Building and Engaging a Coffee Community

IMG_1792 By Talya Strader, Bow Truss Coffee Roasters, Chicago, IL

If you live in a city/town that has regularly occurring TNTs, than you probably know a thing or two about engaging with your coffee community. However, if you have yet to see a group of baristas get together, drink some beer, and make pretty pictures in lattes, than the following step by step guide might be useful to you.

1) Establish why you want to engage your community and how.

This step can be oddly tricky, but it’s important to have a clear vision of what you are hoping for and why it’s important. For me, I wanted to alleviate some of the negative competition that was starting to fester in the Chicago coffee community. I also thought it was important to empower the coffee professionals to find good resources, get them to start networking, and expose them to the plethora of coffee bars that they might not otherwise know about. Try creating a mission statement that will guide you throughout the years.

Ex: New Gotham is a coffee community dedicated to connecting coffee professionals and enthusiasts throughout Chicagoland and beyond. We seek to support our community through social, educational and competitive events that remain accessible to all. As a group, we are not affiliated with any specific company, nor do we exist for the purposes of financial gain, but rather to build a network of individuals interested in raising the profile of the Chicago coffee scene.

2) Create a team & start funding.

You’ve got a job, and you’re no Superman/woman. It’s important to split up responsibilities in order to create a sustainable community. Each person can focus on a different aspect to continue spurring the group on.

Ex: Social Media, Emails, Gaining Sponsors, Planning TNTs, Calling & Leading meetings…etc.

Money might have to be initially pulled from one of your pockets, but make sure you get reimbursed! Brainstorm with your team about how to raise funds! Each event should have a donation bowl, and start collecting sponsors!

3) Get the word out!

It is super simple to reach your audience and there are multiple approaches. Flyers are a great initial start to spreading the word about your new group. While these pieces of paper aren’t friendly to the environment, actually engaging eye to eye with the people you are trying to reach is really important (make them small). Create a Facebook page and collect email addresses. Continual communication with the members of your group will make them feel supported and encourage them to participate. Also, reach out to the Barista Guild of America, and ask them to sponsor your events, as well as include the event(s) on their calendar. Showing that you are a part of the larger community will elevate the status of your event/community.

4) Plan your events.

Create a formula for the types of events that you would like to consistently have, and they will start to plan themselves. Establishing venues, sponsors (for refreshments and swag), collecting volunteers, and creating a schedule are the most key logistic pieces. After these are covered, you can start being more creative.

Ex of potential events: TNTs (Thursday Night Throw downs/ Latte art competitions), Round Table Discussions, Brewing Challenges, Cuppings, Mock Barista Competitions, Triangulations, Sports Leagues (we don’t only brew coffee)…etc.

5) Keep it going.

You’ve done a great job thus far, you just have to hit repeat and think of new things to add to your line up. At this point, you’ll have people asking you when the next event is and how they can help you. It was all worth it, as you have successfully created an environment where the coffee professionals in your city are looking forward to getting together, sharing coffee knowledge, and talking shop.

There are cities all over the United States that have created supportive coffee communities that, I’m sure, were not all started or sustained in a similar fashion. In fact, some of them happened organically and without much effort. What have you seen done differently? What suggestions do you have for folks who are trying to engage their community?

BlogLily Kubota