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Camp Coffee
A coffee transaction at Camp Coffee Company in Oceanside. Photo by Will LeFevre via Facebook
Cheers! North County Columns

Cheers! North County: Coffee shops rely on flexibility and adaptation

Continuing the Cheers! exploration of coffee from last week, I asked the purveyors of three local coffee shops, two who also roast, about how they think the pandemic has impacted their customers, and caused changes at their businesses.

The first thing I wanted to know was if the pandemic has caused customers to drink more, less or the same quantity of coffee. Their responses struck similar tones.

Jason Simpson, Camp Coffee Company: “In my opinion people have been drinking the same amount of coffee. … Coffee is part of people’s routine, and more than ever routine helps to support a sense of normal for folks. Also, I do believe that many people have been working on their at-home coffee game and may be substituting their daily visit to a cafe for a cup of home-brewed coffee.”

Steve Rayle, Zumbar Coffee & Tea: Based on what we’ve been seeing at both our Sorrento Valley and Cardiff locations, people’s coffee drinking behaviors have stayed pretty consistent. I think during a time of uncertainty and unpredictability, people can still depend on a small sense of normalcy with their morning coffee ritual. Also, there has been a tremendous response from the community to support local businesses, and we’ve seen that support from our customers whether they’re getting drinks at our shops or ordering online.”

Matthew Delarosa, Ironsmith Coffee Roasters: I feel like people are drinking more coffee on a regular basis. Meaning, our regular customers are coming in more often because they either want to support us as a local small business, or there isn’t much else to do and coffee is one option that still provides a sense of normalcy to everyone’s daily routine.”

In my own home, consistency was one thing lost early on. Pre-pandemic, I regularly went to local cafes to drink coffee, work, socialize or even just get out of the house. Without that regular coffee shop experience, I struggled to get into a morning routine. I’ve finally figured out how much coffee I need on hand, and how to make the best cup I can. Sadly, it is rare that I take a sip and have that physical and emotional reaction of relief, relaxation and joy that I so often got from the cups around San Diego.

Jason, Steve and Matthew were less of one mind about how the pandemic has impacted their businesses. Camp Coffee doesn’t offer delivery, but online ordering with curbside pickup was a pandemic-inspired change that has benefited both their customers and staff.

“The coffee and food is ready when the customer arrives, and reduces the amount of customers waiting,” Jason said.

At Zumbar ordering coffee beans by mail has always been an option, but bulk ordering of roasted beans has gone up as people adjust to fewer social interactions in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Ironsmith Coffee began delivering retail bags of coffee, and owner Matthew said, “Initially, I think I was just nervous about what the future of business would be as the uncertainty of a looming shutdown was on my mind. So anything to help bring in extra revenue while being safe about socially distancing ourselves was important.”

Finally, I asked if the current environment has caused any unexpected demands for coffee or in the availability of resources. Jason from Camp Coffee expressed that it may be too early to see long-term impacts on demand, but they have seen a shortage of some products in the supply chain, including dairy options or carrying trays.

For Ironsmith, flexibility has been the key. “I wouldn’t go as far to say unexpected coffee demands,” said Matthew. “I suppose we’re always ready for an increase in demands as well as being prepared for when things slow down. Being flexible with our supply chain is really important. Available resources initially slowed down, but mainly logistics.

“We get weekly milk deliveries and as the pandemic first started, many businesses that our vendor supplied to shut down, thus impacting their ability to delivery as frequently as they used to. So we had to plan on getting more supplies to last us longer. … Again, it’s all about being flexible and adaptable.”

Being flexible and adaptable is a skill we’ve all been developing recently, and a cup of coffee, home-brewed with locally roasted beans or picked up from your favorite local spot, can help give us the boost we all need.

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