Everyone believes in training, but you can’t close the cafe just to run a workshop. Ten minute training sessions on one topic are a good alternative – repeat them with small groups when people are available.
Chances are the owner or manager of the business won’t have time to deliver most of this training, so it’s useful to appoint your own Coffee Trainer. They take responsibility for the various training modules being completed – ask for a volunteer for this position, so you get someone who’s keen. Here’s a list of training topics and methods to bring your staff up to speed…
Coffee origins and history. Do a quick Google search to find videos and maps of where coffee comes from and how it’s cultivated and processed. In a short session you can only look at one particular aspect eg a South American or Asian country – an iPad or small laptop is excellent for this. Or use an old atlas will help people locate Costa Rica, Timor, Ethiopia and New Guinea – it’s surprising how few people know!
Use a coffee tasting wheel. The flavour or tasting wheel developed by the Speciality Coffee Association is a great resource to train people in the nuances of flavour in beans of different origin, bean type and roasting method. Use this Coffee Flavour Wheel [link] and the guide on How to Use the Coffee Taster’s Flavour Wheel in 8 Steps. This exercise takes some preparation and should be done in stages – an opportunity for one of your staff to develop their skills in training and presenting.
Compare coffee tasting wheels with beer, gin and wine tasting wheels. You’ll find these wheels with a quick Google search, and they all use flavour words that describe fruits, spices, chemicals, earth and flowers. The World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon brings this all together with several hundred descriptive words – a very useful resource.
Keep the training light and interesting. Flavour profiles, mouth feel and sensory experiences – it can all sound like hard work. Use real fruits, flavours and spices for sniffing and tasting to bring the training session alive – strawberries, berries, ground black pepper, cut grass, herbs, dried fruits (if fresh not available) tobacco and even real earth. Do some blind tastings and compare different qualities – from instant coffee to cheap supermarket blends to the best single origins. Many of your young staff have almost no experience with tasting most of these ingredients – it’s genuinely new territory for them.
Develop your own short training videos. This is very simple – clear the area, set up the lighting then video someone texturing milk, making different coffees to your standard, or taking orders. These can be shared on a private YouTube channel, and ensure a consistent approach to demonstrating tasks and handling customer situations. Videos don’t replace personal coaching, but strengthen it.
Ask your suppliers to assist. It will take more than 10 minutes, but a visit to their roasting plant can be a very impressive experience – time if for when there are a number of processes underway, and get them to run a cupping session for you. Remember how much money you pay them each month, so don’t just accept the standard tour – help them design something that will fit the needs of your employees. This could be one session for beginners and separate events for experienced staff.
Develop training quizzes. Another project for the Coffee Trainer – 10 Questions on Coffee Origins, 10 Things to Know About our Single Origin Beans etc. This is not school, so keep it light and get everyone aiming for 100% - it’s OK to Google for answers if it means they learn! Another useful quiz is ’20 Difficult Situations’ – Q&A on how staff should handle customer complaints, service problems and even allergy issues. These quizzes can also be made available for people to do on iPad or phone using apps like Wufoo or Google Forms – if you can add a tech element to the training, all the better.
Back up product knowledge with production skills. Another project for your inhouse trainer or the coffee supplier, working off a list of skills that have to be mastered and ticked off – speed, technique and accuracy are the priorities. Use the timer on your phone to test how long it takes someone to make 2 x Long Blacks, an Espresso and a Latte. How long should it take? Add cheering and congratulations for all beginners who reach the goal!
Train your servers as amateur psychologists. Create some fun names for customer types, then have staff work out their particular needs: the fitness dude, the IT nerd, the foodie fan and the business boss. Different types will have different expectations for speed and interaction, and can possibly be upsold to additional food. Get staff to check online review sites like BeanScene and TripAdvisor to see how customer feedback is being handled at other nearby venues - your future managers will soon have to face this themselves.
Celebrate success with photos and certificates. Take lots of photos and videos of training sessions and share them on Instagram and Facebook. Create a funky certificate from a Word template, and award it with cheers and congratulations. People will notice – not just customers but motivated staff who are looking for a new job!