By Deanna C. White
Leave it up to the folks in Louisiana to make even CPE coffee taste good.
In a state renowned for its cuisine, its "bon temps" attitude, and its ability to turn any gathering into a celebration, the Society of Louisiana CPAs (LCPA) was not about to take the idea of serving lackluster coffee to its members lying down.
So the LCPA – yes the CPA society – decided to take the coffee bean business into its own hands and create its own distinctive blend of java.
Today, the LCPA's "Bean Counter Blend" – a rich, medium-bold blend specially crafted for the society by PJ's Coffee of New Orleans – is a staple at all LCPA meetings and training events and at its Kenner Training Center.
"I believe CPAs are inherently social beings. We like to be around people and we like to be around other CPAs, and that's particularly true here in Louisiana, where we are known for our food and known for our gatherings", said Ron Gitz, executive director of the LCPA. "If people are going to get together, the society wants to make that gathering memorable. We have the Bean Counter Blend at our facility and it's awesome."
Gitz said in Louisiana, where great food is an integral part of the culture, imparting a distinctly Louisianan touch to the LCPA experience by upgrading the staple of every CPA experience – the coffee served to members and guests – was simply a no-brainer.
Despite the fact that Louisiana is more often synonymous with jambalaya and po'boys than lattes and decaf mochas, Gitz says New Orleans actually has a long and rich coffee legacy the LCPA was able to tap into to develop the Bean Counter Blend.
"Back in the day, before there was a coffee shop on every corner, the Port of New Orleans had a very rich tradition in the coffee industry", Gitz said. "New Orleans was very involved in the nation's coffee trade. There was a thriving coffee roasting trade along the river."
One of the pioneers of that Louisiana coffee roasting tradition, Gitz said, was Phyllis Jordan, a woman known for her savory New Orleans coffee. In 2008, Jordan sold her business to PJ's Coffee of New Orleans, which is now a thriving franchise with more than sixty-five locations.
So when LCPA staffers, after suffering through one more cup of puddle-water food service coffee, had the epiphany to create their own distinctive roast specifically branded to the LCPA, Gitz was able to capitalize on a personal connection to PJ's, and the Bean Counter Blend was born.
"We thought why not. Let's do this. Let's do our own coffee line as a novelty brand", Gitz said.
The LCPA also sells the coffee on its website to Louisiana CPAs looking for a unique gift for clients or as a care package for their employees during tax season.
The coffee is sold wholesale, Gitz is quick to point out. "This is just for fun", he said. "We're not in the coffee business here."
The LCPA also invites other CPA societies to brand the Bean Counter Blend with their own logo to use for their events. The Florida Institute of CPAs was the first society to pick up on the trend. Gitz said the Bean Counter Blend also goes a long way in soothing the "heartburn" of firm administrators who deal with the logistics of conferences and CPE hours.
"It's a wonderful ambassadorship tool", Gitz said. "We've used it as a token of appreciation on more than one occasion."
Part of the fun, Gitz said, is using the Bean Counter Blend tag as a stereotype buster, so to speak, on the boring "bean counter" typecasting most CPAs are saddled with.
"It's meant to be a parody. We know the stereotype exists, so we have fun breaking it down", Gitz said.
The LCPA has taken similar shots at the stereotype in the past when it launched its CPA-of-the-month calendar "All on Account of Fun", featuring CPAs pursuing their out-of-the-office passions, such as building and piloting experimental airplanes and spending time with a pet tarantula.
But the most important function of the Bean Counter Blend, Gitz said, is the fact that it reminds people who are increasingly turning to on-demand, digital solutions for their CPE and professional development, that there is still something irreplaceable about meeting people, sharing ideas, and enjoying a colleague's company face to face.
"One of the issues all CPA societies face is the fact that a part of our market share is being eroded by technology", Gitz said. "One of the largest resources we have as a society is the CPE we sell. We have a large training facility located near the airport, and for a long time we enjoyed the lion's share of the market – but now technology can be delivered anytime, anywhere, and it's cheaper."
Gitz said the LCPA has certainly adapted its business model to keep pace with technology and meet its members' evolving needs for the convenient, on-demand learning it provides. But he still believes there will always be a need for "live events", and that CPA societies now, more than ever, need to do everything they can to enhance that experience – to make it exceptional.
Because, at the end of the day, Gitz said, he still believes "CPAs like to be around other CPAs, and people like to be around other people."
Especially over a good cup of coffee.