What is the first image that comes to mind when you hear the word 'coffee'? The home in the morning, and a boiling pot on the kitchen table waiting to be poured into a mug before you rush out the door? The office in the late afternoon, and a large meeting room packed with executives dressed in power suits and sipping their brews around a table, all desperately trying to stay awake? If, instead, you picture large brown sofas, round coffee tables, soft music, people chatting and reading the papers, then you have certainly been sold on the concept of retail-tainment. This combination of retail and entertainment concepts is a widely used merchandising tool in the coffee business. Although it is an age-old tradition to lounge around the kitchen table to have afternoon tea, many coffee companies have brought this kind of atmosphere to their coffee business. Thomas Hahn, general manager of Starbucks Hong Kong, described the concept as a theatre where the store is the stage, the warm lighting and the furniture are part of the decoration, the smell of coffee sets the scene, and the partners (as the staff are known at Starbucks) are the actors, engaged in an informative interaction with customers against a backdrop of soft music. 'All these elements melded into one form part of the experience of buying a cup of coffee,' he said. Engagement is a crucial part of retail-tainment and a powerful way of merchandising coffee. Partners engage customers the moment they step through the door, teaching customers about innovative products, limited offers or different kinds of coffee brewing machines. 'Learning to brew a hand crafted cup of coffee provides knowledgeable entertainment for our customers,' said Mr Hahn. 'Coffee tasting and seminars present another chance for customers to learn more about the brew. We not only share our knowledge with our partners, but with our customers as well.' Coffee tasting, with a coffee master presiding, resembles wine tasting. Customers smell, slurp and locate the experience on the tongue, while the coffee master explains the origins and characteristics of the sample. Coffee seminars teach customers about coffee beans and how to brew coffee on different machines. Proof of the success of the concept is the ever-growing number of coffee shops in Hong Kong. Starbucks has opened 75 stores in the past seven years, a clear sign of how its customers have embraced the concept. 'It is interesting to see that over that past seven years our customers have become more knowledgeable about coffee. 'They have started to personalise their coffee, and now ask for special combinations,' Mr Hahn said.