Innovation in a cup of coffee

Because we often take clients to coffee shops to study the product experience, I’ve had many (many) cups of coffee in lots of different cities. And, in New York, Joe Pro Shop and Headquarters is one of the best cups in town. It’s in a delightfully geeky shop where serious coffee drinkers can buy equipment, and take classes on how to make the best brew. (if you’re in NY, swing by - it’s on 21st Street)

Coffee is an easy product to study at the onset of innovation work. Everyone understands it, and most people fall somewhere on the coffee spectrum. We often compare boutique, small batch roasters to Starbucks in order to provide contrast. Going in, everyone has strong feelings one way or another about Starbucks, and they never think they’re going to be surprised. 

The other morning, I got my coffee at a Starbucks Reserve in NYC. I really like the Reserve experience, despite my feelings about Joe Pro Shop or a few other places in the city where the product is exceptional. In this case, I was lucky to have a barista who was in a chatty mood; so, I asked him which blend was his favorite. He said he liked the Brazil blended with the West Java - a sort of Reserve blend mash-up. I was confused. I even had the ridiculous concern that somehow he was breaking a Starbucks code. But, Starbucks built its business on customer service, consistent quality, and the ability for a customer to have a coffee drink created just for her/him. (non-fat-double-shot-no-whip-iced Frappuccino, anyone?) 

He told me he has customers who come in for his “custom” Reserve blends, and offered to make me one. Whether he knew it or not, he’d upgraded the level of service at the Starbucks shop where he works, simply by offering a new kind of custom.

Coffee purists may never leave Intelligentsia for Starbucks Reserve but the charming, creative barista at the midtown NY location reminded me that with a little ingenuity, innovation can happen subtly, on the smallest scale. 

Surprise.