Recently I’ve had some time to catch up on various coffee related reading and videos. European Coffee Trip published an interview with Jeremy Challender, who is well known for his role in Prufrock Coffee in London (and now Barista Hustle). Jeremy is someone who has been a very important figure in the London Coffee industry, and I was fortunate to learn a little bit from him when I undertook some barista training at Prufrock a few years ago. The article mentioned a keynote delivered by Jeremy at the Nordic Roasters Forum entitled ‘Coffee free house’ which has some interesting insights into changes taking place in the industry, and implications this may have for the future.
The talk considers some of the issues for a multi-roaster cafe, and for the coffee roasting and coffee shop industry more generally. Jeremy discusses how changes that have taken place to breweries and the emerging craft beer culture over the decades might provide lessons for the coffee industry. In particular he makes a number of observations from the coffee scene (both in the UK and more broadly in other European countries). Importantly he notes that the ‘appreciable difference’ between mass commercial coffee chains and specialty coffee shops such as Prufrock has become lower than in the past. The proliferation of high quality coffee shops, and efforts from coffee chains to up their game have meant that that for some people Prufrock and other coffee shops are no longer at different ends of the quality spectrum. You can walk into a number of shops and receive high quality batch brew, espresso and latte art.
He explores how Prufrock evolved into a multi-roaster cafe and how they have a good relationship with Square Mile Coffee Roasters, but that it will be important moving forward to ensure that there is an ‘appreciable difference’ in the coffee that is obtained by the coffee shop in order to remain a prominent coffee shop in the industry.
Jeremy highlighted how Prufrock’s first principle was to try and made the best coffee, and educate people, and in doing so various quality control measure that had been introduced to ensure that they can produce the best coffee that their brand is known for. He talks about the brew bar in Prufrock and how that allows the coffee shop to communicate quality to customers, and how that allows for a changing selection of coffees for the customer to experience.
He highlights how ensuring a business remains sustainable is a key part of running a coffee business (and how important it became in his role as a trainer), particularly set again increasing prices for rent, products and services. Considering business sustainability Jeremy suggests that out of the different stakeholders involved in the coffee industry (in particular the cafe owner, the roaster and the farmer), it is only really the roaster who is in a secure position in that they are not tied to a particular location – he suggests that ‘coffee roasters are immune to gentrification’. They have the freedom to move where rental prices are lower, and therefore have the opportunity to lower these and other costs – a cafe cannot do that. He suggests that this is a threat to the multi-roaster cafe who seek to provide that ‘appreciable difference’ in the products that it serves, but that do not have the flexibility to adjust location or costs to remain sustainable.
Jeremy concludes the talk by asking the audience to consider how successful their coffee business are an how successful they need to be to remain active in the coffee market, highlighting how it would be a shame if coffee shops all ended up roasting their own coffee and became vertically integrated. He explains how the multi-roaster cafe can be much like a wine shop, celebrating the different wine growers and wine maker.