Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Intelligentsia Goes Luxury, Dahling

Chicagoist ran a piece yesterday on local coffee roaster Intelligentsia's decision to soon replace the regular drip goodness at its stores with joe brewed by $11,000 Clover machines, requiring a per cup markup to at least $3.50. Despite the current stink of the economy, they're excited to make the change, which they say will bring them closer to realizing the goal of elevating coffee to the same level of appreciation as premium wine.

Slate ran an article on the Clover last March, pointing out its potential to change the way we drink coffee:
By creating this rigorous laboratory like brewing environment, it encourages cafes to explore the nuances of different beans... And the attention to nuance gets passed along to the customers: ... clientele can choose from a coffee menu listing several brews, including ..."punchy and bright with pear and green apple," and ..."complex and crisp with butterscotch, grape, chocolate and plum."
The aspirational comparison of coffee to wine is obvious, and the passionate young Clover virtuosos ... indeed remind me of wine enthusiasts; they're seriously invested in their work, nothing like the sullen soy-foamers at Starbucks...
It's a bold, brash move with forward notes of vanilla, spice, and... brass ones, in a time when confidence is in short supply. Is there a hint of stupid in it too? Maybe. Differentiation from the rest of the pack isn't just good -- it's crucial to successful business; but timing counts enormously in executing any strategy. Can they afford to lose the loyal customers right now who will bail on them when the cost of a cup of regular or decaf more than doubles? Apparently they think so.

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