Knowledge…or Experiences? A Challenge to Partners

05 Jun



1: the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association

How do we gain knowledge? Through experiences.

As a nine year Starbucks partner, I’ve come to learn and see a lot within the organization. From serving coffee on the front lines as a barista, to participating in 10-year strategy and visioning sessions with our senior leadership team, I’m astonished at the experiences I’ve had here.

Did you catch that? It’s the experiences that have left an impression. Sure, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge because of those experiences. But all the best kind of knowledge comes from first-hand experiences.

So why then, as a company, do we focus so much of our energy on “Coffee Knowledge” instead of “Coffee Experiences?”

By focusing on knowledge, and not the experiences that build it, we’ve created a coffee culture that is intimidating, overwhelming, and quite frankly, uninspiring. People are asked to host a coffee tasting, and immediately pull out a guided tasting or fact sheet, a coffee tasting guide, and a french press. They prepare a list of interesting “facts” to tell their audience.They brush up on the basic steps to tasting coffee. They go through the same old motions. They do the same old thing. Like referencing a history book right before an exam, they gather up just what they need to know to pass the test, only to forget it a day, a week, a month or two later.

What if we approached coffee tastings as experiences? If we asked ourselves “what do I want people to see, smell, taste, touch, and hear? What is something they can’t get from following a guided tasting sheet? What equipment or products or formats or philosophies do I want to share with them? What questions will I ask to understand what they already know? To uncover what they’re passionate about as it relates to coffee and spark dialogue? What will I do to reinforce that there are no right or wrong answers with coffee, and encourage exploration, experimentation, and play? How will I ensure I create an engaging experience?!

I have a challenge for all you Starbucks partners out there; let’s flip the paradigm of “coffee knowledge” on its head. Let’s promote a culture of “coffee experiences” instead. The concept is simple:

Forget knowledge; create experiences

Forget telling; spark conversation

I dare you to take on the challenge. In fact, I double dare you.

Go out today, in your stores, in your teams, with your customers, with your neighbors, and help turn the paradigm of “coffee knowledge” on its head – the one where we go to books and texts and things like Coffee Tasting Guides (now coffee passports) and Coffee Master Journals and Coffee & Tea Resource manuals to gain “knowledge” of coffee, and take that knowledge and turn it into some stereotype of a coffee-tasting where we dump our “knowledge” onto other people and lecture them with regurgitated facts and stuff they either don’t care about or won’t remember. Nobody likes hosting these kinds of coffee interactions. Nobody likes participating in them.

Let’s go out and create inspired moments of connection. Let’s go out and create engaging coffee experiences.

And how will you know you’ve done it? Because you’ve created something that’s participative. Something that’s inventive. Something that’s spontaneous, and fun, and inviting. Something that’s memorable, and inspiring. Because you’ve created an experience.


noun \ik-ˈspir-ē-ən(t)s\

1: the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation

 2: practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of or participation in events or in a particular activity

3: something personally encountered, undergone, or lived through 


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2 responses to “Knowledge…or Experiences? A Challenge to Partners

  1. Kienan

    June 5, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    When I do a tasting with a new partner, almost always inexperienced in coffee, I tell them were building their reference points. I don’t read the bag flavor notes to them. I ask what they taste, not what they think they should taste. My goal is to have them eventually taste those minute flavor points memorizing a bag won’t. Whenever I read a blog you write I’m amazed how similar your thought process is to mine. Another wonderful post. Thanks for taking the time to write it

  2. Semper Sue

    June 17, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Great post! I remember when I fell in love with coffee and, at the time, had very little knowledge about it. Through the knowledge, I have had amazing experiences and connections with other people, places, and things. Every tasting I lead starts with a story about an experience. Conversations with customers and partners around their coffee experiences are almost always interesting, fun, exciting, etc.


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