Thoughts on ‘Everything but the Coffee’

everything but the coffeeThere are a lot of books out there about coffee, coffee culture and cafes. I’ve spent years working through them but there’s always so much more to read. I was recently recommended ‘Everything but the coffee’ by Bryant Simon. It’s a book which explores not only the Starbucks company, but how it ingrained itself into the lives of the American population. At the beginning of the book Simon talks about the ‘Starbucks moment’ in history, the point at which we started to see the company logo appear everywhere, not just in the stores, but online, in TV programs and films – it became a symbol of popular culture. It then goes on to explore the rise and fall of the ‘Starbucks moment’ and the changes that took place in the company that were related to this. The book also moves through different themes exploring how part of the appeal for consumers its predictability, how it might be considered a third place, how the brand fits in to modern retail therapy, how music fit into the business and issues of sustainability.  There were many areas of the book that were useful to my research, a couple are explored here, but in general this book would be of interest to those with an interest in coffee shops and coffee cultures. Whether you like Starbucks or not, its been a very important influencer in the global market for coffee and coffee shops.

seattle-starbucks-and-needleThe book explores how the growth of the company in many ways has little to with just the coffee. Some of its success has been around the style and status that was attributed to visiting its stores, and in particular carrying around the branded Starbucks cup, it became a popular form of everyday luxury. The same can be said for other coffee shop chains too. Visiting Starbucks also became about predictability, where the high-priced cup of coffee also provided the price of admission to a place that was reliably clean and would be filled with similar people.

I was particularly interested in the section which talks about Starbucks as a ‘third place’ as many cafés have been called. The term was coined by the sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his book The Great Good Place. Third places are those separate from work and home, where people can spend time, relax and communicate – typically these are considered to be cafes, coffee shops bookstores, etc. I’ve been exploring the third place concept in some of my recent research into the role of cafes in urban spaces. While for many the coffee shop is the quintessential third space, in reality, for many people the coffee shops are also a place of work, some times an alternative office, and in these cases can’t really be designated as somewhere neutral from work. But that’s another point I’ll go into another time.

The book explores how the CEO of Starbucks tried to highlight how their coffee shops were places of creating community, conversation, connections and debate – ‘third places’. ‘We’re not in the commodity business. We’ve created a third place…almost everywhere we open a store we add value to the community. Our stores become an instant gathering space, a third place, that draws people together’. (Quoted on page 83). As is highlighted, this offers a very rosy picture of what Starbucks provides, for many people the stores don’t offer real connections to people as they dash in and out for their to-go coffee, or sit in isolation in one of the stores, or sit and work, but not necessarily a place to sit and meet people from their neighbourhood.

‘Different kinds of people definitely gather at the coffee stores and sometimes do connect, but more often they are there hiding out from the stresses of their private lives or banging away at the laptop fully engrossed by the own world and no one else’s. Rarely (though that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen every once in a while) do these people doing different things actually talk and exchange ideas, but talk and ideas are crucial to the making of community, the coffee house tradition and third places (page 94).

The book explores the different elements of a third place and the extent Starbucks can really be considered one. I’ve explored the extent coffee shops can be considered ‘spaces of community’ in a recent project and it very much depends on the location of the store as well as the way it operates. But as Simon highlights, ‘under Starbucks reign, the coffee house has become something to consume more than an actual public space. You rent out space for work or a meeting or pay for a chair for twenty minutes of relaxation, or maybe you use it as a place to show off your good taste’ (p.118), but in reality, it is an ‘illusion of community’.

There was also another really relevant chapter for my work on sustainability in the coffee shop industry. The book highlights how it is not only the waste from paper cups that creates sustainability issues – there’s a much longer list from napkins, bags, stirrers, small trays for carrying drinks., plus all the plastic. While highlighting that the Grounds for Coffee program gives away coffee grounds for free (for use in gardens etc as compost), one way the company tries to be more sustainable, it discusses the various ways in which the company could perhaps do more – compostable cups, or those with a higher percentage of post-consumer waste.

A lot of the ideas that are explored in the book would equally have traction with how the company has developed in other markets too, so its not just for readers who are interested in the US context. Given Starbucks’ global imprint, the issues discussed here arguably may apply in may different locations around the world. Whether you’re a fan of Starbucks or not, the company has made a huge impact on the coffee and coffee shop industry on a global scale, and this book is provides many interesting insights into the company and its operations.

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Consumers, reusable cups and convenience

At the end of the November Coventry University published a press release which included some of my research based around the issue of disposable coffee cups and plastic waste. The release came out just after the Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced in the budget that there would be an investigation into how the tax system and charges on plastic items could reduce waste. The issue of the ‘plastic tax’ obviously goes far beyond just coffee cups, but it is one element. Plastic waste as a broader issue on a global scale needs addressing as has been explored in the recent Blue Planet documentary and a number of other channels – the BBC recently reported how the UN recently stated there is a planetary crisis being caused by the rise of plastic waste.

The press release which can be viewed here, highlighted how many consumers find resuable cups ‘inconvenient’, and while discounts from retailers may change the behaviour of some, there needs to be wide scale behaviour change around the frequency of takeaway coffee cups for the issue to be addressed sufficiently.

Jennifer Ferreira Coventry University coffeeRecently the CEO of Pret-a-manger, took to social media to ask customers for their thoughts on rising the discount on drinks for bringing a reusable cup. The call received a a positive response, and the company has now announced that from the first week of 2018 it will be doubling its discount for customers who bring their own reusable cup to 50p- which would make a cup of their filter coffee 49p. I haven’t seen any other chains that offer this much of a discount, although a few independent coffee shops I have been to, have done. It will be interesting to see the imapct it has on consumer habits.

The coffee cup issue goes beyond coffee shops too, it extends to office meetings where disposable cups are used, conferences and many other locations in which the use of disposable cups is still the norm. While a takeaway coffee cup here and there to some people may seem like a small issue, the cups soon mount up, and it is an every growing problem.

It’s the festive season and many coffee shops have their ‘festive cup’ range, which in many ways encourages more use of disposable cups – lots of consumer despite sitting in, still want the disposable cup. But many of the coffee shops, such as Costa Coffee, have a festive reusable range too. A tweet from BeanThinking on Twitter this morning summed it up nicely ‘Could we say ‘a reusable cup is for life, not just for Christmas’?

Next year I have new project starting on sustainability in the coffee shop industry, looking not just at reusable cups but at behaviours and innovations that can make the coffee shop industry more sustainable, with case studies in the UK and Germany.


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Trends and patterns in coffee, cafes and coffee shops

The Specialty Coffee Association has recently published two news pieces with data (and nice infographics) about the coffee industry, the first looking at specialty coffee consumption trends in the US, and the second on the size of the coffee market in Western Europe.

In the US focused article data from the National Coffee Drinking Trends survey is used to show how there have been consistent increases in the consumption of specialty coffee in the US over the last couple of decades with significant increases in the last year. The article highlights how 41% of adults in the US were drinking specialty coffee daily, people drinking specialty coffee were consuming nearly 3 cups a day, and as an overall indication of consumption trends around 59% of coffee consumed was specialty.  The infographic provides a view of the data trends over time and it’s clear to see how there has been a consistent rise in specialty coffee consumption in the US. It will be interesting to see how these trends continue over the next few years, particularly given articles in the media recently have argued that the market is reaching saturation point for coffee shops.

The article on Western Europe includes an infographics with maps of retail sales in cafes and coffee shops, and the number of cafes and coffee shops using data from Euromonitor. Beginning with the retail sales, data is broken down into cafes and coffee focused shops (defined by Euromonitor as places with a focus primarily on serving coffee but where a wider range of food is on offer). The numbers show the the sheer scale of the industry with 301,593 cafes and 13,344 coffee shops with an overall values of over €50 billion. While I very much like looking at maps to see patterns in data (I am a geographer after all) I wanted to explore the data a little more.

SCA Retail sales cafes and coffee shops

Here it’s possible to see the hierarchy in terms of retail sales across the continent. In part these will be affected by population size, but still, it illuminates where the café and coffee shop consumers are spending their money – countries with a long tradition of drinking coffee along with the United Kingdom where visiting coffee shops has experienced a rapid rise in the last couple of decades.

The data suggests there are nearly 315,000 cafes and coffee shops across Western Europe, What isn’t shown here is the growth dynamics between cafes and coffee shops. Cafes were seen to have decline by around 8% since 2010, while coffee shops grew by 50% in the same time period.

In the second infographic which focuses on the number of cafes and coffee shops, the data is broken down by independent and chain coffee shops, and here some interesting (although not surprising) patterns emerge. Independent by this definition is where there are less than 10 branches, and chains have more than 10 branches.

The data suggests that largely the market is dominated by independents – 98% of cafes were independent. Although for coffee shops only 21% were independent, reflecting the rapid expansion of coffee shop chains across the continent. It will be interesting to see over the next few years if these percentages shift as coffee shops in particular seek to expand their presence.

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Coffee shops, The Conversation and radio

There have been a few articles in the media recently about if the UK is close to reaching peak coffee shop. The BBC asked if the UK was reaching coffee shop saturation point, ITV News ran a short piece on the ‘battle’ in the high street between chain coffee shops and independents. I started to think about some of these things in a blog post last week, but then decided to explore some of these ideas a little more in a short article for The Conversation (an online media outlet where academics and researchers can write about their work).

conversation ferreira peak coffee shop

In the article I suggest that we are likely to see continued growth for a while in the number of coffee shops, although I do find the growth figures predicted quite staggering. Is there really enough space in the UK for another 10,000 coffee shops in less than 10 years? But alongside this growth I think there will be some transformation of the market, with a growing element of specialty coffee and a focus on food and the coffee shop experience than we currently have (at least in a lot of the chain coffee shops). This could potentially lead the way for a greater space for independent coffee shops, although the market is challenging, with such high competition, and rising retail rental costs.

In response to the article I was asked to join a panel of guests on the Kaye Adams programme on BBC Scotland. It was a short segment in the show which you can listen to online here (the coffee shop discussion starts around 1 hour 36 minutes in to the programme). The panel consisted of myself, a specialty coffee shop owner from Glasgow, and a music blogger from Glasgow.  The discussion asked if there’s room for chains and independent coffee shop as part of future growth, and if we are close to saturation point, and what effect this is having on town centres?  There was also discussion of the similarities between coffee and wine in terms of the variety of taste, and how more people are being exposed to this greater variety of coffee available – and the importance of making this accessible to consumers. It was highlighted how many independent coffee shops have sparked a community aspect to certain areas, and how coffee shops have a broader role than just the coffee itself. This was at the heart of where I wanted to start with my studies of coffee shops as economic and social entities in our towns and cities (and increasingly more rural locations too).


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The battle of the coffee shops continues

This week coffee shops have been back in the UK media. A  short piece on ITV news which highlighted how the national chains continue battle with independents for their share of the £9 billion coffee shop market. It was also reported that Costa Coffee pre-tax profits had fallen (in the BBC and the Guardian). Lots of interesting points raised in these pieces and about how the market is growing, and changing.

Costa Coffee Vanilla latte Coventry Coffee ShopI’ve been planning a piece for a while on the whether we have or are close to reaching peak coffee shop in the UK. The rapid growth of coffee shops across the country has had a big impact not only on the make-up of high streets, but of consumer behaviour related to drinking coffee out of the house. But how many is too many, and how many coffee shops can a high street realistically take?  I often visit Leamington Spa, a smallish town in the Midlands which has a busy high street and has a range of great independent cafes (and plenty of chains too). But I was surprised to see that recently two chains had opened opposite each other, (Coffee #1, a growing UK chain, and Second Cup, a Canadian chain), one of which was immediately next to a Starbucks. On the one hand it’s great to see retail space being used, and as soon as these places opened they’ve become pretty busy, but on the other hand, are they really needed, and how will their presence impact on the activity of the nearby independent coffee shops? Something I’ll continue to monitor. According to Allegra Strategies there are already over 20,000 coffee shop outlets in the UK, and this is expected to rise to around 30,000 by 2020, is there really room for this many coffee shops? I realise that not all of these are in the high street, and we are seeing a broader locations for coffee shops, but there has to be a saturation point somewhere.

And the articles about Costa Coffee’s profits suggests that this point may be insight for the standard chain coffee shop its pre-tax profits had fallen 10%, and the rate of like-for-life sales growth was no longer as strong –  despite opening a further 108 stores across the country. Clearly there still seems to be room for more coffee shops, or at least businesses will keep trying to find new places. The Guardian article highlights how chain coffee shops, like Costa, have become too standard, and no longer a novelty in people’s lives, and that actually many people want a higher quality offering. The article suggests that Whitbread hopes the ‘third wave of coffee’ (or the move to a higher quality coffee offering) may continue to drive growth. However, as is pointed out by Allegra Strategies in the article, the coffee shop market has almost moved beyond this already, with consumers desiring more than just quality coffee and food offerings from their coffee shop. If chains like Costa want to keep up their growth targets they are likely to need to do more to cater to the population for whom a flat white with their standard coffee bean is no longer enough. We’ve seen some efforts from the chains to start targeting this market, for example Starbucks opened a Reserve store in London where you can have a broader range of coffees prepared in a range of ways from the standard espresso to the novel siphon, or the new Costa Coffee Coffee House store in Wandsworth with single origin blends on offer, and an enhanced food menu.

In the US it was recently announced that one the largest food companies in the world Nestle had brought a majority stake in Blue Bottle Coffee a growing specialty coffee shop and roaster in the US. It signals that big business had recognised that one trend which may continue to fuel future growth in the coffee shop market is to move more towards specialty coffee. And what a lot of independent coffee shops do so well in the UK, is their fresh food offering; Coffee Architects in Leamington Spa being a very good example, with freshly made cakes and other food.

coffee architects brunch waffles

For many people in the UK, visiting a coffee shop is still that little luxury they choose to continue with despite financial pressures, but for their money they often want quality. For the chains to continue to maintain their position in the coffee shop market, they’re likely to have to start doing something different, or they are likely to reach their saturation point sooner rather than later. So I still need to write my article on the prospect of peak coffee shop in the UK, but the articles in the media this week have given me some more food for thought.

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More than just four options

Earlier this month an article on BBC News appeared which outlined ‘four solutions to the disposable coffee cup problem’. It re-highlights the scale of the disposable coffee cup problem in the UK – 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups thrown away each year, with only a very small percentage being recycled. The article highlights how many businesses have engaged in collection and recycling schemes, but also lists four potential solutions to reduce disposable coffee cup waste.

  • The first ‘Frugalpac’, which produces cups made of recycled materials that can be recycled in standard recycling plants, rather than requiring special facilities, as many of the current coffee cups do.
  • The second, CupClub, inspired by the chai wallahs of India, where cups are reused many times over. This would involve a customer becoming a member of CupClub and would get a reusable cup when they bought the coffee and then dropping it off at a collection point. Cup Club then deals with the cups, their cleaning and redistribution. Technology is involved too, by having cups tagged so when you bought your coffee you would be linked to a cup, and if you forgot to return it, you’d receive a text to remind you.
  • The third, TrioCup is a triangular shaped cardboard cup, without the need for a separate lid.
  • The fourth, the cupffee, is an edible cup similar to an ice cream cone, which will apparently hold the coffee for up to 40 minutes.

Of these four, I would imagine that Frugal pac is likely to be the option that would most easily be adopted by businesses and consumers, or potentially the Triocup but I suspect the Triocup would get some getting used to – mainly because it looks different. My research so far has shown that part of the reason many consumers have not yet adopted using a resuable cup, is that it reduces convenience, and the idea of the CupClub would again reduce the convenience somewhat if you had to drop the cup off at particular locations. I like the concept though, and perhaps if more people get used to the concept of reusable cups or bottles (as has recently been introduced Pret stores for water) more generally, then a behaviour shift would take place. I’ll be interested to see how successful the reusable glass water bottles from Pret are over time.  The idea of having coffee in something similar to an ice cream cone would be a novelty, and I think could work well in particular locations, but I’m not sure the regular commuter would adapt to this alternative too easily – although I would love to be proved wrong on this.

These were just four options, some more novel than others, but there are lots more available; all involve some buy-in from both businesses and consumers. There are a range of reusable cups on offer from KeepCups, JocoCups, Ecoffee cups, or SoL cups which would reduce the need for disposable cups in the first place. It is however, good to see the issue remains to have a presence in the media, and discussions amongst the coffee community continue to seek new ideas about how to reduce waste in the industry (thinking more broadly than just coffee cups). I have a number of journal articles that will hopefully be out in the near-ish future which explore innovations in sustainability in the coffee shop industry, and some of the issues related to trying to reduce disposable cups, and consumer behaviours around the use of reusable cups.

keepcup star wars




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Specialty coffee companies and coffee consolidation

Recently there has been quite a lot of attention in the media about coffee companies and investment, in part prompted by the announcement that Nestle purchased a 68% majority stake in Blue Bottle Coffee, a US specialty coffee company with a growing number of retail outlets in the US (and Japan).

Questions have been raised as to why one of the largest food companies in the world would want to invest in this particular type of coffee company. For readers in the UK, for whom Blue Bottle might not be so familiar, it’s a coffee company founded by James Freeman in Oakland California that started out as a very small roaster to sell direct to consumers, which then developed into a small coffee cart in the early 2000s, and gradually expanded into a network of cafes. The deal with Nestle wasn’t the first time the company has received investment, it appears to have received $20 million in 2012 from venture capital investment, and further injection of $70 million venture capital from investors in 2015. According to the Financial Times the company received $120 million from investors since it began. So investment from outsiders as a concept is not new for the company. But this isn’t the only move from big companies to invest in specialty coffee companies. JAB Holdings, a German Investment Firm, which already owned well known mainstream coffee brands, Krispy Kreme, Peets and Caribou Coffee, has recently acquired Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Intelligentsia (two US specialty coffee companies). These high status deals suggest that these large global companies see something in the future of specialty coffee and are seeking to position themselves to take advantage of this. Although a recent article in Markets Insider suggests that these specialty coffee chains are ‘barely a blip on the radar when compared to Starbucks more than 24,000 locations’. It recognises that specialty coffee chains are starting to ‘eat into Starbuck’s footprint’ but given that the chain is still growing too they don’t see the specialty sector ever becoming a main competitor to the global giant Starbucks.

An article from Eater suggests that part of the reason these specialty coffee companies are conducive to consolidation is that on their own they had reached capacity in terms of how fast they could grow given their resources, and that these moves allowed them to reach a wider audience. As Peet’s CEO Dave Burwick stated ‘were just giving them a bigger stage to play on’. It will be interesting to see what the impact is of these consolidations. Will the coffee companies retain their individuality and maintain their current standards? There are some concerns that sales of coffee will become concentrated into fewer companies which may mean more pressure is placed on the farmer’s end of the coffee supply chain over price and quality. Only time will tell what impact of these investments will have. Is this just the start of a wave of large companies to claim their stake in the coffee market while the boom of coffee and coffee shops continues?  Will these specialty coffee companies continue to flourish with their own individuality shining through, or will corporate pressures begin to influence their activities.

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Book Review – New York City Coffee: A Caffeinated History

One of my favourite cities in the world is New York. I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few times, including a nice long stay which gave me plenty of time to explore when an Icelandic volcano caused havoc to airlines by blocking the skies with a huge ash cloud.  It’s been some time since my last visit when I was beginning to develop an academic interest in coffee and coffee cultures, but a quick google search for coffee culture in New York will show that there has been an explosion of coffee shops much like in many other cities. But the story of coffee and New York is not a modern one as explored in a new book.  New York City Coffee: A Caffeinated History written by Erin Meister, a coffee professional, takes you on a journey through history showing how coffee and the city are intertwined.

new york city coffee“The people, places and processes that touch the caffeinated story of Gotham so thoroughly embody what the area represents – both to outsiders and insiders – that looking into the city’s coffee cups has proved to be a microcosmic way of understanding what makes New York the unique and momentous metropolis it is” (p.9)

The book is divided into four main sections: the first explores the coffee as a commodity in the city; the second focuses on roasting; the third considers the development of cafes and coffee shops; and the fourth considers the changing consumption habits of coffee in the city.

“In many ways, coffee shops have made New York what it is, more or less since the city itself was founded. More than the subway, more than the Yankees, even more than the bagels and the pizza, coffee shops define the city in a fundamentally real, cultural way” p.64.

This book literally stretches from discussing how and when coffee was introduced to the city, to the development of independent specialty coffee roasters in recent years. Erin has successfully managed to highlight the rich the coffee culture and history of New York through telling the stories of the people and places that have shaped it, from the coffee brokers of Lower Manhattan in the early 19th century, to the founders of Café Grumpy which many New Yorker’s will be familiar with today. It’s an enjoyable read for anyone with an interest in coffee or New York. I can only hope that more people will start to write volumes like this about coffee and their city.

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Book Review: Paris Coffee Revolution

Paris is often seen as a city with quintessential European street café culture with a café on almost every corner, and a row of tables out on the streets. Indeed, Paris has a rich café culture with a long history, although according to authors of Paris Coffee Revolution*, Anna Brones and Jeff Hargoves, until recently the city has been considered a ‘terrible coffee capital’ (p.4) – as explored by Oliver Strand in the New York Times article ‘Why is coffee in Paris so bad?’.

Paris Coffee Revolution is an exploration into the development of specialty coffee in Paris. The book takes the reader through a history of café and coffee culture in Paris, before considering how it is beginning to be transformed into a leader in European cities for its specialty coffee offering. This is done through discussions with various important people who have driven the specialty coffee scene in Paris, including , Gloria Montenegro of La Caféothèque, Hippolyte Courty of L’Arbre à Café, and Aleaume Paturle of Café Lomi.

‘People who devoted themselves to the craft of coffee, and in turn, be it conscious or not, were part of kickstarting the revolution that we see taking place today’ (p.5).

As the book points out, it’s not a guidebook to specialty coffee in Paris, but instead a discussion of how the Parisian approach to coffee is being transformed; how a ‘revolution’ is taking place. It explains how cafés and restaurants became locked into to serving industrially produced coffee, and until recently how coffee was almost afterthought for Parisian café dwellers. Cafés were (and are) important spaces to gather, but previously the café experience was more important than the drink itself.

The Parisian coffee revolution has been as much about serving good coffee as it has been about educating people on why they should care about what’s in the cup in front of them. It has required completely retraining the French coffee palate, and that is no simple task’  (p.12).

Driven by the passion of a number of individuals:

‘There is also craftsmanship in the world of the new Parisian roasters, and there is craftmanship in the in shots that are pulled by a barista behind the espresso machine. The change in the Parisian coffee scene has happened through the ebb and flow of the world of many people, their influences intersecting and overlapping’ (p.26).

Gloria Montenegro, the founder of Caféothèque (a café, roaster and training centre) is described as the ‘mother’ of the Paris coffee scene, not only providing one of the first specialty coffee destinations in the city, but a place that has trained many of the people who have moved on to be a part of the Paris coffee scene in their own right. As the book explores, Montenegro wanted to not only change ‘what people were drinking, but make sure that they were aware of what they were drinking’ (p.64), as many pioneering people in the specialty coffee industry have sought to do around the world.

The book explores the challenges of developing a specialty coffee business in Paris in the early years, and how it has required an element of education for consumer, but also the potential for specialty coffee to really take off in a city not only through cafes but through restaurants and bistros too: after all Paris is famed for its high-quality food and wine, why not coffee too? And in fact, some of the people working in Parisian specialty coffee have a history in the wine and food industry, such as Hippolyte Courty who founded L’Arbre à café. As Courty explains in the book ‘coffee entrepreneurs will have to work to get the food world embracing a more quality product that what they are currently used to serving’ (p.121).

There are many important figures and cafés in the development of the Parisian specialty coffee scene explored in this book, and they all have the common motivation to improve the quality of coffee in the city, driven by a passion for good coffee and craftsmanship. As the book points out:

This community had been an essential component of growing the Parisian coffee scene. For good coffee to flourish, you don’t just need the coffee, you need the community that makes it, drinks it, and is excited about it’ (p.68), and ‘just like with many craftsmen and craftswomen around the world, its not about the money, it’s about the work. As coffee drinkers, that’s an important thing to be thankful for, because passion is entirely driven the Parisian specialty coffee market forward, without it we would all be stuck with the undrinkable, over extracted, bitter espresso that Paris was once known for’ (p.89).

After examining different facets of the specialty coffee scene in Paris, the book looks to the future to consider challenges for the future of specialty coffee in the city including: the number of trained baristas, the need for more roasters, and the need to engage bistros and restaurants in serving specialty coffee, and the need for the spread of specialty coffee to be present in more neighbourhoods for example. But the book remains positive that ‘in fact, the coffee revolution in Paris is indicative of a larger cultural change that’s giving birth to a new generation of artisans challenging Parisian to think differently’ and ‘if the last decade has taught us anything, how the Paris specialty coffee industry moved forward will not be dictated by larger forces, it will continue to be work of passion and craft, constantly evolving thanks to the people that pour their heart and souls into work that makes them feel good’ (p.145). The specialty coffee industry in Paris will certainly be one to watch in the future.


*The book is available in English and French.



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Beyond the beans: coffee shops and the circular economy

Circular Economy Conference 2017 Earlier this month I took part in the Circular Economy: Transitioning to Sustainability conference held at Coventry University, presenting some of my research around the coffee shop industry and the circular economy. The conference discussed a range of topics related to the circular economy with a number of keynote speakers. I particularly found the talk from Professor Kirsi Niinimaki from Aalto University, about sustainable fashion, really interesting.

Unlike some academic conferences where you stand at the front and talk to the audience and take questions at the end, the format for this conference was based more around roundtables, where there a number of sessions where people gather to listen to the speaker, but also to engage more in a discussion about the topic being presented. Generally my talk outlined the growth of the coffee shop industry and its implications for sustainability and in particular how some businesses and organisations have sought to engage in the circular economy.

Circular Economy Conference 2017

The phenomenal growth of coffee shops (in the UK, but also globally) has consequently meant a rise in energy consumption and the production of waste. It’s estimated that 500,000 tonnes of coffee waste is produced in the UK each year, and 7 million disposable coffee cups each day.  It is estimated that less than 1% of these coffee cups are recycled – an issue I have written about before both on this blog, and on The Conversation.  After the issue reached the mainstream media last year as part of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s ‘war on waste’ there have been many developments.

One of the most common ways in which coffee shops engage in the circular economy is through efforts to recycle coffee cups, with some larger coffee shop chains expanding their recycling programmes. A range of stakeholders in the coffee industry have also begun to coordinate efforts to address the issue of coffee cup recycling (and packaging waste more generally) via the Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group. There have been lots of localised efforts too, such as the Square Mile Challenge. There are however several barriers to recycling initiatives ranging from cost, logistics to consumer behaviours.

While one way of reducing landfill from coffee cups is to recycle the, another would be to use less of them in the first place – which would also reduce the energy and materials needed to produce them in the first place. There are a wide range of reusable cups on offer, from coffee shops themselves and from other brands, such as Keep Cup or Ecoffee Cup. However, reusable cups have been around for a long time, and in many places have just not been adopted in regular use.

Another option is compostable coffee cups, and there a number of options on the market, although many of these need to be sent to a commercial composting facility – the conditions in your average garden aren’t suitable for composting these cups.

Aside from the cups, another area of coffee waste which has experienced a range of innovative ideas is with coffee grounds. Kaffeeform, a German company, have found a way to use coffee grounds to make reusable cups, to Rosalie McMillan who has created a range of jewellery that uses coffee grounds. A more common way to use coffee grounds is in the garden and many coffee shops encourage consumers to take coffee grounds from them.

Recycled coffee jewellery

One of my favourite ways to use coffee grounds, is for growing mushrooms. Grocycle, have been growing oyster mushrooms from waste coffee grounds since 2011. They started collecting coffee grounds from cafes in Plymouth and have continued to expand their operations with a mushroom farm which supplies mushrooms to restaurants and business as well as education activities to help others stat their own mushroom farm. I had great fun growing these, and cooking with them later.

Another use for coffee grounds is to produce energy. Biobean, the first company in the world to industrialise the process of turning coffee grounds into fuel collect coffee grounds and turn them into ‘coffee logs’ which can be used for energy generation. Although initially Biobean’s activities were based around London, they are now expanding to operate around Birmingham.

Then there are lots of other different other things being done with coffee waste products, from the Huskee Cup which uses the coffee husks, or chaff (the layer around the coffee bean) to produce coffee cups. The Kickstarter campaign for this has been very popular so far.


There are more and more innovative ideas appearing about how to reduce waste and reuse materials in the coffee industry. There are many opportunities to engage in the circular economy. There will be more about this topic on the blog in the future as I continue with the research and begin to explore more international examples of the coffee shop industry engaging with the circular economy, and consider the inhibitors and enablers for the industry to do so. If you know of any interesting examples, do get in touch!

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