November 14, 2010

The Artifice and I

So it turns out people like flavored coffee. I don't have any large scale studies to back this up, nor do I think any have ever been done. If you want tangible proof, look at the fact that Starbucks is aggressively pursuing that market segment, which the company had totally ignored until less than a year ago.

So I suppose that should have been my first clue. When I got the first packet for that particular promotion, back in my green apron days, I ought to have known that flavored coffee was popular.

But I didn't. Perhaps as much out of a stubborn refusal to accept the fact as anything else, I rejected the idea that anyone might drink stuff flavored with, well, whatever "artificial flavors" are. Now give Starbucks credit, in that regard. The company's flavored coffees are ground with something like the ingredients the coffee is meant to taste like. That is, the vanilla flavored coffee has actual vanilla in it - or did, somewhere along the line.

But most are not like that; and the flavored coffee I sampled yesterday listed nothing resembling natural flavors.

There was the peppermint mocha trio, first of all. It smelled particularly minty; but I'll be honest, I think most of the flavor gets lost in a sort of astringent tang. Then there was the ginger spice coffee, which smelled even better. The spice notes hit the nose well, but not the pallet. As was pointed out to me by someone much too young to make such observations, the bitterness inherent in coffee seemed to cancel out the sweet flavors you could smell, once both hit the tongue. Whatever the mechanism, the spice showed a tad, but not so much as was hinted.

I say all this, but the customers to whom I sampled enjoyed both. The flavored coffee went much faster than the Sleighbell Blend which had been prepared - which, despite the chintzy name, is nothing more than a spicy dark roast. And most all the customers reported liking both. Perhaps that owes something to me presence, as people tend to like things better when they think someone might be disappointed if they think otherwise. Or perhaps I was just that charming. Who's to say? They might have even like the coffee that much. We did sell a couple bags. We also had something like 72 bags donated, which is a spectacular number, and will have a post shortly.

In any case, the whole event was successful, I have to say. I got to talk, with unmitigated enthusiasm, about coffee, for about two hours. And people were genuinely receptive. Sometimes, they even approached my level of perky extroversion. If it takes artificial flavors to produce that kind of real display, then so be it.

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