Book Review: Coffee: A Comprehensive Guide to the Bean, the Beverage, and the Industry.

Coffee: A Comprehensive Guide to the Bean, the Beverage, and the Industry.The second edition of Coffee: A Comprehensive Guide to the Bean, the Beverage and the Industry is a welcome addition to my ever-growing coffee related library. Edited by Robert Thurston, Jonathan Morris and Shawn Steiman, two history professors and the owner of Coffea Consulting, this volume also includes chapters from a wealth of different individuals involved in the coffee industry, from coffee farmers to coffee company owners.  63 chapters are divided into five parts: the coffee business, the state of the trade (which includes both producer and consumer country profiles), the history of coffee and its social life, the qualities of coffee (including coffee and the health), and the future of coffee. Each section has a selection of short chapters on related topics. It would be impossible in a review like this to cover the breadth and detail that is covered in this volume, however I will highlight a few of my favourite parts.

I found the consumer country profiles particularly interesting reading not only about the history of coffee consumption in different national markets, but how different coffee cultures developed – from the interest in sustainable coffee in Denmark, to how coffee faired in nations that are traditionally associated with tea (such as Russia or China). There is a rich history of coffee and the different elements of the coffee industry embedded throughout this book, but Chapter 41: Coffee, a Condensed History does a great job of providing a quick overview of how coffee became the global beverage it is today. As the authors highlight at the beginning of the chapter, ‘studying the history of coffee is a lot like barista training; the more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know. Coffee involves so many fields and subdisciplines- – agricultural, business, consumption, cultural, diplomatic, development, economic, environmental, food, gender, political, religious, rural, social, technology, trade’ – and in part this is what makes it such an interesting area to learn about. This book in general has highlighted areas of the industry I need to learn more about, and with each chapter well referenced, it means I have lot of further avenues for reading. I particularly enjoyed Chapter 42 Coffee House Formats throughout the centuries: Third places or public spaces as it is well aligned with some of my research areas, but also Chapter 45 The Espresso Menu: An International history for its overview of the development of the different drinks we encounter in the modern coffee shop. The book also has a very useful glossary at the back, which is excellent as a reference guide in itself. In a recent lecture I delivered on the global coffee industry, I recommended the ‘Coffee Business’ section to my students as a good overview of the different elements of the system from the plant itself, to how its traded and key threats to the industry.

Store Street Espresso Crtado (2)

In general anyone with an interest in coffee and the coffee industry is likely to find something of value in this book. Because of how it is organised, you could just read the select chapters deemed relevant, but actually read cover to cover as I ended up doing, it provided a fantastic series of vignettes across the industry, demonstrating its diversity but also interconnections between places, processes and the different parts of the industry.


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Researching the Coffee and Coffee Shop Industries: A Guide for A Level Geography Students and Teachers

The coffee shop industry in has experienced significant growth over the last decade with recent estimates suggesting the industry in the UK alone is worth £9 billion, with over 24,000 outlets. Coffee shops are present in places across many countries from the high streets to the suburbs. The dynamics of the industry are fascinating, not only in terms of what is happening inside the industry itself, but in terms of how it is impacts different communities.

I began with an initial idea to explore the geography of the coffee shop industry in the UK, thinking about the economic impact of coffee shops on the high street. However, this has blossomed into a wide research agenda that explores different economic, social and environmental facets of the industry on a range of geographical scales. This has led me to utilise a range of different research methods to investigate the different elements of the industry, and the people and processes that are involved in it.

Spaces of Community Report Cafe IndustryI completed a research project entitled ‘Spaces of Community: Exploring the Dynamics the Café Industry’ which explored how the industry has developed and the role of coffee shops in different urban spaces. I am now undertaking a project ‘From the Grounds up: The Coffee Shop Industry and the Circular Economy‘ which explores issues related to sustainability in the coffee shop industry. These projects have led to a range of different research avenues related to the coffee and coffee shop industries from considering the economics of the coffee shop sector, to certification and standards schemes on coffee farms. The global nature of the coffee and coffee shop industries make them ideal for geographers to explore; there are multiple areas for investigation from the local scale to the global.

Having discussed these projects and research areas with many people, I have received much interest from geographers, and in particular secondary school geography teachers, who would often talk about students keen to investigate geographical issues related to coffee shops, high streets and urban change, particularly with the development of the Independent Investigation.

I have produced a document as a response to some of these conversations with teachers who have been keen to know how I go about my research, in particular the methods that are used.

This is not a comprehensive guide to the research methods used, but highlights some of the methods, and places to find out more information about them.

This is designed to act as an introduction to a sample of methods which could be used by students to investigate urban phenomena more generally, not just about the coffee shop industry. This is available to download here.


  • It highlights a number of key texts that students may wish to read when designing their investigation.
  • It outlines a range of research methods I have used in my research on the coffee and coffee shop industries including: obtaining secondary data, interviews and questionnaires, focus groups, observation, archival research, using diaries, visual methods, as well as netnography and the use of social media.
  • Given the Independent Investigation has to link directly to content of A Level specifications I have highlighted in this document areas which could relate to the coffee and coffee shop industries for three awarding organisations (AQA, OCR and Pearson).

Hopefully both students and teachers may find this useful as an overview of some potential methods they may wish to consider for their geographical research in the future.


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Book Review: The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers

I have seen the Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers mentioned in various places recently, from Caffeine Magazine (and video) to a number of coffee blogs (such as DoubleSkinnyMacchiato). Initially I assumed this was a novel, but on reading the reviews I realised this was actually based on the true events experienced by a Yemeni-American named Mokhtar Alkhanshali. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the book for Mother’s Day and thoroughly enjoyed spending a day or so working through it, it was one of those books that you just don’t want to put down.

Monk of MokhaIt charts the story of Mokhtar in his quest to bring specialty coffee from Yemen, a country which has is so important to the history of coffee, to the rest of the world. It’s almost unbelievable the efforts that he went to along with others to reach his goals, facing challenges from logistics to civil war. I won’t go into the details because it really is a story that you need to delve into. Mokhtar became the first Arab Q grader, and undoubtedly has become an individual that has gone to extraordinary lengths for specialty coffee, and for the specialty coffee industry in Yemen in particular. You can find out more about Mokhtar and his company, the Port of Mokha, on the website.

Getting hold of the coffee in the UK seems more difficult than in the US, but hopefully with the interest his story that should accompany the book, we might see this coffee become available at some venues in the UK. There are so many fascinating stories in the coffee industry, about the people that make the drink that so many people take advantage of possible. This is one of those stories, and it’s great that it has been captured so eloquently by Dave Eggers in this volume.

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Book Review: Where to Drink Coffee by Avidan Ross and Liz Clayton

I had some time to kill before a meeting in London recently and ended up at one of my favourite coffee shops in central London, Kaffeine (I happened to be in the Great Tichfield street branch but I like the Eastcastle Street branch too). They had a copy of ‘Where to Drink Coffee’  by Avidan Ross and Liz Clayton available to read for customers so this was a perfect way to pass the time. I’d seen this book in the window a number of times at Waterstones, and Amazon kept recommending it, but I hadn’t actually found the time to go and look at it.

This book is essentially a directory of coffee shops from around the world from Austin, USA to Zagreb, Croatia. The authors have consulted coffee specialists from around the world (the list is included in the book) to put together a comprehensive atlas of places to drink coffee. Creating this kind of directory is challenging, as the authors note in the beginning section to the book, as there is quite a lot of churn in the industry, with some places closing and so didn’t make the final version of the book, and naturally places opening since. Nevertheless, if you are looking for coffee options in a place you’re less familiar with around the world, this book has plenty of suggestions.

Each location has a page with quotes from the coffee experts about that particular coffee scene and an outline map of how the different coffee shops are scattered across the city. Then each city has a list of places, understandably given my location, Kaffeine had the bookmark positioned to where they were featured, alongside Prufrock and Workshop among several other well-known London coffee shops. Each entry has the address,  quotes from the coffee experts, opening hours, payment methods accepted and coffee shop style i.e. can you get food as well as coffee. As you can see from the first photo in this blog post, you can indeed get food at Kaffeine, in this case an excellent raspberry and coconut muffin.

If you’re looking for a global guide of where is good to start exploring coffee then this volume is a good introductory guide in the sense that it includes a good range of coffee shops globally, most of them well known in the specialty coffee industry. However, as was noted by the authors, over time coffee shops come and go, and so this volume while useful as a guide book now, may become more a snapshot of global coffee shops rather than a definitive guide in the future. I have seen reviews of this book which appear disappointed at the lack of photographs, and that in the Instagram era we now live in it would have been nice to have a photography focused guide to coffee shops rather than a directory style. I tend to agree, in that it’s difficult to get a feel for a coffee shop from an address and few details. However, this was not was this book was intended to – there’s plenty of scope for more photography focused coffee shop books in the future.

Because of the style of this book, it isn’t one to pick up an read cover to cover like a lot of other non-fiction, but it is more one you might want to have on hand to refer to when considering coffee options in particular cities. From my perspective as a researcher of coffee, it’s a great resource to see what coffee shops the coffee experts think represent where you should drink coffee around the world, and that snapshot of the coffee shop industry is fascinating in itself.

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On the need to continue discussions of waste: Government responds to ‘latte levy’ proposal

In January the Environmental Audit Committee published a report as a result of an inquiry into disposable coffee cup waste. The report made a number of suggestions to address the issue of growing disposable coffee cup waste in the UK. Among these suggestions was a proposed 25p charge on disposable coffee cups which became nicknamed the ‘latte levy’. The suggestion was met with mixed response, with many concerned that this could harm independent businesses, particularly those who rely on a large takeaway customer base. The responses by United Baristas and James Hoffman in particular are worth a read to help understand some of the concerns from the specialty industry. In response to the report many coffee companies sought to highlight that they offered a discount for people using reusable coffee cups (as much as 50p in Pret, but usually around 25p in many other stores). Starbucks, in partnership with Hubbub, introduced a trial 5p cup charge for some of its London stores, in an effort to try and understand how people can be encouraged to use reusable cups. As I have highlighted in previous posts, the switch to reusable coffee cups for many consumers feels more problematic than the switch to reusable carrier bags (due to issues of the size of the cup, carrying a dirty cup around, having to wash it etc).

Vanilla latte costa

The government has responded to the report arguing that there will not be a ‘latte levy’ introduced, as it is more appropriate for coffee shops to offer discount to encourage reusable cup use instead.

“The Government has refused to take any decisive action on the complex issue of coffee cups – including the introduction of a ‘latte levy’ – and has instead chosen to rely on voluntary commitments.” (Parliament, 2018)

The Environmental Audit Committee appears disappointed at this response, arguing that it suggests the government is not taking the issues of litter and disposable materials seriously enough, and that it has no real plan of action in this area. The Committee’s report suggested that charges were more effective for changing the situation for the use of coffee cups (in particular citing evidence from the introduction of the plastic carrier bag charge in the UK), rather than discount in stores, and feels this evidence has been ignored.

“Evidence to our inquiry demonstrated that charges work better than discounts for reducing the use of non-recyclable materials – as was the case with the plastic bag charge. By choosing to favour voluntary discounts for reusable cups, the Government is ignoring the evidence about what works”. (Parliament 2018)

Part of the governments justification for its response is that the coffee cups make up less than 1% of total paper packaging waste in the UK, and therefore it should be considering ways to address the packaging and waste management systems more generally.

One of the key points in the Committee report was around consumer confusion about which materials could be recycled, and argued for clearer labelling of coffee cups to help address this. The government response has focused more on anti-litter labelling instead which the leader of the Committee, Mary Creagh, argues misses the point:

“Evidence shows that while 90% of people put their coffee cup in recycling bins, only 0.25% are recycled due to inadequate binfrastructure. The Government’s anti-littering labelling proposal completely misses the point. Consumers deserve to know if their coffee cup will be recycled or not. The Government’s response to my Committee’s recommendation not only lacks ambition, and puts coffee in the ‘too difficult’ Ministerial in-tray”. (Parliament, 2018)

The Committee report also highlighted how there should be some element of producer responsibility in the disposable cup issue, suggesting that there should be more action from packaging companies, and the possibility of a fee on cups produced that are difficult to recycle. While the government has acknowledged that there needs to be some sort of reform in this area, there has been no set of actions outlined.

Finally the Committee report suggested that there should be a target date of 2023 for disposable cups to be banned, if efforts to make them all recyclable were not successful enough. The government has dismissed this suggested deadline arguing ‘100% recycling from collection is unobtainable’, but has acknowledged that there should be ‘challenging, but realistic’ recycling targets.

The government response generally suggests that it intends to take little action in this area, instead pointing to its wider 25 Year Environment Plan that was published in January 2018 and noting that some of the issues raised by the committee will be considered as part of an upcoming Resources and Waste Strategy. For many who were concerned about the potential introduction of a ‘latte levy’ the response from government is likely to be warmly received. However, the scale of the issue still remains, millions of coffee cups are thrown away in the UK every day – a situation that is unsustainable. While some companies have introduced discounts for reusable cups, and many people went out to buy a reusable coffee cup, it is important that the momentum to discuss issues around waste in the coffee shop industry is maintained and that it continues to be addressed. As I have highlighted before, it will take a large shift in behaviour change from consumers (as well as businesses) to change practices surrounding the use of disposable coffee cups, and even though the government may not be introducing charges to incentivise people to change their behaviour, it doesn’t mean that the system cannot be changed by those involved in it. I’ve been encouraged recently by the greater presence of reusable coffee cups on the high street, and in general the visibility of discussions around waste in the coffee shop industry, it would be a shame if in light of the government’s response if this was to disappear.

Ecoffee Cup London Coffee Festival

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Updated map of coffee shops and cafes in Coventry

Last year I wrote a blog post including a Google map of the coffee shops and cafes in Coventry around the time the bid for Coventry to be the 2021 City of Culture had been submitted to try and demonstrate that the city did have a growing cafe culture. Naturally, over time, new places have opened so I decided to update the map.


One new addition in particular that is worth highlighting is Bean and Leaf Coffee House, the city’s newest specialty coffee offering. Just off the main square with the Lady Godiva statue in the city centre, Bean and Leaf is a lovely new place that is seeking to introduce more of the city’s population to specialty coffee. While it has a coffee offering from Caravan Coffee Roasters it also has a wide selection of teas, as well as cakes and snacks.

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Coventry doesn’t have a many coffee shops that offer specialty coffee coffee, and as such many people might not be so familiar with the nature of specialty coffee, and a nice touch in this shop is that there are small cards on the tables that explain a little bit about what specialty coffee is. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Bean and Leaf Coffee House Coventry

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Coffee and the transport hub: the rise of specialty coffee in train stations and airports

In a recent blog post on reaching peak Costa Coffee in the UK I mentioned how a Guardian article had hinted at a shift taking place where more specialty coffee was becoming available in transport hubs, particularly train stations. Given that coffee shop competition for space and consumers is high, points of transit seem a sensible place for specialty coffee to expand given the high footfall of consumers and (at present) the relatively low saturation of specialty coffee on offer in these places.  This prompted me to look into this in a bit more detail to see if it’s a trend we should expect to see more of in the near future. I also put a request out on Twitter for any examples people had seen of specialty coffee in train stations in airports. There were a range of responses which suggest that this phenomenon is beginning to take place both internationally and in the UK.

Transport hubs have long been places where coffee shops have maintained a presence, and to some extent the trends in coffee consumption have been reflected here – in particular the spread of chain coffee shops. Some of the chains have recognised that transport hubs need to begin to shift their coffee offering to – in  2017 Starbucks opened a 24 hour Reserve Store in Changi Airport T3 in Singapore. But it seems, perhaps as a reflection of a rising consumer demand for specialty coffee, there appear to be increasing specialty coffee options from independent coffee companies too.

The Guardian article I mentioned previously highlighted how the specialty coffee chain Grind had plans to open in train stations in the UK and had made a deal with SSP, the transport hub specialists.   It was highlighted to me by Brian Williams (author of Philosophy of Coffee and Brian’s Coffee Spot) that there are a range of different ways specialty coffee has been expanding into (and nearby) train stations – through independent roasters supplying coffee shops, coffee carts, and in some specialty coffee shops.

Particular examples that were mentioned included :

  • Knot Pretzels at various stations in London including Clapham Junction, Vauxhall, Victoria and Richmond..
  • Luckie Beans have a cart in Glasgow Queen Street
  • FCB coffee have several shops in stations around the South East including Brighton, Haywards Heath, Guildford, Woking
  • Canvas Coffee in Portsmouth and Southsea train stations

These are just a few examples and hopefully I’ll be able to map more specialty coffee in UK train stations in the near future. But it’s not just train stations, airports too are transport hubs which seem to be another arena where specialty coffee seems to be expanding to. Specific airports that were mentioned  including Sydney, Wellington (New Zealand), Stockholm and Portland (Oregon).

An Article in The Journal (from January 2018) highlights how Dublin airport wanted a business offering ‘high quality’ coffee to replace the existing Spar in Terminal 2. It put out a tender for a unit for five years but particularly focusing on coffee shops seeking a ‘high quality coffee offer that is capable of appealing to an international market’. The tender for this has now closed, so it will be interesting to see what opens there.

This concept however is not new, as highlighted by an article from 2014 from  Food Republic which argued that  airports were ‘stepping up their coffee game’, at least in the US. The article explained how food and beverage operator  OTG had partnered with several local specialty coffee roasters, including Irving Farm in New York, Dogwood Coffee in Minneapolis, and Sense Appeal in Toronto ‘to offer travelers a better pre-flight caffeination experience’. This article raises an interesting point that in some cases specialty coffee companies might not be interested in scaling specialty coffee into these arenas, and that even if they are, it might prove challenging to find suitably trained baristas to work in them.

It will be interesting to see if the rise in interest in specialty coffee that has been seen in many towns and cities across the world will be reflected in the coffee offering in transport hubs in the future, and if expansion in this area will fuel future growth. This is something I intend to try and monitor, and hopefully report back on, once I have investigated more systematically. But for now, thank you to all the people who responded to my request on Twitter, and do let me know if you find some specialty coffee appearing in a train station or airport near you.

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Peak Coffee Shop? Peak Costa Coffee? Where next for the UK market leader?

Last year I wrote an article for the Conversation about if Britain had reached ‘peak coffee shop’, sparked by industry forecasts that suggested the number of coffee shops in the country was set to continue to grow at pace (to 32,000 by 2025, up from around 22,000 in 2017). The growth of the coffee shop industry has been considerable over recent years, with places like Costa Coffee and Starbucks a ubiquitous presence on the high street – although with rising competition from independents. Others have also questioned how long the growth can continue; James Hoffman (co-founder of Square Mile Coffee Roasters) has suggested that the rate of coffee shop growth may outstrip consumers (particularly for high quality coffee), and as such as may begin to see coffee shops close in the near future.

Vanilla latte costaThe coffee shop market leader that has emerged in the UK, is the Whitbread owned Costa Coffee, and more recently Natalie Olah from the Guardian asks more specifically ‘Have we reached peak Costa Coffee?’ after the company reported a fall in sales in the third quarter of 2017.

In the past I have been a regular visitor of Costa Coffee, it used to be my on-the-way-to-work coffee shop in a number of cities, in part because of the convenience, I developed a familiarity with the baristas, but also at the time I liked the coffee and occasional the blueberry muffin. I visit much less frequently now, in part because they changed the blueberry muffin and it really was a poor substitute, but more generally because my tastes for coffee have changed, and where possible I prefer to support independents. However, it was the proliferation of Costa Coffee shops several years ago which sparked an interest in the growing coffee shop industry. Drinking a Starbucks coffee in mirror image stores across the country and internationally was already the norm, but I started to notice a growing presence of Costa Coffee too, including Prague (and later Riga, seen in the pictures below) where I was doing some fieldwork at the time; it prompted an interest into the economic geographies of coffee shops that has eventually led to some of my research projects today – so in that sense I have a lot to thank Costa Coffee for.

Much like Starbucks is a familiar symbol seen everywhere from railways stations to the TV, Costa Coffee has now become a household name in the UK (it’s even set to have a branch open on the TV soap Coronation Street). I know several people who don’t go out for coffee, but go out for ‘a Costa’, becoming synonymous with the coffee shop experience.

Established in 1971 by two Italian brothers and later bought by Whitbread by 1995 the company has grown to around 2,300 stores which is over double that of Starbucks, the next leading coffee shop chain in the UK. The article from the Guardian highlights how the stores are often very close together, it cites the number in a series of shopping centres, but I’ve often been surprised at the number of stores so close together in towns and cities too. One familiar example for me is in the main high street in Kettering, a town in Northamptonshire which has two reasonably sized stores a minute walk away from each other; and they are always full!

Despite rapid growth Costa Coffee and the branded coffee shop chain sector in general appears to be slowing down, according to the article, this could be due to shrinking disposable incomes, or the rise of independent coffee shops. Perhaps we have started to reach peak coffee shop, or at least mainstream chain coffee shop?

So what has made Costa so successful? The article quotes some consumers who clearly like the familiarity of Costa, much in the same way people have become attached to Starbucks, the same has happened here. And the article quotes a representative from Whitbread who acknowledges that the ubiquity of Costa is what has made it so successful. You can get Costa Coffee in a number of formats in different types of stores all over the country, and beyond; when you arrive at Porto airport the first thing you see when you emerge out of the arrivals lounge is a Costa Coffee store! Although the article also highlights that in the future the competition for coffee shops in points of transit like airports and train stations may be starting to increase as some independents are beginning to move into this area, attracted by such high rates of footfall (a blog post on this topic will follow shortly).

In essence, the article suggests that Costa has been so successful because Costa Coffee is the ‘plain clothes alternative’ to some of the more specialty coffee shops that have emerged, and situates itself where pubs would have been in the past, acting as a centre of local community. This point about coffee shops being spaces of community was a central part, and indeed the title, of a recent research project; it sought to demonstrate how coffee shops were much more than places than of coffee consumption. The success of many coffee shops has in part because they have managed to become a mainstream part of everyday activity, as was highlighted by the coffee historian Jonathan Morris in the Guardian article, and because they represent ‘safer spaces’ than previous alternatives such as pubs. But then with the growth of specialty coffee shops we have seen in recent years, it suggests that many people don’t necessarily want the ‘plain clothes’, but something a bit different.

The article concludes that Costa Coffee has become a place which provides ‘no-airs-or-graces coffee, with a reassuring mass-produced quality to its store’, and clearly this has been a successful model for the company so far. But where does Costa Coffee go from here? Despite this acknowledgement from the company that their ubiquity is one of their strengths, it has also been recognised that there is a consumer element that are looking for higher quality products in their coffee shops, and a less standardised experience. Costa Coffee opened ‘Costa Fresco’ (on Tottenham Court Road in London) which does still have the familiarity of a standard Costa store but provides a wider range of food options, more of which are prepared on site, aiming to capture more of the lunchtime consumer market. It has also opened a Costa Coffee House (also in London) which aims to try and capture more consumers who are seeking high quality coffee, and more of a coffee experience in terms of how their coffee is prepared. These styles of stores have yet to roll out across the country, and perhaps they won’t, but it’s a sign that Costa Coffee have recognised that to continue to grow, at least in the UK market, they need to do something different. There are only so many standard Costa Coffee shops you can have in one high street or shopping centre. In August 2017, the Managing Director of Costa Coffee, was said to have recognised that the business needed a ‘shot of innovation’, new products, new premium blends and more investment to compete in a ‘challenging external environment’. As far as the company is concerned, we are not yet at peak Costa Coffee, and we will just have to wait and see what the rest of 2018 will bring.

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The Coffee Shop Industry, Recycling and the Circular Economy

Last week I had a great opportunity to give a guest lecture at Leiden University in the Netherlands to talk about the coffee shop industry, recycling and the circular economy. The lecture focused not only on exploring the implications of the rapid growth of the coffee shop industry for waste production and management, but on how different stakeholders in the industry have been engaging with the circular economy.

Coffee shop industry recycling slides

This began with a quick exploration of coffee shop industry growth patterns, but also the implications of future growth patterns for energy consumption and waste production, in particular the rapid growth taking place in the Asia Pacific region, and the Middle East.

coffee wasteThe scale of the issue of waste production for the coffee shop industry was highlighted throughout the lecture, trying to look beyond the disposable coffee cup that gets so much of the media attention, but to consider a range of different waste and consumption issues such as the amount of coffee grounds produced or plastic used. The lecture also tried to link some of these discussions to more conceptual ones about the circular economy, different approaches to the circular economy, to think about why businesses might engage in circular economy practices – from attempts to reduce costs, to pressure from government or a perceived obligation to the environment. The main body of the lecture tried to illuminate the range of different ways the coffee shop industry (and all the different types of businesses and stakeholders that are related to it) have been making efforts to address issues of waste management, and engagement with the circular economy.

There was of course discussion around the amount of disposable coffee cups that end in landfill and attempts to try and reduce them, from the Square Mile Challenge in London and the proposed ‘latte levy’ in the UK, as well as efforts from coffee shops to encourage the use of reusable cups, to the Freiburg Cup and Re-cup schemes that have been in operation in Germany.

  • Freiburg Cup: introduced in 2016 a scheme in the city of Freiburg where for a deposit of €1 consumers can get a reusable coffee cup (and usually a discount on their coffee) which can then be returned to a number of participating stores for washing and reuse (and the deposit is returned). Participating stores have an identifying sticker in the window.
  • Re-cup: a similar coffee cup sharing scheme which has been adopted in a number of cities in Germany including Munich, Wasserburg, Berlin, Olenburg, Ludwigsburg, Rosenheim, and Cologne. For a €1 deposit you get a cup that is made of 10% recyclable plastic, and available in different sizes, which can be returned in participating stores in any of these cities. Again there is usually a discount on the coffee purchased too. There’s also an app which shows you which cafes, bakeries and stores are taking part.

recup reusable coffee cup germany

Several examples of how coffee grounds have been reused were also discussed:

  • Various free coffee grounds schemes which provides consumers with free coffee ground and information about how to use them in the garden etc.
  • Businesses like Grocycle in the UK, and Upcycle in France, who use the grounds for growing mushrooms.
    • Grocycle have been collecting coffee grounds from coffee shops to grow mushrooms in Plymouth since 2011. They have since expanded their operating with a mushroom farm which supplies mushrooms to restaurants and businesses as well as education activities to help others start their own mushroom farm. They also have home growing packs too, which are a good fun, and produce very tasty mushrooms. Their website suggests that since 2011 they have recycled 62,337 kg of coffee, helped 29,932 people grow mushrooms at home and trained 862 people in mushroom cultivation using coffee grounds.
    • Upcycle based in Paris collects coffee grounds from automatic coffee machines to grow oyster mushrooms. Left over material is given to local farmers.

  • Businesses who use coffee grounds to make clothing (and other products) in Taiwan. Singtex has developed a process for turning coffee waste and plastic bottles into fabric, as well as extracting coffee oil from the grounds which can then be used in cosmetic and soaps by other businesses.
  • Innovations in design where products have been made that include used coffee grounds, from the Kaffeform coffee cup, jewellery designed by Rosalie McMillan to furniture made by Re-Worked. Of course it’s not only the grounds that are being reused – some businesses are even finding ways to reuse the coffee husks, for example Huskee Cup.
  • Innovations in energy production. In the UK, the company Bio-bean established in 2014 pioneered the process of recycling waste coffee grounds in to biofuels and biochemical.

In terms of energy there are also businesses who are seeking to reduce energy consumption. The example of Costa Coffee in the UK was discussed, exploring their Eco-pod café concept that was designed to be the UK’s first ‘zero energy’ coffee shop, as well as their new roastery which had set itself zero waste targets.

The lecture tried to show how there are various innovations in different areas of the coffee shop supply chain where efforts are being made to try and reduce consumption, as well as reduce the production of waste. Moving to a more circular economy model is one way businesses have been doing this, and the example of the Danish business Kaffe Bueno was mentioned which is a start-up based in Copenhagen. They are a coffee trader and roaster who supply coffee from organic micro-lots in Columbia to various places in Copenhagen, but then also recycle the used coffee grounds to produce natural cosmetics – they aim to build Scandinavia’s first bio-refinery in 2018 too.

There were also discussions of attempts to establish zero-waste coffee shops, such as Silo in Melboune, but also the difficulties in trying to run this sort of business and barriers that may be faced when trying to engage in circular economy business practices.

Pao de do Espinho portugal coffee shop specialty coffeeThe importance of different national café and coffee cultures was highlighted. Different café cultures have implications for the amount of waste produced. Rising prevalence of takeaway coffee cup culture in countries with increasing numbers of coffee shops means that there are likely to be growing issues around the number of disposable cups in different markets. There are issues around the consumption rates of coffee, and how the coffee production side of the industry can keep up too, as well as broader issues around energy consumption and waste management in all areas of the coffee shop supply chain.

In essence the lecture tried to summarise that:

  • The coffee shop industry is a fast growing retail sector.
  • Rapid expansion has implications for consumption and waste patterns. Efforts in sustainability should be an important component of business operations for coffee shops.
  • There are a range of ways coffee shops can engage in the circular economy.
  • Most common schemes including recycling of coffee cups, coffee grounds and energy reduction.
  • There are a range of stakeholders which can influence how coffee shops engage in sustainability activities and circular economy practices.
  • National café and coffee cultures have an impact on coffee shop consumption patterns and should be considered in any new sustainability schemes or circular economy practices developed.


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Book Review: The Coffee Dictionary by Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood

The Coffee Dictionary is a useful tool for navigating the world of coffee and all its terminology. For the newcomer to specialty coffee drinking, or anyone with an interest in coffee more generally, sometimes the various terms used can be a little overwhelming. The Coffee Dictionary, as it says in the title, provides an A-Z of coffee from growing and roasting, to brewing and tasting. Written by owner of Colonna Coffee, former UK Barista Champion, and co-author of Water for Coffee, Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, this book helps to demystify some of the terms and provide a helpful guide to different aspects of the coffee industry.

I wouldn’t usually read a dictionary cover to cover, as usually they are more useful as reference guide, but actually this one is quite easily read all the way through. Entries are short, punchy and often accompanied by nice illustrations which very much help this feel less like a standard dictionary. This is likely to appeal to anyone with an interest in coffee, who might want to understand a little more about the terms and definitions that are used both regularly and rarely. Even for those who consider themselves to be well versed in coffee-lingo there’s likely to be something here than enhances their knowledge – I found the entries on some of the different coffee varieties like Castillo useful. There are entries on most things across the coffee supply chain from processing methods to brewing methods. There are also quite a few entries on countries, and while they are interesting, the short nature means there is little room for detail – nevertheless it highlights some of the important countries in the global coffee industry. If you’ve heard words related to coffee you don’t understand, or just want to learn a bit more about different aspects of the coffee industry, then this is a god book to have on hand.

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