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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Book Review: The Best of Jim Seven 

A while ago I wrote a blog post which listed some of the blogs about coffee that I read. One of these is jimseven, written by James Hoffman, co-founder of Square Mile Coffee Roasters, and author of the book, ‘The World Atlas of Coffee’. James has been writing on the blog for many years and has recently published via a crowdfunding campaign a compilation of the best posts in the book ‘Jim Seven 2004-2015’. I contributed to the campaign and while I am still awaiting the hard copy of the book I have now worked my way through the digital edition I received not too long ago.

I have read a lot of the material on the jimseven blog already, but I was quite happy to have much of the material in a book form, partly so I could see how the issues that are discussed have changed over time. The book is organised into four main sections: on espresso, on coffee brewing, on coffee business, and on a coffee career. As is highlighted early on in the book, having a compilation of these posts collated together gives the reader a good overview of some of the changes during the global boom of specialty coffee. 

It’s an interesting collection with posts covering everything from discussions of coffee grinders, to barista competitions, to the use of loyalty cards. There are too many thought provoking chapters here for me to list, but there a few quotes I wanted to comment on.

I’ve heard quite frequently how some specialty coffee locations could do more to be welcoming to people who perhaps might not be the primary market. While I have usually always been welcomed into new specialty coffee shops, anecdotal evidence suggests some places could place more effort on being welcoming and inclusive: ‘if we can spend a little less time pouring self-absorbed swirls of water over coffee, a little more time being nice to people, then that would be great’ (Lets talk about EK43 then). 

The growth of coffee shops in the UK (and in many other countries) has been phenomenal. I have seen several articles recently that mention the coffee shop bubble, and make predictions about the point at which we have reached ‘peak coffee shop’. James identifies that potentially: ‘the ‘rate of new cafes opening has outstripped growth in consumers for high quality coffee.. The market is becoming more competitive’ (Make or Steal).

He believes ‘we are heading towards a situation where we have more cafes than we have customers for them’. As a consequence we are ‘likely to see a large number of cafes close in a relatively short time frame’ which has implications for other businesses in the coffee industry – roasters, coffee buyers, equipment providers etc. James (writing in 2015) posits that a ‘substantial correction’ might take place over the following 3-5 years (State of Specialty Coffee Part III: implications and predictions).  Many things have changed in the coffee shop industry and while in many cities there has been substantial churn in coffee shops, there does also seem to be many still opening (and many more coffee roasters opening too). What I have seen over the last couple of years since James wrote this post, is a continued growth in specialty coffee outside of London, as evidenced by the emergence not only of more coffee shops and roasters, but a growing number of coffee festivals across the country. There appears to still be a growing demand for specialty coffee across the country, suggesting that we have not yet reached ‘peak coffee shop’. It may be that the specialty coffee industry needs to move its targets from the traditional city centre coffee shops, to target markets in smaller locales, and to diversify their consumer base.

As is pointed out: ‘every business is having to fight a little harder for every customer’ (State of Specialty Coffee part 11: the bubble). However, the diversity of the specialty coffee industry has the potential to be attractive to a wide consumer base. As James highlights: ‘the real joy of specialty coffee is its diversity: this is what makes it the antithesis of commoditised coffee’ (What message do I want to send? Part 1).

‘Tradition must evolve…Deviation and experimentation away from tradition absolutely must happen in order to discover new and useful things that will become traditions we will pass down to future generations’ (Tradition). 

He also highlights how: ‘conversations in the industry are starting to change. The more experienced owners in the coffee business have moved their focus away from how they can serve offer that would delight their peers in the industry, into how they can run sustainable businesses’. (State of specialty coffee part 1: the lull). In order to experience continued growth it’s likely that the specialty coffee industry will need to diversify as we have already started to see, with coffee roasters seeking to supply restaurants with specialty coffee, and efforts to engage a wider consumer base. 

The crux of my research project ‘Spaces of Community’ was to illustrate how coffee shops are important spaces in town and cities – and not just for the coffee, but for the package of what the coffee provides. Of course, great coffee, is a bonus: ‘authenticity comes from honest, from transparency. Cafes are great canvases, for the expression of ideas about service, about taste, about design, about community, and about coffee itself. All too rarely, are there any let alone, all of these things’ (Hipsters Coffee and Authenticity).

Another area of my research is about employment practices (and labour market patterns more broadly) so naturally I’ve developed an interest in career pathways in the coffee industry. The churn of baristas in coffee shops has been a point I have discussed with coffee shop owners across the country. I’ve listened to the podcasts that James produced on the Coffee Jobs podcast which provide various perspectives on working in coffee, but I really like the analogy he used in the book: 

‘Training baristas is like pouring water into a bucket that has a hole at the bottom.…. In an ideal world the businesses itself would act like a giant bathtub underneath the bucket , collecting as much of the information as possible that is being poured into it’ (The Difficult Middle).

He gives a piece of advice which chimes with some of discussions I’ve had with baristas who have developed successful careers in the industry. It is recommended that those seeking to develop their career in coffee should  find employers ‘who have a old track record with developing staff and supporting them in future endeavours’ (How to progress in coffee).One of the most interesting posts was one written in 2008 in which James outlines his wish list for English coffee culture: traceability (so people have an understanding of what they’re drinking); preference (people making conscious and informed choices); seasonality; and a strong base of brewed coffee (The Failings of English cafes). In many way I think this wish list has been fulfilled in some cities, with some consumers. There is now more of a diverse coffee culture in the UK. There is definitely a greater awareness of coffee shops, coffee brewing methods and coffee origins, although the extent of this is variegated by region and most likely demographic.

These quotes are just a few points which I found interesting in the book, and there are many more, which I encourage you to explore from the impact of water on coffee, to issues around gender in coffee. If you have an interest in the coffee industry, this volume and the writing on JimSeven is a great place to consider issues from across the industry (and how it has progressed). 

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From the Custard Factory: Birmingham Coffee Festival

The number of coffee shops in the UK has been on the rise for many years now, and with it there is growing consumer base who like to explore coffee – a good place to do this is one of the several coffee festivals that have emerged across the country. The most well-known, the London Coffee Festival has been running for several years, but there are others that have emerged in recent years and have proved very popular, and generating a further rise in coffee tourism.

As I have mentioned before:

“There are a growing number of coffee festivals which have become important events for stakeholders in the café industry, not just for those in the trade in terms of equipment and coffee, but for baristas looking to compete in competitions (which are often held at these festivals), or to find out about new equipment, roasters looking to display their coffee offerings, to consumers seeking to find out more about what’s happening in the coffee world. While these festivals are places where people enthusiastic and passionate about coffee get the immerse themselves in all things coffee, they are about much more than coffee with usually a range of exhibitors and activities related to other food and drinks too.” (Ferreira, 2017)

On 1-2nd July, Birmingham hosted its first ever coffee festival in the Custard Factory in the Digbeth area of the city centre.  The creation of the Birmingham Coffee Festival reflects a growing coffee scene in the city, with a rising number of both independent and chain coffee shops, and coffee roasters too. It was great to see a whole range of businesses from the region (and beyond).

While for some people coffee festivals is about trying different coffees, there is usually much more on offer –- from cuppings, roasting demonstrations and latte art demonstrations to live music performances. And there was more than coffee on offer too from Henny & Joes Chai, Doisy & Dam chocolates  chocolate to Cowardy Cow Bakes with a range of cakes on offer.

This festival was held in a great space, one floor, with easy access, and a number of street food vendors outside too. We were there quite early in the day, and to start with we had lots of room to move around (something that you don’t really get in the London Coffee Festival), but even when it got busier the space was well laid out that it didn’t feel cramped. We didn’t get a chance to talk to all the businesses that were there, but we managed to talk to plenty, and all were incredibly friendly and keen to talk about their business. This felt like the friendliest coffee festival I have been to. It was also the first time I’d taken a baby to a coffee festival – she was made to feel welcome, and generally seemed to enjoy smiling at lots of people and taking in all the action. It was pleasing to see quite a few families with young children there, showing how coffee festival can have a diverse audience.

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As usual with coffee festivals, there is lots of coffee on offer to try. I had learnt my lesson from a previous festival and did not have any beforehand. A few highlights were:

Danielle’s Coffee, a company based in Shropshire, had a range of coffees on offer. We tried a couple by filter (the premium blend and Chetton village blend), and ended up buying some of the premium blend after finding to be on the favourites of the festival. We tried a really smooth Guatemalan coffee from Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters (based in Birmingham), and then a Kenyan coffee from Cart Wheel Café and Roastery based in Nottingham. We also tried samples from Urban Roast Coffee Co, Method Coffee Roasters, Outpost Coffee Roasters and Java lounge.

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In the end, I didn’t get around to the stand from 200degrees in part because their coffee shop in Birmingham is already one of my favourites and I’ve tried quite a few of their coffees, although I’ve been told their Nitro cold brew that was on offer was good.

Readers of this blog will know that I have an interest in sustainability in the coffee shop industry and it was great to see both Ecoffeecup (reusable coffee cups) and Vegware (eco-friendly packaging) with stands there.

Something I’ve not seen done before at a coffee festival, was the ‘Best of Birmingham’ box which included several bags of coffee beans and vouchers for a number of the companies on display (Urban Roast Coffee Co, Outpost Coffee, Cole & Mac, 200degrees and Java lounge), a great way to try a range of the coffees on offer.

Overall, it seems to Birmingham Coffee Festival has been a great success with lots of visitors over the two days. As I said earlier, it was great to see the Midlands displaying some of the best it has in coffee and coffee shop related business, and I hope to see it return in future years.

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Merging historical culture with Starbucks in Japan

Back in April I wrote a blog post about how Starbucks was trying something new in Japan, ‘Neighborhood and Coffee’ stores which had less obvious Starbucks branding, and were more focused on becoming the local neighbourhood coffee shop. Now, again in Japan, the company is trying something new.

Its latest outlet in Kyoto, opened on 30th June, is inside a 100 year-old Japanese townhouse, complete with traditional garden. The building is located near Ninenzaka which is a popular tourist street in the city, famous for its traditional buildings and shops. But it’s not just the building itself which is the novel aspect of this Starbucks store.  It is the first coffee shop outlet with tatami rooms, and is traditionally decorated. A number of articles about the store suggest that customers will have to take their shoes off before entering these rooms, as is custom in Japan.

It is interesting that Starbucks are trying out different store formats in Japan, a country where the brand is very popular, particularly with young urban consumers. Starbucks is known for adjusting their menu and even some extent their store design to different countries – you’ll already find matcha lattes and cherry blossom Frappuccino’s in Japan. Is this an attempt by Starbucks to cater for the local population of Kyoto by providing a glocalised example of its store – by creating a building that will blend into the landscape and incorporate traditional features?

“Starbucks is attempting to create a mixture of new cafe culture and historical and traditional Japanese townhouse culture and architecture.” JapanInfo

Given this store’s proximity to a very popular tourist site it’s more likely they are thinking that there is money to be made from tourists seeking an ‘authentic Japanese experience’ while also wanting some comfort from their familiar brand. The Japan Times highlighted how Starbucks Japan have said it ‘will not allow people to form lines in front of the shop and will also restrict the number of customers during peak hours to avoid disrupting the quiet atmosphere of the area’. Clearly they are expecting the store to be popular with the tourist market – is this a new way for Starbucks to continue expansion into cities, by creating alternative stores to provide a more novel coffee experience?

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