course we all drink these at various times of day and in differing environments. Even the much maligned Rosé has gained a new acceptance particularly in summer.

    So in general I do agree that coffee can’t replicate the wine model but I continue to think that there is a lot that it can still learn from it.

    I think you do think about coffees in a very different way to the general population and consumer. I think it would be impossible not to. You simply cannot immerse yourself so deeply in a subject and maintain some sense of clear understanding of how people think or feel about a subject who don’t think at that level. Likewise a great chef will generally put the coffee and wine in secondary importance to the food. So a foodie needs to be appealed to from a slightly different angle as does a coffee or wine connoisseur.

    The key has to be for independents to find some middle ground. Somewhere that allows them to model and use the ideas that the big chains have but avoid what I rather rudely call “fat arse syndrome”. I first discovered “fat arse syndrome” standing in a Starbucks on a hot day in upstate New York. In front of me was a line of huge fat arses and all around me was the evidence of starbucks actively marketing to these folk through “fat arse” sugary, syrupy frothy concoctions. It was “give the customer what they want” gone mad.

    But I honestly believe there is great advantage to thinking about what it is that the average customer does want at different times of the day and also about thinking of the various food options that can match that. That doesn’t have to devalue the coffee though in my opinion.

    Like I say though it’s a huge area but hopefully that explains my perspective a little.



  6. Lance

    Hi James

    I am a tea drinker when I first wake up but I long for that first coffee around 10am. The Italians seem to have the right idea by treating Cappuccino as a breakfast drink which is normally drunk before 10am. Italians never drink cappuccino after midday. They tend to pick up the odd espresso when it suits them during the day.
    The UK ritual has been slightly governed by the coffee shop giants. They have created a fashion is coffee culture. Most consumers are slaves to the ritual. I am aware of a cafe in the west end of London whose owner refuses to sell Cappuccino after midday. A brave move to be supported for his principles. If enough independents are brave enough to offer single origins and open the coffee spectrum to consumers then we might get a change in consumer thinking.
    If coffee was a local UK product we would treat it with the same respect as we do with local beef at a farmers market. The consumer is a slave to drinking what the groups give them and when.
    I agree that coffee is the key ingredient not the chocolate cake.

  7. Evyta

    why a coffee might be appreciated in the morning, to emphasize the tasting/sensory part more than the ritual part?

    In my opinion, most coffee lover feel fresh when they drink coffee in the morning. The condition of morning atmosphere and lot of activities whole day make them to find an alternative for freshing their body and mind.

    Most of them do it for same reason, fresh. But, there is also another factor for reason like deep hypnotic, I mean something like deep affirmation that “drinking coffee in the morning make me fresh”. And about the ritual, I don’t agree with it. But, if you say that it’s an addiction, well, it’s right

  8. Mat

    lunchtime drink?

    love a nice flattie around lunch time.

    no reason other than i’ve just eaten i fancy a coffee, infact, enough typing, i’m off to the machine!

  9. Sedg

    I think the reason they’re looking for that information (from your tasting), is that’s the best way to connect a coffee in a reader’s mind. Taste itself is a very subjective experience – I’ve had tastings where we’re all tasting slightly different variances in the same coffee, and one tasting (I think it was a Java dark roast, don’t quote me though) where everyone had such distinct experiences from it I started to wonder if someone had sabotaged my brewing equipment.

    So to take from that, what you as someone who roasts, tastes and brews x shots a day will taste in a cup might be completely different from what your enthusiastic, one-latte-a-day customer will taste in it. So how do you plant a coffee that you’re enthusiastic about in a person’s mind? Connect it with an experience. You mention people avoiding ideas from the big chains like the plague, and one idea I’ve seen under-used is food pairings – there’s nothing like a carefully chosen coffee to go with well-developed food. And there’s definitely coffees that work best at certain times of the day – I couldn’t face the idea of something like an Indonesian coffee first thing in the morning, and my favourite first thing coffee (Kenyan produce this week) would horrify me in the afternoon.

    Oh, and Lunchtime? I like a nice macchiato.

  10. Mohammed Ahokry

    it depends on the person , some like to take his coffee in the morning and some don’t like as you see in our current events ” some like tea during breakfast and some like it after “

  11. Kai Lo

    My coffee will always be with cream, sugar, milk, and mocha, and I drink it whenever I like except close to bedtime. Coffee shouldn’t be a morning thing or an afternoon thing, but an anytime thing. I drink it whenever I am craving for it.

  12. Alan Draper

    I recently posted this question in coffee geek and I hope it has some relevance here. I hope it’s not too naive, but…I’ve often wondered what the state of one’s mouth or palate has to do with the sensory perception of coffee. How are other people out there cleansing their palates in order to have a relatively objective experience of coffee tasting or cupping? I’ve found that a few sips of rooibis tea seems to give me a more positive experience of the coffee I’m cupping at the moment. Also, could it be true that on some days our palate can be “corrupted” or compromised, so as to influence an unfair perception of coffee? I’ll give some examples of what I think may corrupt us: binge drinking, dehydration, a full stomach, a foul mood, too much coffee already imbibed, kissing your sister etc.. Okay, the last example was tongue and cheek. But seriously, I would really like to know what others think on this matter. THANKS!

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