The wine model doesn’t work

January 7th, 2009

I think everyone in coffee knows deep down this is true. The wine model only works for wine, we can’t transplant it to coffee and expect some immediate understanding and increased sales of quality coffees.

First and foremost – we don’t drink coffee like we drink wine. Broadly speaking we buy wine in two different circumstances: to enjoy ourselves and to enjoy with others. Generally we spend more, buy better, buy more interesting when we are enjoying it with others. We want to know more, want a little story, want something worth discussing. Wine’s great success was making it culturally acceptable/desirable to discuss what you drank at some length. Coffee isn’t quite there yet. We drink coffee in different circumstances – mostly it is a solitary affair, though sometimes shared but rarely the focal point the way a stellar bottle of wine can be. We experience it in different environments, with different goals and different focus on the sensory experience.

I also want to look at the route to wine’s success. In the UK certainly a higher spend may have been achieved but the real successes of the wine boom were producers like E&J Gallo. The £5 bottle of acceptable, non-descript, reliable wine. Compared to what had been easily available at that price range in the decades previous these wines were really pretty good. More than that – they made wine extremely accessible.

I recently attended a chocolate and tea pairing, at Tea Smith, with the chocolates by William Curley. There were some toe-curlingly, giggle inducingly wonderful moments and flavours. Talking to both John from Tea Smith and William it is clear that these two commodities could fall into the wine model the way that coffee could. However do push them into that model wouldn’t bring to the fore the most interesting things about them. Microlots of astounding tea don’t fit into the wine model, despite coming from one estate and being one particular type of tea and having an interesting processing method, and listening to William talk about chocolate you felt you could swap chocolate for coffee and it would work as well – from sourcing to vintage machinery!  Yet high-end chocolate has adopted a different approach when it comes to marketing and consumer understanding.

We, as an industry, have yet to find the hook that will encourage the broader public to delve deeper into coffee – to discover the captivating and broad range of sensory experiences available in what is considered a humdrum, everyday drink. It is clear, however, that we can’t settle on trying to piggyback wine because it just won’t work. We must keep looking but I have no doubt that accessibility will be the key.

UPDATE:  Steve Leighton posts on Coffee and Wine.

Comment Policy

There are no longer comments on new posts. If you'd like to respond you can find me on twitter.