Learning about the coffee and coffee shop industry

I’m often asked about where to find out more about what’s going on in the coffee shop industry, or where to find out about ‘the best’ cafes. I’ve already written a blog post about some of the books I’ve found the most helpful for my research around the development of the coffee shop industry. This post instead focuses on where I do my coffee and coffee shop reading on a more regular basis, the website and blogs where I keep up to date in developments….and find out about new cafes that I’d like to visit. This list is not exhaustive, but displays some of the sites I visit most frequently. There are magazines I read too, but I’ll save those for another post. So, in no particular order, this is where I read about coffee and the coffee shop industry…

European Coffee Trip

When I have to travel for work in European cities I usually check here to see if there are some interesting coffee shops I should check out while I’m there – helpfully they have produced a range of city guides too. This website provides information about hundred of roasters and cafes across the continent, but more generally they produce articles about all aspects of coffee in Europe from considering the growth of specialty coffee in different regions to the experiences of people working in the coffee industry. They have a great YouTube channel too which I discovered when looking for information about ‘The Raf’ coffee in Russia.

Perfect Daily Grind 

A website dedicated to the specialty coffee industry, and considering this site only appeared in 2015 there is a huge amount of material here. With new content appearing all the time it’s a great resource for learning about the specialty coffee industry, and the places and people behind it. From industry tips (for baristas, café owners/professionals and roasters) and discussions about coffee production, roasting and consumption they also have a really helpful global events calendar. There is also a version in Spanish.


Sprudge is pretty much a portal to all things coffee with information on a range of aspects from the coffee industry, although it originates from the US, it has a global perspective (the sprudge travel section is great for finding out what’s going on in coffee in various cities across the world). Sprudgewire also provides a useful round-up of coffee news. For those looking for some coffee related audio, there’s also the sprudgecast.

Brian’s Coffee Spot

This was one of the first blogs about coffee and coffee shops I started to read after seeing one of his articles in Caffeine magazine.  Brian posts regularly providing great insights into cafes across the UK, and beyond. At the time of writing there were over 1000 ‘coffee spot’ blog posts.

London’s Best Coffee

A great website if you’re interested in coffee and coffee shops in London. I used to work in London and still spend a fair bit of time there, so it’s one of my favourite places to see what’s happening. There are a whole host of reviews of great cafes and roasteries across the city. They also have a great news section which highlights some of their other articles. I particularly like the five part history of London coffee, and their post on women in the coffee industry. There’s also an associated app which you can use to discover coffee places across the city.


The blog of James Hoffman, former World Barista champion, co-founder of Square Mile Roasters in London, and author of The World Atlas of Coffee. James posts on a range of topics related to coffee from food science and brewing, to employment in the coffee industry. He has also just announced that there will soon be a book with the ‘best of jimseven.com’ which you can get hold of via the crowdfunding website Indiegogo.

Dear Coffee I love you

A website produced by Brian Jones, author of the book Brew, that is described as ‘a design driven resource for coffee loves around the world’ it contains articles and commentaries on all aspects of the coffee industry with a strong focus on creativity, culture and design.

Bean There

A blog produced by Jamie and Sara Inilby which charts their visits around coffee shop and adventures in coffee, mostly in London but as you can see from their map of posts from places all over the world too. I particularly like how they describe the way their review cafes, based on: coffee awesomeness, noms, surrounding comfort, service & chit-chat, and extra something. They also have a really helpful Specialty Coffee Events calendar.

Humans of Coffee

For insights into the people behind the coffee and coffee shop industry, this is a great place to start. The blog (and associated Instagram feed) produced by Andy, also author of the manmakecoffee blog has created a huge following.

The Way to Coffee 

A blog produced by Theresa Schlage which explores specialty coffee shops from around the world, documenting different coffee shops and the people involved in them. If you’re interested in coffee shops of Europe, Asia and the Americas, then this is a great place to start.


A photojournalist website dedicated to specialty coffee and coffee culture with articles focusing on everything from coffee culture as a way of life to music, art and wellness.

Little Black Coffee Cup

A website which explores different aspects of the ‘coffee journey’ of its author and photographer, Ashley Tomlinson. It has a great recipe section too (for more than just coffee).

Barista Hustle

Produced by a team of baristas who are trying and provide educational resources for baristas on topics from grinding and extraction to milk and water. I particularly like their ‘cowculator’ articles.

Coffee and Conservation

Produced by the ecologist Julie Craves this is a different kind of coffee website to most of the others mentioned here, but an important one. It considers the connections between coffee and the environment, with a particular focus on bird habitats. There’s a particularly helpful guide to coffee certifications, an interesting discussion around organic coffee, and a whole host of articles around sustainable coffee.

Tamper Tantrum

Another portal into the coffee world but one which brings together podcasts with people from the coffee industry, discussions about issues in the coffe industry, and various lectures and programs from coffee events which have taken place. There are so many great resources here, but a couple of my favourites are the talk by Nick Cho on ‘The Biggest Problem in Speciality Coffee’,  the ‘Telling Stories’ talk by James Hoffman and the talk from Klaus Thomsen on ‘Ensuring Coffee’s Future’

Daily Coffee News

The news focused website which is produced by Roast magazine. For all your coffee news needs.

FRSH/GRND Coffee & Culture

A coffee blog produced by Aaron Frey who has made a great effort to explore the world of cafes on offer, and has even made some maps of the ‘Best Cafes in the World’. I first discovered this site when researching café culture in Korea.

Am I missing out on a great coffee/coffee shop/coffee industry website? Is there a blog or website I should be reading? I’m always grateful for new suggestions, so do get in touch if I’m missing out!


Posted in Book Review, Cafe Culture, Coffee, coffee culture, Education, General | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Battling the coffee cup mountain: new government inquiry

Back in July last year I wrote a short article for the Conversation on the issue of coffee cup waste after Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall launched his ‘War on Waste’ focusing on coffee cups. I have since revisited this issue to consider what businesses were doing about it, and again when it was announced Costa Coffee announced a new recycling initiative and discount for customers using reusable cups.

conversation jennifer ferreira coffee

This week it was announced that the Environmental Audit Committee has launched an inquiry into the damage being done to the environment by disposable drinks packing, focusing specifically on plastic bottles and coffee cups, and investigating what actions are being take to reduce waste, as well as potential solutions.

coffeecupinquiryThe Committee is inviting submissions which may help understand how to try to held reduce bottles and coffee cup waste, and reduce the amount ending up in landfill. To find out more about this inquiry you can visit the news announcement where you can view the terms of reference.

Posted in coffee culture, Consumers, Economic Impact, environment, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Starbucks embarks on adventures in Italy

seattle-starbucks-and-needleIn 2016 Starbucks, one of the world’s largest coffee shop chains, announced that it was going to enter, Italy, its ‘most intimidating market yet’ (Chandler, 2017), over 30 years after its CEO Howard Schultz travelled to Italy and was inspired by the coffee culture and observed how: “the Italians had created the theatre, romance, art and magic of experiencing espresso” (Starbucks, 2016b).

Initially with plans to open stores in 2017, recent announcements suggest that the first store will not appear until 2018. It has been announced at the Starbucks Investor day in late 2016 that the company would open one its largest retail spaces in Milan in 2018 (Kim, 2017)[1]. This is likely to be one of its Reserve brand roaster coffee shops, the first of which opened in Seattle in 2015, and indications the company intends to open 20-30 more in cities across the world (Brown, 2017). It has been suggested that the first two stores will be in Milan and Rome with the potential for hundreds more by 2023 (both traditional stores and Reserve stores) depending on market response (Kim, 2017). The company has partnered with local brand, retail and estate developer Percassi in order to enter the Italian market with the necessary market knowledge:

“Now we’re going to try, with great humility and respect, to share what we’ve been doing and what we’ve learned through our first retail presence in Italy. Our first store will be designed with painstaking detail and great respect for the Italian people and coffee culture. And, my hope is that we will create a sense of pride for our partners – so much so that every partner who sees our store or walks through the doors will say: ‘We got it right.’” (Starbucks, 2016a).

romeThe BBC (2017) asked, can Starbucks succeed? It suggested that by targeting tourists and young Italians, quite possibly it could. Coffee is a central part of Italian culture, but many coffee shops operate as places where people can quickly get an espresso compared to a place where you would stop for a while.  It seems there are already some ‘American style’ coffee shops appearing in Italy which are popular with the younger generations. This may be because they have tried these types of coffee shops in other countries, or because they value having a space to sit and meet with other people. As highlighted by Chandler (2017): “studies confirm that the coffeehouse is the “restaurant of choice” for young people. It provides them with a nondescript, malleable space in which their burgeoning selves, friendships, and lives can unfold in comparative freedom, safe from the need to sit up straight, respect their elders, or pay quickly and leave”.

However, some people think that the corporate coffee shop will not provide what many Italians need in a coffee shop, other than fast coffee, a familiar face, as a barista from Italy explains: “Well, it would be hard, because Starbucks is a factory, it is not home. So Italian coffee drinkers like to go inside the coffee shop and hear the barista call their name. Starbucks has a continuous turnover of people so it will be impossible. Behind the counter today you find five guys, tomorrow five different guys” (BBC,2017).

It is expected that the drinks are likely to be significantly cheaper than those of Starbucks branches elsewhere, mainly because there are regulations that cap coffee prices to €1 (85p) for an espresso or €1.40 (£1.20) for a cappuccino (Kim, 2017). It is also expected there will be an espresso bar available so for those who do just want their espresso on the go, Italian style, it is still available (Yardley, 2016).

A quick scan of the starbucks-sample#StarbucksItalia hashtag on twitter shows there are a range of views about the arrival of Starbucks in Italy with some people being incensed, and asking why one earth they would want to do this, with others welcoming the brand (in particular if they can get free wi-fi – interestingly not about the coffee).

And as Simon Chandler has highlighted in Wired that if Starbucks has the potential to do well in Italy, but not because of its coffee: ‘a big chunk of Starbucks success resides with the ambiance and environment it provides’ and that ‘coffee is incidental to the paying for the privilege of going somewhere in public where we’re able to relax and be who we think we are’ (Chandler, 2017).

The company recognises that they are going to face different challenges in expanding the Italian market as the President of Percassi explained: “We know that we are going to face a unique challenge with the opening of the first Starbucks store in Italy, the country of coffee, and we are confident that Italian people are ready to live the Starbucks experience, as already occurs in many other markets” Starbucks, 2016b).

Starbucks is a brand that tends to divide people, some people love it, some people hate it, some people accept its existence and use it when they have to, and some people in the coffee industry recognise that Starbucks kick-started an interest in coffee and coffee shops. I know of several people who when abroad will look for a Starbucks because it’s a familiar ordering format wherever you go, but wouldn’t usually visit one back home. It’s likely as many of the commentators have highlighted that they will capture the custom of many tourists. Young people too in Starbucks across the globe have been known to frequent these standardized ‘third spaces’, and so here too Starbucks is likely to be able to make inroads into capturing the attention of the Italian consumer. I’ve seen similar things happen in Portugal where Starbucks and Costa have a few stores – another country where coffee culture is quite different from the ‘Starbuckified’ version. As Perfect Daily Grind (2017) have suggested it could also lead more Italians to be more adventurous with their coffee choices, and turn to more specialty coffee shops which are appearing in Italy too. If Starbucks can capture the custom of a wider Italian consumer market, only time will tell.


[1] The Reserve stores is expected to be 25,000 square feet which compares to the 200 sq ft for an average Starbucks store (Barry, 2017)

Posted in Cafe Culture, Cafe types, Coffee, coffee culture, General, Global Chains, Italy, Rome, Starbucks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Co-working and the cafe

This blog post is based on a talk I prepared for a workshop at CAMEo, the Research Institute for Cultural and Media Economies at the University of Leicester on co-working dynamics in the city.

“It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old water-proof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write”. ~ Ernest Hemingway

takk-manchester-working1There is a long history of people working in cafés, earlier than Ernest Hemingway and after JK Rowling (who is known to have written parts of Harry Potter in the cafes of Edinburgh), cafés too have long been places of networking, in the UK the early coffee houses of the 16th century financial district in London acted as places where people would gather to learn about the news, debate current affairs, and network. In modern times the café for some people is also a place of work, either in solitude, or in a practice that is becoming more common in cities – co-working – where people, often independent, get together to work in the same space as others. There are various forms of co-working and co-working spaces, from dedicated spaces that can be rented by people wishing to co-work aligned to a particular industry, to more informal arrangements such as meet-ups for freelancers organised in cafés via social media.

There are a number of factors that have driven the growth of demand for co-working spaces  including the rise in mobile working and the ‘gig economy’, and the rise in rental prices for office space. Many cafés have become sights of co-working, a ‘third space’ for people to get together and share common interest and skills, and combat the isolation that can affect people working independently.

There are some who see the café as a good place for remote workers as it can provide ‘just enough distraction’, it ‘can make work seem more fun’, as it is somewhat removed from an office environment. There is even research that suggests the buzz of a café can create a positive environment for creativity.

As Ruth Hodge highlights in her chapter on the ‘Coffice’ in Coffee Shop North:It is a very conducive place to work. I can roll down a hill to the local, brush the sleep from my eyes as I order a flat whit and set up for three hours on the end of the bench in the corner of the café. From there, I’ll write. I’ll work. I’ll get slightly distracted by the internet once or twice . The slow hum of the café, the grinding beans, echoing quietly as if to keep me alert to what I’m doing but also down out my own tendency to procrastinate”.

While Ruth is talking about working in cafés more generally, the principles for people who co-work still apply, but with added benefit of being able to interact with others too. For some cafés the potential of customers intending to use their space in this way is part of their business model, while for others it presents a challenge in that people who take up space in the café to work for several hours may be taking up space for other customers who would be buying more food and drink.

Facilitating co-working: There are cafés such as TimberYard in London who advertise themselves as ‘the creative hub in the heart of London’ and explicitly state that they offer ‘welcoming workspace fused with specialty tea and coffee’ with bookable meeting rooms. Here the café can become the ‘coffice’ and they will help you with that. Their Soho branch even has  lower ground floor which is a ‘creative companies workspace’ which is designed as an open plan desk space. Another company Ziferblat (with UK branches in London, Manchester and Liverpool), where you pay for the amount of time you spend there, rather than the goods you consume, holds meetings for customers such as ‘Freelance Fridays’, an opportunity for independent workers to get together and have some company while they work. They even have co-working packages which provide customers with facilities such as printing, and storage options. Having recognised the demand for co-working spaces this ziferblat-manchester-mugcompany have explicitly sought to positions themselves as a provider. Another example can be seen in the Cowork café in Arlington in the USA which operates on a membership model which includes some food and drink. Customers have the opportunity to work at different types of work stations and seating in a café environment that is designed to be conducive for working.

Restricting co-working. For other cafés, people using their space to work, or co-work is more problematic as they rely on customer turnover to generate revenue, and people taking up tables for hours on end is not conducive for this. The BBC reported last year on how some cafés were removing or restricting their Wi-Fi, or removing availability of power sockets to try to prevent people taking up space for long periods of time, and their café becoming a sea of laptops. More recently an article highlighted how one café in Vienna was charging for use of power sockets after 15 minutes use too, although this was more in response to tourists using the café to recharge their phones than people working in the café.

People engage in co-working for a number of reasons, including: to interact with people from their existing networks, to expand their networks, to reduce isolation in freelance and creative occupations, and to increase motivation. For many people social media is an important platform for finding out about co-working spaces, or event. There are websites and even apps and twitter accounts dedicated to highlighting suitable co-working spaces (many of which are in cafés) globally such as Work Hard Anywhere, Coffice, CoWorking.Coffee and Work From.

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While for many people the café, and other co-working spaces have become an integral part of their working lives, and while the practice of co-working is likely to continue there are barriers to this. Research I have conducted suggests that some co-workers feel uncomfortable in a café space because the ‘have to keep buying drinks to justify being there’, while the cost for customers is still too high suggesting that even going out to a café and buying a few drinks and working alongside others in their industry is a treat if they have a good month, rather than something they can engage with on a frequent basis.


As mentioned earlier in this post, the phenomenon of working in  café is not new, and will be likely to continue for as long as people are working and cafés are available, but it will be interesting to see to what extend café businesses seek to position themselves on the co-working issue – do they welcome people who wish to work in their space, or initiate measures to make their environment less conducive for work, and what impact will these moves have on the cafes, and the local community?

Posted in Cafe Culture, Cafe types, Consumers, Economic Impact, High Streets, Urban spaces, Use of cafe spaces | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Baristas: Top tips for getting ahead in the coffee shop industry

While my current research project focuses on the impact of coffee shops in urban spaces, through my fieldwork I’ve been collecting interesting findings about working in the coffee shop industry too*. Coffee shops are known for having quite high turn over rates of staff for various reasons which I will explore on here another time. In this post I wanted to share some advice I’ve been told by various coffee shop owners and managers about how to develop a successful career in coffee shops. There is no blue print for a career in coffee, and when talking to baristas, coffee shop manager and owners it’s clear that there are lots of different scenarios for entering, and progressing in the coffee shop industry.

Tamper Coffee Sheffield

So the top 10 tips I’ve collected in fieldwork for fostering a successful career in the coffee shop industry are:

barista-tips-1  (1) Invest in time to learn about coffee: this could be about coffee origins, coffee sourcing, roasting, brewing or even latte art. There is a wealth of material out there to help you not only in books, blogs and websites but there are also training courses you can attend, some affiliated with the Specialty Coffee Association, such as those at Prufrock in London.

barista-tips-2(2) Learn from those around you: a great way to learn about coffee and the coffee shop business is to absorb the knowlede from the people you are working with, whether this about how to create the perfect espresso, or how to manage a team of people.

barista-tips-3 (3) Network with other people in the industry in person or online. There are a growing number of coffee events (from expo’s to barista chamionships) which are great opportunitines to network with other people in the business. Many of these events rely on volunteers to help them run. Another route would be to join the Barista Guild of Europe, an organisation dedicated to developing the role of the barista, and focuses its efforts around spreading education, career support and sustainbility – they even organise a Barista Camp.

barista-tips-4(4) Develop your personal skills: being a barista is about more than just coffee, it is about working effectively in a service industry.


barista-tips-5(5) Show off your skills: show your employer what you can offer the businesses.  You may be a barista but if you have web design skills, or  baking skills, for example, this might be something your employer can use too.

barista-tips-6(6) Try not to ‘cafe hop’: while you might want to gain experience in different cafes an employer may view this as a lack of commitment, or wonder if why you haven’t stayed in a position very long.


barista-skills-7(7) Work as a team: you may be a great barista as an individual but a coffee shop is only successful if everyone woks as a team.


barista-skills-8(8) Tailor to the cafe: When applying for a job in a cafe show the employer why you want to work in that particular cafe – research what the cafe does, its ethos and tailor your CV/covering letter to it.


barista-skills-9(9) Share your goals with your employer: if you’re interested in management, or marketing, or developing your skills in some way share this with your employer, it may be something they can provide opportunities for.

barista-tips-10(10) Look for opportunites to expand your skills and share them with others: this could be anything from hosting a training workshop on something your particularly good at, to attending a training class in another venue about developing the food offering in the cafe.

Many of these points are similar, or inter-linked, around the importance of developing yourself and your skills, and working with the other members of staff in your workplace to effectively run a coffee shop. While these points generally refer to those working as baristas, many people end up taking on other roles in the coffee industry, not just in management of staff, but in roasting, sourcing coffee, and much more. I’ll try to explore a few interesting career pathways in coffee I’ve come across in this research in a future post.


*My other main research interest is around different forms of employment and so naturally I’ve been drawn to exploring career pathways and employment issues in this industry too.

Posted in Careers, Coffee, Specialty Coffee, Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The McCafé view of specialty coffee

“The coffee market has got a bit over-complicated, hasn’t it? But with McCafé, none of the frills or fuss. Only freshly ground beans, making great tasting coffee. It’s simple.McDonalds UK

This is the message of a new advert from McCafé, the café arm of the global fast food chain Mcdonalds. The advert shows a barista preparing coffees through V60 copper drips stands, and bewildered customers looking at coffee menu boards, and being shocked by high prices. The advert is taking ‘a gentle pot shot’ at the specialty coffee industry suggesting that it is too complicated, expensive, and bewildering for the general consumer. You can view the advert below.

Garage Coffee, a UK based specialty coffee roaster, responded to the advert with a blog post discussing what this says about the specialty coffee industry. They question the level of public knowledge over specialty coffee:

“We know great coffee has to come from the best farms and be made to precision by a skilled hand. Brew ratios, precision tamping and microfoam is in our DNA – but does that necessarily translate to the general public? For all the good that is done, is that being lost by being inaccessible?” Garage Coffee (2017)

They have a great attitude in that they appear to be keen to tell people about great coffee without being intimidating. They also justify their prices based on how the coffee is sourced, and what that means for the people working in the coffee industry at the other side of the globe. Their main point is that perhaps the specialty coffee industry should be doing more to educate the public, and where possible be accessible and enlightening for the consumer rather than intimidating or snobbish. They suggest that next time you’re in your local specialty coffee shop ask about the different coffees, or the beans.

A piccolo from Idle Hands in Manchester

A piccolo from Idle Hands, Manchester

In my experience baristas in specialty coffee shops are often only too happy to talk about the coffee options (and about the different beans and blends, brewing methods etc). I know from talking with some consumers that this is not always the case, where sometimes not knowing your coffee, or asking for a type of coffee based drink you would usually find in a chain coffee shop in a specialty coffee shop has been met with a less-than-pleased response from the barista. I’ll admit that when I first started visiting specialty coffee shops and was asked which beans I’d prefer for my espresso I always went for the Columbian option (if there was one), just to pretend I knew what I wanted to order. But after I started to ask about the different coffees I’ve now learnt that actually I’m not a particular fan of single origin Columbian coffee.

Coffee menu at The Gentlemen Baristas

Coffee menu at The Gentlemen Baristas, London

Likewise, I now know I prefer a piccolo over a cortado or a latte, after trying a few different variations. In most cases the chalk board coffee menus often found in specialty coffee shops is not there to be a puzzle but genuinely there to be a menu, and if like in a restaurant you’re not sure, ask the person serving you. From the many times I’ve ended up talking with baristas they seem only too happy to make sure you can get a drink you like – after all they are in the service industry.

While I agree with Garage Coffee that more could be done to let the public know about specialty coffee, about the importance of sustainable coffee (and the implications of this for the price of coffee) a lot of coffee shops are already making an effort to do so – with public cuppings and tastings, and a general friendly approach to serving people who might be new to specialty coffee. Yes, for some people the price of coffee not only in specialty coffee shops, but also the more mainstream chains may seem a lot for a drink, but people are paying for more than coffee too, they are often paying for the possibility of meeting friends in the cafe space, or having a bit of peace and quiet away from the working day – in many cases you’re paying for much more than just the coffee.

At Perfect Daily Grind they say they’re ‘lovin’ it’, to use the McDonalds phrase, as the very fact that McDonalds are mocking specialty coffee suggests that specialty coffee must have a wide enough presence for people to know it exists. They argue that in fact this advert is good news for specialty coffee because it shows specialty coffee as mainstream, McCafé consumers have an opinion about specialty coffee, and the fact the company is spending money on an advert mocking it suggests they are aware of (and even concerned by) the trend for higher quality coffee.

McCafe advert birmingham coffee

McCafé advertising in Birmingham

The advert comes at a time when McDonald’s is making an effort to revamp its McCafé brand, particularly in the US, with  new espresso machines, higher quality coffee and more  seasonal beverages (such as the pumpkin spiced latte) in an attempt to become more of a viable competitor to the large coffee shop chains. They emphasize their cheaper drinks as:

“Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts have attracted customers with high-margin espresso, lattes and mochas. Though McDonald’s offers a wide range of coffees these days, it hasn’t become as much of a go-to source for upscale drinks.”(Bloomberg, 2016).

McCafe menu in Kyoto Japan coffee

McCafe menu in Kyoto, Japan

For fast food chains like McDonald’s emphasizing their coffee offering is increasingly important as food sales become under pressure. McCafé according to Euromonitor is in 3rd place in the top ten global specialist coffee shop chains (by sales in 2015), and with such a vast branch network (which for its McCafés is still expanding) the company has already made a mark in the global coffee market.

The new advert promotes McCafé coffee while making fun of specialty coffee showing consumers being confused looking at coffee boards, and experiencing overpriced coffee, in an attempt to promote themselves as the cheaper more straightforward coffee options. But if specialty coffee has become so mainstream it is being mocked by one of the largest fast food companies on the planet, what does this mean for specialty coffee industry? What do consumers know about specialty coffee? Do consumers place price before quality in coffee? Do consumers care about supporting independent coffee businesses? Will consumers continue to pay the prices for coffee seen in specialty and chain coffee shops? Can McCafé really be a competitor to the specialty coffee shop? So many questions – and much more for me to continue researching over time!

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Calling for cups: coffee cup recycling activities

I have written before about the problem of takeaway coffee cups, which continues to feature in the mainstream media. Back in November 2016 Costa Coffee started a trial scheme for recyling coffee cups in around 45 stores based in Manchester and London and have now announced that this is to be expanded across 2,000 stores (explained  in this infographic). This makes their scheme (which accepts coffee cups not just from Costa but from other shops too) more widespread across the country and has the potential to significantly increase the number of coffee cups that are recycled.The company also announced a 25p discount for customers who bring their own reusasble cup.

Costa coffee 25p discount reusable cup

This is in addition to an initiative taking place in the City of London which produces an estaimted 5 million takeaway cofffee cups a year. The initiative  launched by the City of London Corporation, with Nework Rail supported by Simply Cups and Hubbub involves providing coffee cup recycling points around the ‘Square Mile’ and then attempting to recycle them into new products where possible.

On a recent trip up the M6 I was also pleased to see that at the motorway service station Starbucks were promoting the use of a resuable cup.


So far in 2017 there have been some positive developments in efforts to battle the coffee cup mountain, it will be interesting to see if the momentum on this issue is maintained.


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Drawing people to the city: coffee festivals

img_9088While my current research project explores the impact of cafes on different urban communities, I’m also interested in other activities related to the café industry, and the impact these have on different cities. 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.


A few of the most well-known coffee festivals  in the UK include:

coffee-the-most-important-meal-of-the-dayLondon Coffee Festival: next event 6th-9th April 2017

The London Coffee Festival is one of the longest running and largest coffee festivals in the UK, with over 30,000 people visiting in 2016. Taking place in the Old Truman Brewery the festival houses a huge range of exhibitors, from Allpress Espresso to Greencup.  It is also where the barista tournament Coffee Masters takes place where baristas are put through their paces to display their skills in cupping, brewing, latte art, espressos and their own signature drinks and recognising coffee origins. The festival hosts a range of events across several days from barista workshops, latter art competitions, tasting opportunities, and food pairing experiences. My trip around the 2015 London Coffee Festival is shown in a series of posts on my photography blog: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four. It was a great opportunity to talk to people from across the coffee and café industry from barista champions to suppliers of coffee syrup, and I got to try all sorts of different coffee related drinks. It’s really hard to do this event justice in just one paragraph – I highly recommend having  read through some of the posts on Brian’s Coffee Spot where you’ll find much more thorough descriptions of what goes on.


Manchester Coffee Festival: formerly known as Cup North which has now run for three years and was last held on 5th and 6th November in the Victoria Warehouse. You can see from the programme that a range of events took place alongside the exhibitors including talks, cuppings, tasting championship, latter art classes to a film screening. For a great overview of activities from the 2016 Manchester Coffee Festival see this blog post from the BeanThere blog.

Glasgow Coffee Festival: held in The Briggait with a good mix of both local exhibitors such as Dear Green Coffee Roasters, and those from further afield, as well as a range of workshops and demonstrations

“Visitors are invited to meet coffee professionals, sip and slurp their way around our carefully chosen gathering of roasters baristas, artists, brewers and bars whilst viewing competitions, art, film and photography!  Workshops and presentations are all free to attend, watch national competitions, learn latte art, enjoy a ‘cupping’ experience, upgrade your home brewing kit, all in one day under one roof with all of your favourite coffee bars, beans, baristas and brewers!” Glasgow Coffee Festival


Edinburgh Coffee Festival: Next event 14th October 2017.

In its third year, the growth of this event has meant it will now move to a larger venue, the Corn Exchange with more exhibitors, demonstrations and workshops than in previous years to celebrate Scotland’s blossoming coffee scene. The Edinburgh Coffee Festival has also hosted the Lever Barista Championship where competitors have the chance to demonstrate their espresso skills using the Lever Espresso Machine.

Then of course there is the more trade focused Caffe Culture (23-24th May 2017) held in the Olympia London, this is more of a trade show for those in the café and coffee industries but there is still plenty to entertain a coffee enthusiast. And there are lots of other smaller coffee festivals taking place across the country too, with more appearing each year. Beyond the UK there are plenty of coffee festivals to choose from, including: the World of Coffee (Budapest 2017 13-15th June), Europe’s largest coffee event, an exhibition without over 200 exhibitors, as well as multiple seminars, workshops, competitions (including the World Brewers Cup, World Latte Art championship, and World Cup Tasters Championship) and entertainment; Dublin Coffee and Tea Festival; Amsterdam Coffee Festival; New York Coffee Festival; Tokyo Coffee Festival; Prague Coffee Festival; and Berlin Coffee Festival.


For those interested in coffee, there is literally a world of coffee festivals out there. The SCAE events calendar has details of a whole host of coffee festivals and expos (including those focused more towards the trade as well as consumers). Not only are these events important on the coffee event calendar, and for those who attend, but they are also important for the cities that host them, often attracting visitors to cities which may have a knock-on impact on other surrounding businesses – another spoke in the wheel of the ‘economic impact of the coffee and café industry’.



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New competition: Coffee #1

Coffee #1 (redrawn logo)While the coffee shop chains Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Caffe Nero dominate the market in the UK, increasingly there is growing competition from regional chains that have adopted strategies of substantial geographic expansion. One such chain is Coffee #1 which is now thought the be the 5th largest coffee chain in the UK, behind Costa Coffee, Starbucks, Caffè Nero and Coffee Republic (Statista, 2016). Regional chains like Coffee #1, or Boston Tea Party, or Soho Coffee, Department of Coffee and Social Affairs are providing competition to the dominant high street chains (IGD, 2017).

The first Coffee #1 was opened in Cardiff in 2001, and by 2011 had grown to 5 stores when it was bought by the Cardiff based brewer SA Brain (BBC, 2015). By 2015 there were 57 Coffee #1 stores concentrated in south Wales and south west England, and over 70 by the beginning of 2017, with plans to open a further 15-20 this year (Barry, 2016b). The initial plan was to have 50 by 2015 and a further 50 over 5 years (BBC, 2014).

“We have a very simple strategy driving the business, to focus on giving our customers what they want; outstanding coffee, great service and a comfortable environment.” Scott Waddington, CEO of SA Brain & Co (Sands, 2015).

Coffee#1 shop in Aberystwyth Source: Wikimedia

Coffee#1 shop in Aberystwyth Source: Wikimedia

Many of the Coffee #1 venues I have visited have an almost ‘pub feel’ to them, a mix of seating and tables in an environment that looks a bit like a pub, bookshelves along the walls, imitation fireplaces, and various similar types of décor – the only difference is that when going to the bar I come back with a  double espresso rather than a pear cider. It seems the company have captured that interest from consumers who want that kind of comfortable environment but don’t want to have to visit a pub to do so. I’ve written in a recent blog post about how coffee shops are being heralded as the ‘new local’ taking over the role of community spaces that pubs once held. In the case of the brewer SA Brain, it seems this trend has been recognised and so they have sought to ensure they are present in both the pub and coffee shop market.

Coffee #1 store in progress. Source: Flickr user Elliot Brown

The Chief Executive of SA Brain points out that  “The business [Coffee #1] complements what we do [in the brewery industry]. At the end of the day it’s serving food and serving beverages to customers, which is what we do in our pubs.” (BBC, 2014). While the Coffee #1 company is still only a part of the SA Brains overall income, it is considered an important ‘growth story’ (BBC, 2014).  Growth was driven by an aggressive programme of Coffee#1 store openings and the continued implementation of a five-year business plan.SA Brains have also replaced the Costa Coffee previously served in 95 of its pub venues with coffee from its own brand Great Little Coffee Company.

Much like other chains, Coffee #1 has faced some resistance to its expansion. A petition was launched after it was announced Coffee ‘1 intended to take over an old antiques centre in Warwick as the chain sought to establish a presence in the Midlands.  There were 60 letter of objections claiming the town already had enough chain coffee shops.“We do not need yet another chain coffee shop to absorb more of our independent, established, historic cafes. These venues are run by families and are part of our community’. (Warwick Courier, 2016). Despite the petition Coffee #1 opened and has became a popular venue in the town.

Coffee #1 has been a success among its competitors receiving the title of best regional coffee chain of year in the Café Life Awards several years in a row, over other regional chains such as Boston Coffee Company or Soho Coffee (Barry, 2016b). Part of the reason for its success argues an equity analyst taking the BBC is that ‘Coffee in the UK, despite more and more places opening, still has a long way to go to catch up with more developed markets, like the US’ coupled with a combination of pressure on consumers’ disposable incomes, rising alcohol duties and the increased availability of relatively cheap beer at the supermarket chains‘ (BBC 2012). It will be interesting to see if there really is more room on UK high streets for yet another coffee chain. Does Coffee #1 provide the type of ‘third space’ people want when choosing where to have their coffee?



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Coffee and the circular economy

Coffee latte art

With the growing number of coffee shops in the UK (and globally) there has also been a rise in associated waste products too: it is estimated that over 500,000 tonnes of coffee waste is produced in the UK every year,which not only leads to high disposal costs, but also millions of tonnes of CO2 and methane. However, there are some companies which are making efforts to shift the coffee industry to a more circular system with its waste than a linear one.

“These black, sodden remains of pulverized coffee seeds have inspired the freshly caffeinated imaginations of scientists, entrepreneurs and social innovators form Melbourne to London to Seoul, sprouting into ideas of real consequence for the coffee industry” (Pike, 2016:93).

Source: Wikimedia

On a relatively small scale there have been efforts to find ways of using coffee grounds. There are businesses such as Grocycle, that have been built around using coffee grounds to grow mushrooms, and innovators who have created a coffee maker which uses spent coffee grounds to help grow mushrooms  (Egerton-Read, 2016)*.There are even people who have found ways to turn coffee grounds into furniture. The designer, Adam Fairweather through his venture Re-Worked, has partnered with GreenCup who provide a supply of waste coffee grounds to develop materials from the grounds which can be used to make furniture, jewellery and even parts of coffee machines, such as the Sanremo Coffee machine (Moulds, 2015).

mushroomsOne of the perhaps more well known schemes for using coffee grounds is Ground to Ground founded by Shane Genziuk; established as a social enterprise it was designed to educate people about how they can use coffee grounds, partnering with coffee shops to allow customers to take the grounds, which reduces the amount that have to be disposed of (Pike, 2016). As part of the Ground for Ground programme, customers can collect coffee grounds for use in the compost heap, for example. Although it has been acknowledged that this was only ever going to involve a very small proportion of the coffee grounds produced. There may be over 1,000 cafes which work in partnership with Ground to Ground but it has been argued that although initiatives like Ground to Ground are important, they are insufficient, and what is needed is a much broader approach to shift from a linear economy to a circular one. (Pike, 20116: 98).

This was recognised by Costa Coffee, one of the largest coffee shop chains in the UK, who have participated in the Ground for Ground programme, but have sought to find a mechanism to deal with much larger volumes of waste, and have done so in a new partnership with the company Biobean (Cuff, 2016).

“I like the ideas that in the same way coffee fuels your body, coffee can fuel buildings and transport” Arthur Kay, founder of Bio-bean (Wired, 2015).

biobeanBio-bean, a clean technology company a company which takes coffee grounds to produce carbon-netural biofuels ( Singhoff, 2015). The company is the first in the world to industrialise the process of turning coffee grounds into fuel. The fuel which can be used in fuel stoves, log burners or open fires will turn around 2,000 tonnes of coffee ground waste from over 800 UK Costa coffee stores (Cuff, 2016).

Costa Coffee has a target to recycle 80% of its waste by 2020 so as Oliver Rosevear, Costa’s energy and environment manager explains: “striking a deal with bio-bean, which takes waste coffee grounds and turns it into low-carbon fuel for home wood burners and industrial biomass boilers, seemed like a no-brainer. But more unusually for those familiar with the travails of environmental management, it also turned out to be relatively simple to put in place” (Cuff, 2016). Given that Costa was already collecting its coffee grounds to send to anaerobic digestion plant (a common method for disposing of coffee grounds) it meant the logistics for dealing with the coffee grounds was already in place. This method of using the coffee grounds s also cheaper than sending the grounds for incineration, making the more sustainable option of using Bio-bean a ‘no-brainer’, to use the word of the Bio-bean founder (Cuff, 2016).

Bio-bean provides both a service and a product:

  • “the service: bio-bean partners with waste management companies to collect spent coffee grounds from local cafes and coffee producers enabling businesses to dispose of their waste responsibly and eliminate associated costs.
  • the product: bio-bean sells biomass pellets and, in the near future, biomass briquettes, barbecue charcoal, biodiesel and biochemical” (Ellen Macarthur Foundation, 2015)

Biobean websiteThe coffee grounds are transported to a factory in Cambridgeshire which can deal with up to 50,000 tonnes of coffee grounds every year which represents around one tenth of coffee waste grounds in the UK (Pike, 2016). While the partnership with Costa Coffee represents one of the first with a large coffee shop chain Biobean have been involved in various other activities for example, in 2015 the company were involved in a scheme with First Mile to process waste coffee grounds collected from coffee shops in London (create enough power to heat 15,000 homes (Pike, 2016). Coffee shops would give the coffee grounds away as they would otherwise have to pay for disposal fees (Pike, 2016). They have also had partnerships with Network rail to collect coffee grounds from some its largest train stations including London’s Victoria and Waterloo to generate 650 tonnes biofuel (Edie, 2015).

Bio-bean aims to shift the coffee industry from a linear system to a circular one, recycling waste coffee grounds into renewable energy as part of an effort to implement cost-effective circular initiatives .You can find out more about the activities of bio-bean here:

These are just some examples of innovations in the coffee shop industry which are shifting practices towards a more circular economy than a linear one. Sustainability in the coffee shop industry is of vital importance, and increasingly recognised as such by the different stakeholders involved, from those involved in coffee farming to those who have to deal with coffee shop waste. As the number of coffee shops continues to rise globally it is likely that more large scale efforts to aid a shift towards a more circular economy will be needed, as well as the efforts taking place within individual businesses.


*In 2015 I tried the Grocycle coffee grounds pack to grow mushrooms. It worked really well and it was so easy to grow them. I would highly recommend giving these a try if you like to cook with mushrooms!

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