Exploring the journey from a research idea to research reality: inspiration to impact

This week I took part in the Coventry University 2017 Conference to talk about the how the research featured on the café spaces blog got started, and how it has developed. ‘Exploring the journey from a research idea to research reality: inspiration to impact’ was a short talk which explored how I have developed the café industry research over the last few years. It covered how I turned a research idea into a research project, and since then have sought to consider opportunities for research impact, and engaged research with continued dialogue and interaction with stakeholders.

As well as talking about the development of the initial research proposal I explored how I have used a variety of strategies and tools to transform a few research ideas into a broad research agenda with many research avenues to follow, including: academic, publications and conferences; building networks (with academics, industry the public and policy), industry interaction, publications, a research blog and social media.

If you’re interested, the slides are available here.

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Sustainable coffee cups: HuskeeCup

Readers of this blog will know that I’m interested in how the coffee shop industry is trying to make itself more sustainable. A key issue, particularly in the UK recently, has been about the sustainability of coffee cups, in particular the disposable ones, and the amount of landfill  they create. With an ongoing interest on this issue I’ve been collecting various examples of companies that produce ‘more sustainable’ coffee cups either those for use in the coffee shop or as a reusable or takeaway option.

There have been various attempts to use some of the byproducts of coffee from cascara to the coffee grounds.  I’ve even heard of examples of cups made from coffee grounds. But recently I learnt about another coffee cup made from coffee husks, or chaff. HuskeeCup use coffee husks (the layer around the coffee bean) in order to produce a reusable, recyclable cup. I have seen examples where coffee husks have been used for composting, and even as fuel, but this is the first time I had heard about it being used as part of cup production.

At the end of the harvest, coffee farmers are left with tonnes of this organic material. While it has previously been used as a fertilizer supplement and even a carbonized fuel source, there is currently no economically viable and sustainable way of dealing with it. HuskeeCup is the first solution of its kind to address this issue. (HuskeeCup, 2017)

According to the infographic from HuskeeCup the average coffee drinker is responsible for over 3 kg of coffee husk waste each year, and that 1.35 million tonnes of husk waste is produced each year globally, indicating the scale of the waste issue. In addition to being a more sustainable coffee cup option, it also claims to keep your coffee hotter for longer.


It’s clearly made an impression with a very positive response to their Kickstarter campaign already, and they have also won an award for their Design in the ‘Best Coffee Vessel’ category at this year’s Global Specialty Coffee Expo. Another great example of how companies are attempting to utilise byproducts of coffee production.

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Book Review: What I know about running coffee shops by Colin Harmon

I have no intention of ever opening a coffee shop. I am interested in the coffee shop industry, how it operates, and the impact it has on society; but for me I only ever intend to be on the customer side of the coffee bar. So, why did I read this book? As the introduction highlights, ‘What I know about running coffee shops’ wasn’t just written for those in the coffee community it was meant for a broader audience, and I think the author has successfully managed to do this in.

The author, Colin Harmon is the founder of 3FE (a coffee company with a series of shops in Dublin), an Irish Barista Champion and co-host of the Tamper Tantrum podcast.  3FE is seen as one of the pioneers of specialty coffee in Ireland, and has expanded since it was established in 2009 to now include two shops, a sister café, a subscription service and online store, a wholesale business.

3FE Ireland coffee shop

The book would of course be of interest to those working in the coffee industry, and in particular those contemplating opening a coffee shop, or who run one already. But more generally, the book provides interesting insights into the world of running a coffee shop to anyone that visits coffee shops.

After an introduction which documents how Colin’s coffee shops came to fruition, the book is organised into six sections: the building, the café, coffee, staff, culture and numbers, each of which is broken down into a series of small sub-chapters a few pages in length. The organisation of the book really helps its readability, short sections providing a range of vignettes into important considerations for running a coffee shop, from choosing a location, loyalty cards and how to hire people, to social media and understanding margins.

What I know about running coffee shops

Towards the beginning of the book Colin makes a couple of statements which illustrate what I have been trying to explore in my research about cafes to date:

‘Cafes serve a purpose beyond making money. They become a social hub for friends, families, businesses and strangers to meet and interact in a safe, friendly environment’.

‘A neighbourhood café does so much to bring communities together’.

Cafes in many places act as community hubs, whether this is a place for individuals to begin interaction with their local community, or for groups of people to gather for work or leisure; it’s good to see this acknowledged from the industry side too.

I recently wrote about coffee shops and social media, and it was interesting to read Colin’s views on how coffee shops should use social media, and they mirror much of what I have heard from several other coffee shop businesses:

‘…social media accounts need to be reflective of the business itself – and its customers – or it really starts to jar. Small businesses have a huge advantage over large businesses because you’ve a massive opportunity to show your audience that there are real personalities behind the business. That does more to engage your customers than any hashtag ever will’.

There are many highlights to this book, which for anyone running a café (or contemplating doing so) would I’m sure find useful, and for anyone who visits cafes, provides an interesting perspective to consider from the other side of the coffee bar. There’s a lot more to running a coffee shop than just serving coffee.

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Coffee shops and Social Media

Everybody’s got the best coffee on Instagram’ according Jared Truby and Chris Baca, the founders of Cat and Cloud coffee, who recently talked about social media on their podcast. If you have a quick look at the picture of coffee on the social media platform you might think they would be right.

Instagram coffee pictures

So how do cafes use social media to stand out from the crowd if everyone is posting about coffee? I’ve had many conversations with people in the cafe industry about the role of social media, about how businesses and consumers use it, and about some of the issues with it. Recently I listened to a discussion on the Cat and Cloud podcast which touched on some of the issues related to cafes and social media. They raise the point that in some cases the image a cafe projects of itself online is not necessarily the same as what you would experience in person.

‘If you have to play dress up for your social media, you’re doing it wrong’.

This quote from the podcast mirrors discussions I’ve had with many businesses in the cafe industry. While there is a temptation to try to have perfect images to represent your business online to the world, it needs to be an accurate reflection of the business, otherwise if people do visit and it’s not up to the Instagram standard, it leads to disappointment (and people are less likely to visit again).

coffee and cake instagram

For Chris and Jared, social media should be a reflection of what cafes do on a daily basis: ‘if you are not so proud of what you’re doing, that you have to cultivate this fake image on social media – you’re not doing the right things, you’re not connected to your own brand’. And ‘if you’re not so proud of what you’re doing that you have to cultivate this fake image on social media that’s sub par, but acting like you’re doing something amazing, instead you should be focusing your energy on doing something amazing, and sharing that with the world’.

coffee in an easter eggThey highlight that social media has a lot to do with what’s ‘on trend’ at the time, in order to gather followers. And while this is fine – businesses have to move with the times – people often want a more personal connection, through social media, to cafe businesses, and not just to be faced with images and messages about the latest cafe trend whether its cold brew, cronuts,  turmeric lattes or coffee in an easter egg.

If you look on Instagram there’s an endless supply of pictures of coffee, and all things related to cafes. Many of these images, particularly from the larger cafe chains, are set up deliberately and heavily edited.

starbucks instagram

A cafes presence on social media is supposed to reflect what your business is about, providing a channel for people to connect with the business, and not just show customers what comes out of your company, according to many cafe owners I’ve spoken to.

‘If you don’t feel comfortable sharing with the world things you’re doing on a daily basis, you’re probably doing the wrong thing’. Chris and Jared suggest that if you’re going to use social media, use it chronicle what you do on a day-to-day basis. What takes place inside your cafe space? Who are the people behind the coffee?

For some cafes, using social media is about promoting their goods, with the intent to sell more products. But as Jared and Chris point out: ‘selling shouldn’t be based around pitching anything, it should be a reflection of something you’re doing, and should sell itself’. While pictures of cafe products are important, so are people – they help other people connect with a brand. This concept has been picked up by many of the larger cafe chains who have run social media campaigns which ask customers to post a picture of themselves with their favourite drink etc. But equally for smaller independent business, its a way for customers to get to know the brains behind their daily caffeine fix or favourite cafe space, and many independent cafes have used this to their fully advantage. When there isn’t a marketing budget, social media is often the main method of reaching the customer base.

‘Oh cool picture of coffee. Oh cool picture of pastry next to coffee’.

This quote from the Cat & Cloud podcast made my laugh a little, because actually when I’ve looked at some Instagram feeds, or twitter feeds, this is actually the kind of thing that I’ve thought in my head. So what’s the point of these images – for them to be beautiful to make me want to visit the cafe? Often they just make me hungry, feel the need to go and make coffee! But really, to effectively use social media, you need to do something a little bit more than just pictures of coffee and pastries (as nice and mouth watering as they are to look at). Jared and Chris stress that it’s important to think about the story you want to share, and you can do that with what ever technology you have, it doesn’t have to be a high-end DSLR camera – that’s not what it’s about. It doesn’t have to be a heavily edited picture perfect cinnamon bun, with a latte with an intricate leaf pattern (at least not all the time). It should give consumers a window into the world of your business.

One comment I’ve heard from some cafe owners about social media is that a huge proportion of their followers won’t ever visit the cafe, or buy their products. So what’s the point? ‘What is the return on you pitching your stuff out there really hard, spending time putting all these things together what’s you’re return in sales? Some have argued that any increased online presence has the potential to increase your customer base in real life, and that generally it can be good to have a huge pool of consumers that you can intersect with to gauge reception to new ideas, products or ways of doing things.

There are of course, many different social media platforms too, which can make it even more challenging for businesses to know which to use. As the Cat & Cloud guys highlight: to get enough followers on twitter, takes a lot of work (and time), and the same can be said for a lot of other platforms too, and for their business they favour Instagram. In different countries too there are preferences for different types of social media platforms – Facebook and Instagram seem to be preference for cafes in Portugal, whereas in the UK many cafes make much more use of Instagram and Twitter. So thinking about the audience is really important in targeting social media efforts – which platforms are customers using?

‘The world is a visual place now’ remarks Chris, any clearly given the popularity of Instagram and other methods of sharing images on social media, this seems to be the case. But as Chris and Jared highlight, the images posted need to be more than just products. ‘It’s ok to have intentionality on your social media’ – Yes, use images to let customer know about your new products, but don’t make that all your social media feed is about.

manmakecoffee instagram

While many cafe businesses are keen to use social media to grow their audience and attract new customers, many are also wary of using it, usually for fear of negative reviews or negative press. Having social media accounts provides an immediate channel for customers to say how great they think your cafe is, but equally if they’re not happy, to say something about it. There are plenty of examples where both large and small cafe business have had a backlash from their activities, whether this is on the large-scale of issues around the tax scandal and Starbucks, or on a small-scale where a disgruntled customer chooses to complain online. Of the businesses I have spoken to, they feel that social media benefits tend to outweigh the disadvantages, acknowledging that it can be used as a great way to access a broader audience quite easily, but recognising that this does take time and effort to do.

starbucks tax twitter

Early in the Cat and Cloud podcast they ask: ‘How do you make a better social media connection and customer experience’? Based on their advice, and evidence I have gathered from talking with people working in the cafe industry, here are a few suggestions:

  • Use social media as way for customers to see what your business is about, an insight into the activities that take place there, and the people who make your business what it is.
  • Use social media to engage with your customers. It’s a great way to connect with your local community, and from those further afield who may end up one day visiting your cafe.
  • Don’t just use social media to try to sell goods or advertise promotions.
  • Choose your platforms carefully. Don’t have a range of social media accounts if they are not suitable for your customer base, or you don’t have time to maintain them all.
  • Try to post regularly on which ever platforms you choose.
  • Should a negative response take place, try to respond promptly.

This post has mainly considered views around the use of social media from the business side of cafes. But as a cafe consumer too, there are benefits. If you like to find new places to visit, social media can often be a great place to find out about places to try – from the social media accounts of cafes themselves, to the multitude of great bloggers who tend to be active on social media that are actively engaged in sharing information about cafes and roasters. And if you don’t want to find somewhere new, it can be a good at to engage with your regular cafe. Perhaps you’ve never really interacted with the business before, other than asking for your drink and a bit of small talk with the staff. So I’m at the stage where I’ve collected various bits of data around social media and the cafe industry, from both the business and consumer side of things, and hopefully it’s something I will get to explore in more detail in the near future. If you have thoughts on the benefits and pitfalls of social media and the cafe industry, get in touch!

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Café culture in Coventry

Coventry is a welcoming city, a changing city, and a city full of culture –  it has submitted a bid to be the UK City of Culture 2021. When you think of café culture, Coventry probably isn’t the first city in the UK you think of, but like most cities across the UK, there is a thriving and growing café culture; one that’s changing all the time too. Last year I wrote a short blog post about some of the cafés in Coventry, but like in many places, there is a churn of businesses, and while some of those written about are no longer here (Urban Coffee Company at Fargo Village, and Meseta), new ones have appeared, albeit in different places (e.g. Myrtles Coffee and Finney’s Coffee Co). I have been working on a project called ‘Spaces of Community: exploring the dynamics of the UK café industry’ which has been investigating the growth and development of the café industry and café culture across the country. Since I am based in Coventry, it made sense to explore what is happening in this city, and it became one of the case studies (alongside Manchester, Birmingham, London, and Bristol). You can read the summary report of the research here).

While Coventry doesn’t necessarily have a huge range of the so-called ‘third wave’ coffee shops, it had an incredibly rich variety of cafés across the city, from your local café where you can guarantee a great breakfast, to coffee houses which have their own blend of coffee, to social enterprises who use profits to fund charity activities. For my research, Coventry was particularly important as many of the cafés display exactly what I was trying to evidence – cafés are important social hubs in cities and communities. Cafés both in the city centre, and out towards the suburbs act as important places for people to meet, work, and socialise.

I’ve made a map of most of the cafés in Coventry – it includes both independent and chain cafés, and has sought to represent the diversity of cafés that are present in Coventry. If I have missed one that you think should be on the map, do get in touch!

As you can see from the map there are plenty of places to visit. How you feel about cafés and what they offer is quite personal; different people want different things from a café (at different times, and on different days), so you really do have to try them to find out what you like. Here are a few highlights:

Kahawa Cafe Coventry Coffee ShopKahawa Café (on Union Street). Many people have their ‘local’ café, and for me this is Kahawa. I discovered this place via a conversation on Twitter not long after starting to work in Coventry, and since then its become my usual pit stop, at first for a break from work, and more recently when on maternity leave to take a break with my daughter. The coffee and service here is excellent, they have a broad menu of drinks, and their own blend of coffee which you can buy to drink at home too. I have yet to find a vanilla latte that can beat the one from here. But more importantly, I can always guarantee a friendly welcome, which for many people is what they want when they are visiting a café.

Finney’s Coffee Co opened in 2016 and has become a popular spot in the city, with both indoor and outdoor seating, it provides  a bit of street café culture to the city. Serving Union Coffee, they have information cards about the coffee they serve on the table, so for those where the coffee origin is important, this is a good place to try.

The Rising Café, based in Coventry Cathedral, is often listed at the top of cafés in Coventry on trip advisor. The café is a social enterprise where profits go directly towards the work of the charity Betel.  The 1940s’ theme goes through from décor to the menu, where dishes range from the Clark Gable salad, to the Rising from the Rubble sandwich.  They have a broad menu of food and drink, and have a very popular afternoon tea option.

Fargo Village, often mentioned as the ‘Camden of Coventry’, is a great place in the city, a creative quarter with a range of independent businesses brought together in one location. It has been home to cafes such as Urban Coffee Company in the past, but there are others here which are worth visiting including: Spangles, an American themed cereal café, deli diner & shake bar that has become well known for its Freakshakes; Bubble Boba a bubble tea and milkshake bar; and the Big Comfy Bookshop, an independent book shop which also served tea, coffee and cake (and recently won the What’s On Best Independent Coffee Shop in Coventry & Warwickshire award) which is expanding soon.

Ed’s Coffee, is stall in Coventry Market, not a café – although you can get filter coffee ‘to-go’. It’s an important feature for Coventry though as it is one of the few places where you can buy a range of coffee beans (and have them ground to your requirements) and coffee brewing equipment.  Coventry market is one of the highlights of the city, a fantastic place to buy fresh food and other goods, and definitely one of the friendliest places I visit in the city. I’ve tried a few of the coffees from Ed’s, a particular favourite is the Papua New Guinea beans, but the Kenyan beans ground for aeropress were great too.

As in most cities there is a strong presence of chain cafés across the city – and they make a great contribution to the city too – from the often friendly staff, to the outside seating to take advantage of whenever the sun decides to make an appearance. There are numerous Costa Coffee’s and Starbuck’s in the city centre, and in the retail parks around the city, and one Caffe Nero store in the city centre. The Caffe Nero store has a particularly interesting location in the Lower Precinct Shopping centre, it is a round café which essentially acts like a giant fish bowl, and is great for sitting above the busy hustle of the people below. Like in most of the cafés in Coventry, the staff there are incredibly friendly which always makes the place feel welcoming – and they have fresh pastries too!

A chain which appears to have a growing presence is Esquires Coffee; it  has a couple of locations in Coventry – one in the West Orchards shopping centre, and another in the Coventry Transport Museum. Aside from the food and drinks, the branch in the transport museum holds various events too, such as Coffee and Board games,  a baking club and even a Comedy Night – a great example of how cafés can develop into community hubs.

Esquires Coventry Coffee ShopFor some people ice cream parlours wouldn’t really be considered cafés, but really, they fulfil a lot of the same functions, they just centre around ice cream rather than coffee, and for the purposes of exploring café culture that has developed in Coventry they are important. There are a couple of ice cream cafés in Coventry, but Sprinkles in the city centre (opposite the transport museum) is a particular delight. The coffee is good, but really it’s the choice of ice cream to go for, plus the crepes, waffles or milkshakes!

Café culture in Coventry is not confined to the city centre, there are places spread around the city from the Mocha Lounge in Allesley Park to Conroy’s in the Memorial Park. In particular, Earlsdon has a collection of independent cafés:  Zafiri’s is a great place with a broad food and drinks menu (the milkshakes are definitely worth trying), as well as Millsys, Kendall’s and the Juice House. There are new places opening in Coventry too, and the most recent addition in Earlsdon is Myrtles Coffee. Despite only opening in May 2017 the place seems to be very popular, and it’s easy to see why. The place is welcoming, with very friendly staff, a great selection of cakes, and excellent coffee. They had an interesting food menu too. A fantastic new addition to the cafés of Coventry.

Each of these places adds to the café culture of Coventry in a different way, through the spaces they offer for people to visit, socialise, work and spend time. They all do things differently, offering a variety of food and drink, seating arrangements, and events. Coventry may not be the first place you think of when you hear about café culture, but like many other cities across the country, cafés in Coventry act as spaces of community. In this city there are plenty of these friendly café spaces whether you need a caffeine fix, a place to meet your friends, or  a place to sit and contemplate life while the world goes by.

If you know of a great café in Coventry that isn’t listed, or hasn’t been mentioned here, do get in touch – its always great to find new places – and I hope the growing cafe culture in Coventry continues.

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Growing coffee shop culture in Nigeria: Cafe Neo and beyond

Historically, African countries are associated with growing coffee, rather than coffee consumption, although recent activity suggests this might be changing. I came across a video from CNN about a coffee company in Nigeria, Café Neo, which demonstrates a growing trends for coffee shops.

Café Neo founded in 2012 describes itself as representing ‘a modern and vibrant approach to celebrating Africa’s coffee heritage’. The company has stores in number countries but with a concentration in Lagos, Nigeria (14 stores at the time of writing), and has ambitions to continue to grow to 20-30 stores over the next few years.

Cafe Neo coffee shop nigeria storesAccording to Ngozi Dozie CEO and co-founder, they want to bring back the best of coffee culture in Africa, and through Café Neo they are using a three-pronged approach: opening stores in downtown locations, opening stores in commercial buildings and selling Neo branded coffee and capsules.

Coffee: Africa’s Gift to business opportunity

The founders of Café Neo, Ngozi and Chijoke Dozie, view coffee as a gift to the continent and want to have the best coffee in Africa, drank in Africa (currently used Arabica beans grown in Rwanda). Having worked abroad, they are attempting to replicate the kinds of spaces they have seen in other countries, a coffee shop business which provides a place to have a drink, to work, with free wi-fi and jazz music, and providing a collaborative space for entrepreneurs to thrive. The menu wouldn’t look out of place in many other Starbucks-like stores around the world with coffee based drinks and juices, and a range of cakes and pastries. Acknowledging that they want to capture the market before Starbucks the founders highlight, “the demand (in Lagos) is very high. There’s a significant minority of people who love coffee and want to drink coffee but haven’t had access to coffee”.

While the Nigerian market might appear challenging to some international companies, not at least because of the infrastructure costs related to keeping electricity going through power shortages, it has not stopped companies such as KFC, Dominos or more recently Krispy Kreme from trying to establish themselves in Nigeria. It will be interesting to see how long it will be before Starbucks or Costa Coffee try to establish themselves there too, given the clear interest in these types of spaces. At present, there is not a huge amount of competition, but the number of coffee shops is beginning to rise.  One example is Umutu Coffee Co, which describes itself as a Nigerian Gather House has a flagship store in Lagos airport, as well as a store in Victoria Island, the area of the city where Café Neo stores concentrate.

Beyond the border

Outside of Nigeria, across Africa, there are signals of coffee shop growth.  Starbucks opened its first store in South Africa in 2016 recognising a market that was ‘vibrant and growing’. As explored in this  Ventures Africa article, there are a number of companies alongside Café Neo who have sought to develop coffee shops in Africa: Deluxe Coffeeworks – Gardens, Cape Town; Café du Livre, Marrakesh; Tomoca Coffee Shop, Ethiopia (established in 1953); and Cuppa Cappuccino, Accra. And there are other successful coffee shop chains:  in Ethiopia, Kaldi’s Coffee was founded in 2005 and has over 30 stores across Addis Ababa; and Java House which established its first outlet in 1999 now has over 35 outlets across Kenya and Uganda. And it’s not just coffee shops trying to emulate the western style chain coffee shops, there are a rising number of independent coffee shops too, as explored in this blog post from Coffey and Cake which highlights some of the best coffee shops in South Africa, or from the Culture Trip on coffee shops in Nairobi, Kenya. Africa is a diverse continent, growing a wide variety of coffees and if current trends continue, most likely it will develop a variety of coffee shop cultures too.


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Coffee and cafe culture in Portugal: revisited

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’ve recently been to Portugal and had the opportunity to explore a bit more of its coffee culture.

In Portugal, unlike the UK, drinks bought in the café tend to stay in the café, and consequently there isn’t a huge amount of coffee cup waste entering into landfill. The most common coffee, espresso, is often drank at the bar, there is no need for a takeaway cup. However, I’ve noticed that in the centre of Porto signs have begun to appear which highlight that some cafés do now have takeaway options – likely to appeal to the tourists in the area. In some ways it’s sad to see more takeaway coffee available, partly because that isn’t really the culture around there – it’s great to be able to sit in a Portuguese café and really experience the place you are in; and secondly there are issues around sustainability and increased waste. Although it was great to see in Mesa325 which did offer takeaway options, had KeepCups for sale too!

As I discussed in a previous post, some international chain cafés have a presence in Portugal with Costa Coffee being placed right outside the arrivals gate at Porto airport (and in the departure lounge too), and in the very centre of Porto near the Clérigos tower. It’s clearly a popular and busy café, but then given it is right next to a popular tourist site, this isn’t surprising. Unlike the Costa’s in the UK, this one stays open much later into the evening.

There is a growing specialty coffee scene in Porto, and I managed to try Mesa325 (after finding about via Brian’s Coffee Spot), one of the pioneers of specialty coffee in Porto; a lovely place just a short walk from the very centre of Porto. They had both Luso Coffee and Vernazza coffee on offer. This café had a lovely feel to it, a range of seating options, and the decor shows the people who run the place clearly know their coffee (Standart magazines hanging at the side is a nice touch), and are supporting other independent businesses (such as micro-roaster Luso Coffee Roasters, and the craft brewer Musa).

We ended up trying Luso Ethiopian Coffee via V60, one of the nicest V60 brews I’ve had anywhere. One thing readers from the UK might notice is how much cheaper the coffee is here compared to UK prices (€1.60 for V60) – although this is still more expensive than the traditional Portuguese cafés (because of the higher quality coffee). While you can see in the photo of the coffee bar there are a number of cakes and pastries on offer, there is also a much wider food menu available too which I would highly recommend. While it would clearly appeal to tourists looking for a third wave style coffee shop, there were plenty of local people in here too. If I lived in Porto this would definitely become a favourite.

I also dropped by a branch of Armazém do Caffè, a chain of coffee shops in Portugal that are similar to the Costa/Starbucks style, although they sell a wide range of coffee beans here – I was tempted by some of the Jamaica Blue Mountain but we already have so many coffee beans stacking up in the house I decided to hold back this time.

While most of the specialty coffee we found on offer was in the centre of Porto, there is specialty coffee available outside the city too. Combi Coffee, who operate out of a coffee truck, move around and are often based  near beaches where surfing is taking place. The week I was there they were based around the Douro Marina in Vila Nova de Gaia, but we didn’t manage to make it over there. However,we did get to try Combi Coffee, in a smaller city just below Porto: Esphinho. This is a small city, known for its beaches, and as one of the best surfing spots in the north of Portugal. Just outside the train station we noticed a takeawy coffee sign one evening and the next day went back to see what the café was like, and were particularly interested given we couldn’t see the usual coffee branding that is usually outside of Portuguese cafés to indicate what coffee they use (Buondi, Sical, Nicola etc).

Pão de Dó which opened last year is a coffee house which serves Combi coffee. It has a musical theme to it, and even has a large piano inside, and describes itself as an artisanal café. Given the specialty coffee and teas, as well as range of cakes and chocolates on offer, you can see why. There was also a range of food available, and it was interesting to hear from the barista that they had recently changed the menu in order to incorporate more ‘American breakfast’ options (granola, bagels etc). Although we couldn’t buy the Combi coffee here to take home, we weren’t the first to ask, so there is clearly some demand for specialty coffee for home consumption.

And then most of the visits to cafés in Portugal were to the more traditional Portuguese cafés/bakeries that I have come to enjoy so much. And of course we visited the café I mentioned as my favourite place before, for the croissants more than the coffee. Novo Século has become our ‘local’ café and what’s lovely about this place is that despite only visiting a couple of times a year the waitress always remembers what we have; particularly impressive when you see the turnover of people that visit here. It’s a proper community café/bakery, based below some apartments and acting as a hub for the people that live nearby. It’s clearly also on some kind of trekking route as there now often seem to be people in walking gear with backpacks stopping here too.

For someone with an interest in coffee, cafés and coffee culture, Portugal is a fascinating place. It has a long-standing and rich coffee culture, but it is experiencing some shifts, not just in the urban centres, and it will undoubtedly be a country I continue to explore.

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Specialty coffee culture in Portugal: Luso Coffee Roasters

Portugal is famous for its coffee culture; drinking coffee is an important part of every day life across the country. Cafes are present everywhere you can think of, right down to the most remote villages.  However, the specialty coffee industry has recently begun to emerge in Portugal with a handful of specialty coffee roasters and places serving specialty coffee; the industry is clearly growing.

Mesa325 Portugal Specialty Coffee

Inside Mesa325 – specialty coffee for sale

As I mentioned in a previous post about coffee culture in Portugal,  there are a number of specialty coffee businesses concentrated in the big cities for example: in Lisbon (e.g. Fabrica Coffee Roasters, Copenhagen Coffee Lab); and in Porto (e.g. Vernazza, Luso Coffee Roasters, Combi, Mesa 325, BOP, and the Coffee Room). On a recent trip to Porto I had the chance to explore some of these places, and coffee culture more generally in Portugal.

I’m interested how the specialty coffee industry is developing in Portugal given it is a country where coffee culture is so embedded in the lifestyle, and the particular style of coffee (espresso with sugar) is so popular. While in Portugal I had the chance to meet up with Diogo Amorim, founder of Luso Coffee Roasters to talk about specialty coffee culture in Portugal, and about running a specialty coffee roaster business.

Luso Coffee Roaster Portugal Specialty CoffeeLuso Coffee Roaster Sugar Portugal Specialty CoffeeLuso Coffee Roasters is a micro-roaster based outside Porto. There are a variety of coffees on offer including a blend that is designed to appeal somewhat to Portuguese tastes for coffee (the Viriato blend). Importing the beans from a range of countries they are then roasted on demand. Luso has a coffee cart which is used at some events, and there are ambitions for a site in Porto to sell Luso Coffee in the future, but for now it is available and from a variety of places in Porto. I had actually tried some coffee from Luso the previous day in Mesa325; a lovely smooth coffee via V60. While talking to Diogo we tried some of the Viriato blend, and unlike with standard espresso from Portugal, you really don’t need sugar with this one (although Luso does have sugar available – with a helpful hint on the back).

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Demand from tourists, and those who have travelled abroad, seem to be key drivers of specialty coffee growth in Portugal. When you consider the locations of where specialty coffee is on offer in Portugal this makes sense, either in the centre of cities, or relatively close to hotels where tourists might stay (I found specialty coffee on offer outside of Porto, which I will explore in another blog post soon). A potential barrier for a broader consumer base for specialty coffee in Portugal (as in many other markets) is price. A typical espresso in Portugal can cost as little as 0.50. But as Diogo, and many other people who work in the specialty coffee industry have pointed out you are paying for high quality coffee with specialty coffee. Will specialty coffee ever become mainstream in Portugal? Only time will tell, but for now, there are an emerging number of coffee businesses that are worth exploring.


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Urban development and coffee shops: the end of the road for a coffee shop in Birmingham

I learned recently from an article in the Birmingham Mail that one of the first specialty coffee shops in Birmingham, 6/8 Kafe on Temple Row, is to close down after the building it inhabits is to be transformed into a shower complex for workers who cycle in to offices nearby. 

The multi-award winning 6/8 Kafe which opened in 2011 is considered a pioneer in bringing specialty coffee to Birmingham. While you can now wander around Birmingham and have a good choice of coffee shops from the independents such as Quarter Horse, 200 Degrees, Yorks and every coffee chain you can think of (including the Canadian chain Second Cup), this was not always the case. More than just a coffee shop, this place was also important for local artists and musicians, with frequent events being held at the cafe. This isn’t the end for 6/8 Kafe as it does have another outlet in Millenium Point, but it marks the end of an era for many people who visit this cafe, and have made memories here. 

More than this it marks a change in urban development patterns. In many places coffee shops are often seen as symbols of urban development or gentrification. In this case there’s a new wave of development that is even pushing out the coffee shop. For many independent coffee shops, the cost of rent in retail centres can be too high to be viable. Will this mean in the future that city centres become the domain of coffee shop chains that can stand the high rent prices, and can claim the central real estate locations, with independents having a greater presence as you move out of city centres and into the suburbs?  In any case, this an interesting example of how urban development doesn’t always lead to a growth of coffee shops, but can also lead to their demise. 

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Exploring Coffee and Cafe Culture in Portugal

When I first visited Portugal I was at a stage in my life when I drank a lot of vanilla lattes, the odd espresso and americano, but mostly vanilla lattes, and when I travelled to Portugal my partner had explained that they didn’t really do vanilla lattes in Portugal, coffee was just coffee. There was at the time, no Costa Coffee in Portugal and the only branches of Starbucks were in Lisbon. When in a branch of Armazém do caffè (the closest thing to a Costa/Starbucks-like café at the time) I ordered what I thought was a vanilla latte, it turned out I’d ordered an iced vanilla latte – close enough. I soon adapted to the Portuguese way of drinking coffee anyway.

Coffee in Portugal

Coffee culture is ingrained in the everyday life, culture and history of Portugal. The Portuguese were crucial actors in expanding the coffee industry into what it is today with Portuguese colonists introducing the coffee plant to Brazil. There isn’t space here to explore the rich history of Portuguese coffee culture, but I will write about this more at some point soon.

Drinking coffee in Portugal is an everyday part of life, with cafés found almost on every street, and espresso being the most common drink.  Coffee is significantly cheaper to drink out of the home, than it is in the UK. An espresso wouldn’t usually cost you more than €1 and in most cases is closer to €0.50. If you ask for a coffee (um café) an espresso is what you’d be served, although there are regional variations for different coffees too. If you were in Porto and wanted an espresso you’d order um bica, while in Lisbon you’d order um cimbalino (named after the La Cimbali espresso machines).

Espresso in Portugal

They have a range of coffees with milk in too – I often have um pingo (an espresso with a dash of milk) or uma meia de leite (around half coffee/half milk – the closest thing I’ve had to a latte). There are actually a wide range of variations of the espresso based drink, some of which are explored on the Salt of Portugal and Emma’s House in Portugal blogs.

Cafés in Portugal are literally everywhere, not just in your retail centres but spread throughout the neighbourhoods too, even in the most remote places. Often cafés will have a branding for the coffee they serve somewhere on the outside such as Delta, Nicola, Sical, Buondi, or Café  Brasileira. These types of traditional Portuguese cafés often have a range of baked goods served there as well. My favourite café in Portugal is just a small café at the base of a block of flats in a residential area. Actually, I don’t really go there for the coffee, I go there for the croissants, freshly baked – one thing you’ll notice in Portuguese cafés is that the range of cakes and pastries usually makes the options from Costa/Starbucks look pathetic (it’s not just about pastel de nata in Portugal)!

The long history of cafés in Portugal means like in many European cities there are some cafés which have a long history:

  • Café Nicola in Lisbon an art deco style which opened in the late 18th century, and to its current location in 1929.
  • Botequim in Lisbon was opened in 1968 by the Portuguese writer Natália Correia.
  • A Brasileria in Lisbon opened in 1905, and is famous for being frequented the Portuguese Poet Fernando Pessoa.
  • Café Guarany in Porto, opened in 1933 (and underwent restoration in 1994), and according to the website was known as the musicians coffee shop. In addition to the food and drink, they do hold music events including traditional Fado music.
  • Café Progresso in Porto was founded in the early 19th century.
  • Café Majestic in Porto, opened in 1921 and is considered one of the most beautiful cafes in the world. Opened in 1921.

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When I first started to look for cafés to visit in Portugal, most of the ‘top cafés in Porto/Lisbon’ would feature these kinds of cafés which were important landmarks in the city. However, things have started to change, with the emergence of a wider range of café types becoming popular particularly in the larger cities.

These two lists of cafés that are ‘good to read in’ feature quite a few interesting spots:

Starbucks have around 10 branches around the Lisbon region, while Costa Coffee have a couple of branches around Porto and the Algarve. The coffee shop chain in Portugal I found the closest to these types of coffee shops was Armazém do caffè which has branches across a broader spread of the country, compared to the other chains (see below).Coffee Shops in Portugal

Then in one of my last trips to Porto I discovered Moustache near Clérigos Porto which seemed much closer to the Starbucks type of coffee experience than in many Portuguese cafés. The menu includes the range of coffees plus Frappuccino type drinks, as well as a range of baked goods, including natas, of course! The coffee I’ve had here though is definitely better than most chain coffee shops I have been to and what I liked about this place was that it sought to engage with its community in different ways, holding various events in the café space.

The concept of working in cafés is not new, however with the rise of more freelance work and the ‘gig economy’ many people are turning to cafés as places to work from. I have written a bit about working and co-working in cafes from a UK context, but even in Portugal it has been acknowledged that there is a demand for places for people to work from outside of the office. Portoalities provides a guide to the best cafes to work from in Porto (and if you’re interested a list of co-working offices too).

Specialty Coffee in Portugal

There are a growing range of cafés in Portugal, with more independent cafés and specialty coffee shops that focus not only on the type of food and drink they serve, but the aesthetic of the café too. It’s not until recently that specialty coffee shops have made much of an appearance, but the specialty coffee scene does seem to be gathering pace. Brian from Brian’s Coffee Spot visited last year and tried out some of Porto’s new additions including BOP and Mesa 325 in Porto:

  • BOP a café bar where there is a brew bar, and the coffee used is from Vernazza. More than a place which focuses on coffee, it also has a passion for music and there are record players for you to listen to the large collection of LP’s they have behind the counter. They also have a pretty good menu if you’re looking for food too!
  • Mesa 325, who also use Vernazza, and in addition to the brew methods for making coffee also serve Vietnamese coffee which I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else in cafés in Porto.

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These are both excellent examples of the new types of coffee shops appearing in Portugal, but the specialty coffee presence in Porto goes well beyond these two places. Oporto Cool explores 12 cafés which provide more than a place to get your espresso hit – from the specialty coffee shops that focuses on brunch and cocktails too (Zenith), to the ‘coffee garden’ combining specialty coffee and health food (Noshi Coffee) which opened this year. Fraulein Anker has written a Porto Hipster coffee guide too.

There’s plenty of activity too in the capital city Lisbon with the Copenhagen Coffee Lab being one of the best known specialty coffee spots in the city bringing a bit of Nordic coffee culture to the city. There is also Fábrica Coffee Roasters a café and roaster, now with two outlets and according to their website a coffee truck coming soon. Like Porto, more specialty coffee shops are emerging such as WISH slow coffee house and Montana Lisboa as highlighted by Matous Vins on European Coffee Trip.

And in Lisbon the combination for coffee and cycling that we’ve seen here in the UK has a presence too in the  BI-CA Sandwich Cafe, where you can also hire bicycles here (in Porto for a combination of bicycles and coffee there is the Urban Cicle Café).

Following the trend of having coffee shops in flagship stores as has been seen recently in London and other major cities (e.g. the pop up coffee bar by Has Bean roaster in the clothing store UniQlo), The Feeting Room, a footwear and clothing store in Porto now has its own coffee shop. ‘The Coffee Room’, located on the top floor  is a specialty coffee shop dedicated to third wave coffee culture, which serves coffee (single origin Guatemalan from a roaster in Porto according to this article from Evasoes), and panoramic views of the city.

In terms of following other coffee trends, it appears that Portugal has also taken on the coffee in a cone concept in a series of Delta Q stores in Lisbon and Porto.

The majority of these new cafés that are embracing specialty coffee, or a more third wave style of coffee shop tend to be in the city centre, targeting young urban audiences and tourists too. It will be interesting to see if these start to spread out into some of the neighbourhoods too over time.

An exception to this at the minute would be Combi Coffee which is actually a coffee truck which can be found in various locations, but often near the beaches of Espinho, just south of Porto. This article from the Coffee Universe suggests they will have a coffee shop in Porto at some point soon as well. Here the founder of Combi Coffee explains: “Portugal is a place where coffee and espresso are synonyms, so all the Portuguese care about is a full bodied creamy espresso shot regardless of the origin or variety of the coffee beans. We are actively trying to change that. Slowly but steadily.” (Coffee Universe, 2016)

In my research I’m interested in all types of cafes, from the historical landmarks of the city, the traditional corner neighbourhood café bakery, to the specialty coffee shops.  It would be interesting at some point to map the different types of cafés in Portugal to see the extent of the café into Portuguese communities, and how these differ across the country.

If you know of a café in Portugal that you find is an important place or interesting space, then do get in touch.

Coffee Roasters

Roasting coffee in Portugal is not a new concept, the large coffee companies such as  Delta or Sical have been present for decades, but specialty coffee roasters are more scarce. Although much like the specialty coffee shops, more roasters are emerging too. I’ve already mentioned Fabrica Coffee Roasters in Lisbon but a couple of others worth exploring too are:

  • Vernazza Coffee Roasters, based in Maia and established in 2015, now has coffee in many of the emerging specialty coffee spots around Porto as well as restaurants too. The owner of Vernazza recognises that specialty coffee is not yet a widespread commodity in Portugal yet: it’s part of our strategy to be a specialty coffee, and to be placed together with nice things and places, where there is the concern with the detail; we know we are not a coffee for the masses . According to this article Vernazza hopes to have its own café in Porto at some point.
  • Luso Coffee Roasters based just south of Porto, has a range of coffees including the Viriato Blend which is roasted to ‘have the notes of a traditional Portuguese espresso’. I wonder if this could be the way to entice more Portuguese consumers to specialty coffee? In an article from the Coffee Universe the founder of Luso Coffee Roasters acknowledges the barriers for the specialty coffee market in Portugal, in particular the price of coffee, but highlights that increased tourism is providing opportunities to open new cafés and there is a rising curiosity about specialty coffee.

Portugal is a country with a long coffee history, and the café has, and remains to be, an important place in communities across the country. But like many other countries, the coffee culture is changing, and with it the emergence of different types of cafés, and coffee businesses are emerging. As has been noted by the Perfect Daily Grind Portugal is ‘embracing third wave culture with enthusiasm and vigor’ but will Portugal ultimately see a widespread shift from its traditional espresso culture, or will the specialty coffee remain a niche market catering to young urbanites and tourists? Only time will tell and from a research perspective, it’s fascinating to explore. If you know of a new or interesting café or coffee roaster in Portugal that I haven’t mentioned here, please do get in touch.



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