A Lesson in Global Expansion from the Humble Coffee Bean

Category: International Business

Java. Joe. Brew. Rocket fuel. Jitter juice. Mud. No matter what you call it, practically everyone in the world knows what is it is: coffee. All over the world, many people — myself included — wouldn’t dare start the day without it. All coffee is made the same way. Grab some berries of the Coffea plant, roast them, grind them, brew them in hot water, and voilà: breakfast is served. In reality, coffee has a pretty complex set of unique cultural connotations and iterations, and serves as an example for effective global expansion. But first, some fun examples of global coffee culture:

Ora Solomon, Acclaro’s vice president of sales and operations, explains that in her native Italy, there is a cultural etiquette as to how coffee is consumed. “An espresso can be macchiato (with a bit of milk) or corretto (with a shot of alcohol) and can be enjoyed throughout the day. A cappuccino is only consumed in the morning. NEVER after a meal. Only tourists do that!” She adds that coffee drinking in Italy is usually a fairly quick affair, in contrast with more time-consuming rituals in other places. “Italians consume coffee standing up. If you sit, you are charged a higher fee. Most Italian cafes don’t have much seating at all.” Get in, get out, get on with your day. We like it.

Contrast this with Israel, where Ora says “…coffee is not consumed at the counter. It is something to linger over and savor. Israel has tons of coffee shops filled with people at all times of the day. Thanks to the weather, they all have outside seating!” While “Israel has espresso and cappuccini that are almost as good and consistent as in Italy, instant coffee is consumed at home.” And not just in homes…the hotel room from my own trip to Israel came complete with an electric kettle and a daily assortment of instant coffees, sugar, and creamer.

Satu Suomalainen, an Acclaro project manager, says that in Finland, “drinking coffee can almost be considered a national hobby”, and is as common during the dark winter months as in the yötön yö (“nightless nights”) of summer when the sun stays out practically all day. She tells a great story:

“Offices without exception are equipped with a coffee maker which the employees keep going all day long. And the Finns are serious about their coffee! I remember a former boss of mine [ed. note: not an Acclaro boss] getting rightly upset when someone did not have the decency to refill the coffee maker after having finished the last cup — my boss kicked the wall so hard that to this day, the wall has a hole in it.”

“So what does this have to do with global business?” you may be asking yourself. The point is this: while coffee is a core base of beans and water, its global appeal lies in how it has been reinvented from country to country and, in the process, found a strong cultural following. When taking a first glance at making your materials ready for global markets, take a lesson from the drink that conquered the world. Stay true to your core, but be flexible enough to adapt to your users’ preferences.

Any other global coffee stories? Let us know below!