Saturday, April 4, 2009

What's Zoka up to?

My recent visits to the two in-city Zoka locations have me scratching my head. Rumors are afoot about changes at cobra kai west and things definitely look different from this side of the counter.

First of all, the clovers are gone. I can see going manual pour-over if you're just starting a shop and want to save the clover cost, but if you have already made the quality (and financial) committment to buy them and made public statements about how you plan to keep them, why ditch them now? I understand the case for selling them (even used models are fetching full price), but that seems like a short-sighted exclusively-fiscal move for a company that I usually associate with being singularly focused on coffee quality. 

Secondly, the coffees featured in the by-the-cup brewing area? All blends. What's the point of that? I can see wanting to sell cheaper (er, less expensive), higher-margin coffees during this economic patch, but why not feature them as the brewed coffee of the day so that price-minded customers buy a cup, realize they taste good, and then decide to take a bag home? I have no interest in paying a premium for a pour-over blend coffee and I don't think I'm alone. The stations don't seem to be set up to serve their purpose either. In my mind, the purpose of the by-the-cup station is to (A) serve a just-for-you cup of coffee at a premium price to justify the additional labor, (B) give the barista a chance to interact with the customer so they feel like they're receiving individual service worthy of the additional price, and (C) give the barista a chance to talk with the customer about this coffee so the customer wants to take a bag home. 

Third, Zoka dumped their drip program to focus on clover, so even though pour-over service has replaced the by-the-cup slot, Zoka has had to add press pot/air pot to the lineup so serve brewed coffee. It seems like killing one bird with two stones to this casual observer.

Finally, everything behind the bar looks very stripped down, but not in a streamlined way. The back bar especially reminds me of the time right after your roommate just moves out of the apartment. There are fewer menuboards, but the shelves and space behind their previous locations looks empty and under-utilized. The effect keeps me wondering- what was this space previously used for? Was there a grinder there before? The menuboards themselves are a mixture of the previous style (with detailed chalk work) right next a hand-scrawled board that looks like what you'd expect to see at ninth street. Maybe that's on purpose- I'd swear I saw a frosted cookie whose face was the grumpy logo.

Having said all this, there is some part of me that wonders if all these inconsistencies with the philosophy of other current-generation-of-quality-minded-coffee retailers (insert your favorite term here) are intentional. Blends instead of single origins? Behind-the-scenes roasting vs. daily cuppings? Is Zoka changing itself to become the Seattle's Best Coffee to Stumptown's Starbucks? That's definitely a way to differentiate one's coffee business in this town, but I didn't see it coming.

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