UK barista championships – best yet?

April 23, 2014

UKBC 2014 Maxwell Colonna Dashwood, winner, at TV studios for interview - pic by BBC

Champion Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood waiting for a TV interview

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The latest series of the UK barista awards has been completed, and a national champ has been crowned – it is Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood of Colonna and Small’s in Bath, who won the title two years ago, and who will now go on to compete for the UK in the world finals.  However, the more fascinating aspects of this year’s contest are the lessons which have been learned and the achievements which have been made – which include such eyebrow-raising matters as a complete lack of any complaints about the judging.

This year’s contest was the one which nearly did not happen. The organisation of the UKBC had been left in disarray, until the roaster Steve Leighton of Has Bean in Stafford very unwillingly stepped in to mastermind a recovery.  This involved the quite radical idea of abandoning the old idea of regional heats, in favour of one week-long ‘superheat’ in the midlands which fed twenty semi-finalists into the weekend final in London in early April.

It all worked – and indeed, the crowds at the final were evidence that it did so.

“This has been the toughest five days of my life – it is a crazy, ridiculous voluntary role to take on, but I knew that when I started.  In the end, everybody was positive. but it all worked out OK,” Steve Leighton told us after the event, before going on to detail the areas in which the contest had become a success.

“Front-of-house, it was all wonderful. Back of house, there were some problems to resolve, which was draining.

“The thing that made me most proud was – the judges made the right decision, a correct decision, and everybody knew it. The judging was absolutely impeccable. Not one competitor has said anything against the judges… and that’s an achievement to be proud of!”

This may sound an odd thing to claim as an achievement, but as in many contests, in many fields of sport and business, the standard of barista contest judging has long come in for criticism. There have been allegations of favouritism, of nods and winks between judges and entrants, and inconsistencies in scoring.

This year, said Leighton firmly, the judging was clearly of a high and consistent standard, which all entrants observed and respected.

“And several of the judges didn’t even claim their expenses. Why?  Because they knew our financial situation, but also because they enjoyed being a part of what we all did.”

The standard of this year’s finals was extremely high, although overall the number of entrants nationally was down, probably because of the concept of the ‘superheat’ and the delay in getting the contest organised and under way.

“As I had expected, the quality of entrant was good, and five of the top six would have made the semi-finals at world level, it was that good,” Leighton told us. “We may have lost out on some of the new blood this year, but we can address that.”

One of the most notable performances was the appearance of a contract caterer barista in the top six – Don Altizo, of Baxter Storey, was only half a point away from fifth place. It was an unprecedented achievement for the contract catering industry, and Baxter Storey have pointed to the position as justification of their decision to invest in coffee quality in the same way that they do in food standards.

“Baxter Storey should be incredibly proud,” agreed Steve Leighton. “Nobody works harder than Don at a contest, and he really puts the hours in… you can tell.  Baxter Storey spend a lot of time in preparation…  you can see the competitors who don’t prepare, because they’re like watching a slow-motion train crash!”

One of the most entertaining aspects of a barista contest  (some people say it is the single most crowd-pleasing element) is the signature drink, a preparation of the entrant’s own devising. There has been a distinct move in recent years towards ‘education’, in which entrants use this part of the contest to argue the cause of the way they are working… indeed, many competitors have begun to lecture the judges, and in the heat, one had the judges sit at school desks!

In the case of this year’s champion, Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood entertained the crowd by putting on a white lab coat and giving the judges a lesson on water quality, a subject on which he has recently become a devoted student himself.

Organiser Steve Leighton is in favour of this, he told us.

“We have been in danger of competitions getting boring, if we ‘just make drinks’. I recall that in 2010, Colin Harmon made the judges  several versions of a drink, each using different waters, to show the different tastes which resulted – as a roaster, that stopped me in my tracks and made me think.

“These things push us all… and competitions should do that.”

Sponsorship has been a big matter for debate this year, not least because of the continuing argument over what the backers actually get for their money. Incredible as it sounds, but it has been confirmed many times, there have been no formal agreements between the UKBC organisers and the sponsors over what the backers will get in return for their money. As a result, some sponsors have been aggrieved that they see nothing in return for their support but a logo on a backing board and a token verbal ‘thank you’, while others are alleged to have attempted to virtually take the event over.

It will change next year, with entirely new sponsors, says Steve Leighton.

“All the sponsor agreements have now run out.  Next time, I do not want people who will just give money – I want sponsors who want to make things better.

“This year, the cleanser company Puly Caff said to us that they would offer a lot of money to be the cleanser sponsor – we said no, can we have a little less money, but can we have two people to clean the machines between contestants?

“So they did – they cleaned everything, and they had a cameraman showing what they were doing, and we interviewed them about it. Everybody learned something from this, and they were very happy sponsors. This means we can go back to potential sponsors and say we can show some kind of value to them – you must give sponsors expectations of what they will receive in return for their money, and that has not been done in the past.”

Managing the vast number of volunteers was another area in which great progress was made, reports Leighton, if a little ruefully.

“I’m not practised in managing volunteers – I’m experienced in managing people I pay. I’m just not used to asking volunteers if they would mind doing something!

“But by the last day, I was pretty much getting the idea of how to get volunteers to do what I wanted.

“It was a good event. Is it all perfect? No. Is it better than we’ve ever had? Yes!”

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This year’s champ, Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, was a clear winner on 669.5 points, well ahead of Dale Harris (643), and then Estelle Bright of Caravan. The reigning champ, John Gordon, was fourth, ahead of Joe Meagher of Flat Caps Coffee, just half a point ahead of Don Altizo. Maxwell also took the prizes for best espresso and best cappuccino of the day; the best signature drink was awarded to John Gordon.

One of the newest, but most popular awards is the ‘best newcomer’, created and sponsored by Union Hand Roasted.  This year the winner was  Imogen Ludman from Six Eight Kafe in Birmingham, who wins a trip to origin as Union’s guest.

“Her coffee was a Bolivian caturra, and her signature theme was ‘Imogen’s Sweet Shop’,” we were told by Devinder Dhallu, the owner of Six Eight. “The espresso mixed with sherbert and with candy floss made during the routine. The contents were stirred with homemade cascara lollipops which had been dipped in cascara and then coated with cherry flavoured sugar.

“Cascara is like a herbal tea made from the dried coffee cherry (of which the seed is the actual coffee bean). Each cascara tastes different, very similar to how different coffee beans taste. It is highly caffeinated and so it is like rocket fuel… we will be serving it at the café brewed as Cold Brew and seeing how it goes!”

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In the other related contests, held over the same weekend,  the UK Coffee In Good Spirits title went to David Jameson of Union Hand Roasted Coffee.  This is the contest in which entrants may use alcohol, and he created theOrange Custard Martini, described as “a way to capitalise on some of the lesser-used, dormant bottles which lurk malevolently at the back of the shelf”!   It features Advocaat, Grand Marnier and espresso shaken together with Madagascan chocolate flakes and served with an orange zest rim. The result is a thick, viscous custardy body with the underlying acidity of the coffee balanced by the sweetness of the liqueurs.

Champion of the Ibrik/Cezve contest (the Turkish-style brewing) was Vadym Granovskiy of Coffee In Action. It was notable to see that two other competitors were former world barista champ Gwilym Davies, and UKBC organiser Steve Leighton himself.

The new Brewers Cup champion is a colleague of Maxwell’s at Colonna and Smalls, Sebastian Stephenson – he also managed to beat off a challenge from that same Steve Leighton, who clearly distinguished himself more as an organiser than a contestant this year.

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Possibly the most unusual achievement of the entire contest weekend was that of Dhan Bahadur Tamang from the Caracoli coffee house in Hampshire.   Already the official British latte art champion, he took the title again, winning a trip to Rimini to compete in the world latte art championship.

However, there was another latte art contest being held during the UKBC weekend, a side attraction run in the exhibition area by the Cravendale milk brand. This also featured a tempting travel prize, of a trip to coffee origin in Peru.

What none of the organisers had noticed (until we pointed it out to them after the event) was that the winner of both latte art contests on the same weekend was… Dhan Tamang of Caracoli!

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This story first appeared on Caffe Connect, the news website allied to the Caffe Culture show.

http://www.caffeculture.com/

 

 

 

Unique coffee fest for Birmingham, UK

January 28, 2014

The Tamper Tantrum, probably the most entertaining conference in the worldwide coffee trade, is to make its British live debut in Birmingham in February – the event, organised by a Stafford coffee roaster, is part of the initial stages of the UK Barista Championship, in which British coffee-house staff compete for the chance to represent Britain in the world coffee-making finals.

The contest is usually run by a series of regional heats, in which coffee-making experts around the country attempt to win a place in a national final – this year, however, the entire initial stages are being grouped together in a week-long event at the Millennium Point, which has allowed the organisers the chance to create Birmingham’s first coffee-themed conference and debate programme.

The Tamper Tantrums were devised by Steve Leighton, of the Stafford coffee roaster Has Bean.  A ‘tamper’, in coffee-speak, is the little tool with which a barista firms down the coffee grounds in the filter holder before putting it into the espresso machine.   His concept was of a series of presentations on issues affecting the modern coffee trade, rather along the lines of the worldwide TED conferences, in which speakers have a fairly free hand to present ‘ideas worth spreading’ in the fields of technology, entertainment and design.

The coffee event has previously been held in Dublin, drawing visitors from Russia, Germany, and even Australia. The star speakers address aspects of importance to the modern coffee industry, from farming to the importance of sound, basic, customer service manners in a British coffee shop.  One of the most memorable speeches was delivered by a world barista champion on the appreciation of gender equality in the coffee trade, and the opportunities for female baristas in the coffee-shop sector – to make his point, he dressed in drag, with handbag and headscarf, but retained his full beard.

The Birmingham Tamper Tantrum will feature some of the most influential people in the modern coffee trade, including James Hoffmann, the first Briton to win the world barista title.  He will be joined by another British barista champion, Maxwell Colonna Dashwood of Bath, and the influential London coffee-shop owners Vic Frankowski and Rob Dunne (of Tapped and Packed) and Peter Dore Smith (of Kaffeine).

There will also be the first public screening of the documentary Barista or Bust, which follows UK barista champion John Gordon through his progress in the British contest and then the world finals.

“We hope this event is a sign of things to come for the British coffee trade,” remarked organiser Steve Leighton. “More value, more entertainment and more social events around an awesome competition in support of a very lively industry and market sector.”

The barista championship ‘superheats’ will be held at Millennium Point, Birmingham, from 9th – 14th February. The Tamper Tantrum event will be held on Sunday 9th February.

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This story comes from Boughton’s Coffee House magazine.

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A ‘year of change’ for the major UK coffee contest

December 20, 2013

There will be a radical change in the organisation of the UK Barista Championships for 2014. In the coffee trade’s major skills contest, the familiar format of regional heats will now give way to one single week-long ‘super-heat’, in Birmingham. Any barista who wishes to enter the contest will have to travel to appear at that central event.

The move is a last-minute rescue strategy devised by the temporary UK Co-ordinator of the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe, which organises the barista championships.  Without the ‘super-heat’, the qualifying stages of the contest could probably not have been held in time for the final, due at the London Coffee Festival.

The reaction of the coffee trade has been mixed – the concept of a single heat is not popular, but it is widely accepted that a radical decision had to be made, and there is much approval for the temporary Co-ordinator, Steve Leighton, having stepped up to make it.

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However, to the surprise of many, the SCAE has issued a statement saying that it is ‘thrilled to announce the merging of the regional UKBC heats’.  It has gone on to assert that: ‘it was thought that in previous years the regional heats have been diluted by competitors travelling from all over the country to compete, thus diminishing the prestige of the regional heat winners. By bringing the heats together, we can steer competitors to the correct heats based on their current places of work, and thus bring prestige back to the title of regional heat winner in the UKBC’.

This has been greeted with some incredulity, although in the latter part of the statement the SCAE may possibly be more guilty of clumsy phrasing than anything else.

What the SCAE may possibly have meant to convey, and did not make clear, was that in recent years the regional heats have not always been representative of their local areas. There have been many cases of competitors competing in faraway heats, for various reasons – occasionally, when one heat has been cancelled for lack of sufficient interest, the few entrants to have registered have been sent somewhere else. There have also been incidences of strategic entries to the heats which are latest in the calendar – the argument is that by entering the heat nearest in date to the semi-final and final, an entrant is more likely to remain ‘in competition mode’, whereas those who go through from an early heat will have gone back to their everyday work, and have to work themselves back into competition mindset.

This aside, the statement that the SCAE is ‘thrilled’ to have brought the heats together has been greeted with some derision. The ‘spin’ of presenting the decision as an exciting development might possibly have been greeted more sympathetically if the organisation had simply expressed relief that the 2014 contest is happening at all.

Steve Leighton, managing director of the coffee roaster Has Bean, is named in the announcement as the SCAE’s new UK Co-ordinator, but has stressed that he has accepted only a ‘temporary’ role, and that simply because nobody else would come forward to do it.

“I can tell you I am taking over a real, real mess,” Steve told Coffee House magazine. “Nothing, and I mean nothing, has been done and we have a competition to make happen in seven weeks. On my second day as Co-ordinator, I had to make a decision about how to keep the championship going. ”

The existing format already held several problems, he confirmed. Ever since the concept of regional heats was devised, around seven years ago, they have been under-attended – the hosting of these heats has always been generously handled by local trade companies, but the events themselves have gained little public attention.   The major sponsors, and invariably the machine sponsor, have had to trail around the country setting up equipment for events which are attended only by a few contestants and occasionally their workmates and relatives.

“Heats have been fairly depressing places, with the echo chamber of the industry talking to each other,” Leighton remarked.

His options, he told us, were limited – with no time to repeat the regional formula, and with little expectation that the regional events would improve, the option was to take a radical decision in the knowledge that he would almost certainly be faced with a storm of criticism. The decision that the Co-ordinator and his colleagues reached was to bring the entire contest together over several days at one venue, where he could also include other coffee-themed competitions utilising the same audio-visual and live-streaming facilities, and maybe incorporate coffee-related entertainment and events such as his well-known Tamper Tantrum debates.

As a result, while there has been a general lack of enthusiasm across the trade for the concept of a ‘super-heat’, this has been widely qualified with a large amount of sympathy for the position Steve Leighton found himself in. There has been unanimous agreement of the principle that in a crisis situation, one decisive move to get things going is preferable to hesitancy.

Early such support came from Jeremy Torz of Union Hand-Roasted, the event sponsor which created a special prize for the best performance by a first-time competitor.

“This is ‘a bit of a curly one’, as we say at Union!” Jeremy told Coffee House.  “Steve’s pulled a tough gig this year – he has picked up the poisoned chalice. All the organising that should have gone on in the summer had been held back, and for us sponsors, this was frustrating – but Steve has to be thanked for stepping into the void, and we will support him, whatever he decides, in what we think must now be seen as ‘a year of change’.

“After several years of very expensive regional events with very few people attending, this must be worth trying.  We have not seen any increase in the activity around heats, so what can we make this into? How can we make it a ‘pull’? “

A similar view came from Marco Olmi of Drury, another roaster who has supported entrants in the contest, although not as a direct sponsor. He was a quite typical commentator, seeing the point but worrying about the effects – he was one of many who worried about the average high-street competitor being able to reach an event in Birmingham.

“I can see the point of it, and I have a huge amount of sympathy for Steve Leighton, and a huge amount of sympathy for the sponsors – regional events must be horrendously expensive for them. We did have the chance of sponsoring a couple of years ago, but I realised that to do it properly would take the work of two staff for a few weeks.

“But, it is going to marginalise baristas, other than the stars and the ones whose companies have budgets behind them. Birmingham may be ‘central’, but if you’re in Glasgow, Aberdeen, or the west country, you’re still stuck. It’s OK for those who can afford the travel and the accommodation for a couple of nights, but not for the average joe barista – we’re going to see only the big companies and the superstars.

“I know that some people will say they only want the baristas who are really dedicated, but that’s not the point – what we really need are 200 competitors of all standards. We really want the high street baristas who say: ‘I know I’m never going to win, but I’m going to dip my toe in, and I’m going to learn something’.  They are now going to be far more wary of doing so than before, so numbers will be down.

“I sympathise with the reason for the decision, and I sympathise with the sponsors – but I think it means that many possible entrants will not bother in 2014.”

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It is here that opinions become radically divided.  One school of thought holds that a concentration of the event into a concentrated time frame will promote ‘excellence’ in approach, and an entirely contrary school of thought maintains that the one central event will deter the baristas who are the lifeblood of the high-street market, which should be seen as the most important sector of the trade.

“As soon as I read it, my heart sank,” remarked former champ Hugo Hercod, who runs the Relish deli in Wadebridge, north Cornwall.  “I may be proven very wrong, but it doesn’t sound like a good idea.

“From a business-owner  point of view, I can’t possibly afford to support any of my baristas for a week away – none of them will want to take a holiday and fund it themselves, and I certainly wouldn’t give a week of my life for the 15 minutes of weirdness that is a barista competition!”

Far more severe criticism came from others in the farther-flung regions – although, to be fair, the most extreme opinions were expressed in response to the SCAE’s announcement that it was ‘thrilled’ about the super-heat.  One comment from Scotland was: “ridiculous, short sighted, naive, foolhardy and damaging to the competition”, and several questioned whether baristas really would travel to Birmingham.  Many later opinions were more temperate, as it became clearer that Steve Leighton’s decision had been made in a crisis situation.

However, those who support the concept of barista contests as promotional events for the high-street trade argue strongly that events actually held in the regions provide the most valuable PR for the coffee-house sector, and should be reinstated as soon as possible.

It has been suggested that the value of a local heat in the regions is actually far more than the UKBC organisers appreciate – indeed, one sponsor of the national contest said to Coffee House: “it had never occurred to me how much press is achieved at local level…”

“If you win the south west heat at an event in Exeter, in front of audience made up of local cafes from across the region, this is far more gratifying and prestigious than winning in front of a group of baristas from around the country,” remarked Tom Sobey of Origin roasters in Cornwall, who has hosted regional heats three times.

“I also think it isolates baristas down here and will make competition less accessible for newbie baristas in remote areas. We have seen in the past even if they don’t do that well, the quality of coffee served at their establishment definitely increases, which must surely be the end goal of the competition. I can see the theory behind it, but it will all but end the association with the competition on the high street down here… I cannot imagine that anybody will travel from Cornwall to Birmingham to watch ‘the south west heat’!  This is not great for the South West.

“However, they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t… they will never please everybody.”

Similarly, barista Alex Sargent of Strangers coffee bar in Norwich, a top-twenty finalist in the 2013 competition, stressed how much press and broadcast publicity his business gained from the event.  It required a little effort, but he was featured in half a dozen papers, and on two local BBC news programmes.  There was an extremely long local story about his signature drink, the Apple Mac, and when he later in the year went to compete in the Union Hand Roasted contest, two other baristas said: ‘oh, you’re the one who did the Apple Mac – we’ve read about you!’

So, he pointed out, the publicity gained by local events does have a positive effect.

In the future, suggested Marco Olmi at Drury, the solution might be a smaller number of better-run regional events, and Steve Leighton has made the same point in a blog, in which he wrote:  “in an ideal world I think three well-run heats would be amazing – one for the south (London to the south-west), one for the north, from Newcastle to Scotland, and something in the middle. But this year we have time, resources and energy for one.”

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The other main school of thought comes from those who might be considered the elite of the trade, with competition success on their CVs.

A former champion, Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood of Bath, made the point that one ‘super heat’ may improve the competition, with regard to the way it is judged.

“My primary interest is the quality, efficency and integrity of the competition itself – is the competition itself as good as it can be? In terms of consistency and quality, I think this move has the potential to really improve the competition.

“I have always wondered about the possible differences heat to heat, with many consisting of completely different judging panels and head judges…  would I have been scored differently in one heat over another?  As for judges’ feedback goes, if none of the judges judging me at a heat will be judging me at the final, then how should I interpret their feedback from a heat?

“There’s also the issue of the heats seeming, in my opinion, to sometimes be treated more softly and less seriously than the semis and the finals.

“I have an issue with the way heats are treated – they are often presented as a sort of barista jam, encouraging  competitors to take part and have fun. I don’t think this is actually that good for the competitors – I have often seen many competitors turning up with little preparation or understanding of the competition, which doesn’t benefit them or the competition. They get a score of three hundred and are often despondent and unnerved by the experience.

“I think one ‘super heat’ will result in a better quality of competition, and is that not why competitors are taking part?  The UKBC competitions are supposed to be the pinnacle of our industry, not a barista jam.”

At Taylor Street Baristas and Harris and Hoole, Nick Tolley had a member of staff placed very highly in the 2013 UKBC, and sees advantages in a ‘super-heat’.

“I appreciate the concerns… that said, I can’t help but think the move is fairly sound. From a barista’s perspective, it has a number of benefits, including a fairer competition because all competitors are evaluated with the same conditions – the water, stage set-up, the prep area, the equipment, and judged by a more calibrated judging team.

“Organisationally and operationally, it’s beneficial because multiple heats cost more and involve a lot more time, and are challenging to always deliver consistently and at the highest level.

“Barista skill development and the promotion of speciality coffee are the primary reasons for the competition. The bigger the profile of this event, the greater the potential sponsorship and promotion for the industry, which should in turn result in raising the profile of the barista craft.

“New Zealand has been running one heat for the past couple of years. I am led to believe that, as a result, they have found that they get more committed baristas who attend the event and increase the quality and profile of the competition overall.”

The UK’s first world barista champ, James Hoffmann of Square Mile roasters, was also cautiously optimistic.

“I can understand why many people would be extremely frustrated with this, but I see it somewhat differently. The incoming committee is dealing with a huge challenge and has very little in the way of time or resources. The fact that there are going to be heats in any form this year means that a small group of people are going to have to work very hard indeed.

“If there is only one opportunity for one single mass heat, then I think it is excellent that it is outside London. Many can travel without the need for an overnight stay, and those that do stay will find Birmingham far cheaper than London.

“I think running an event that has other attractions for the wider industry is a great idea. Watching barista competition is not, by and large, particularly compelling or engaging. Having talks and workshops is going to be a big draw.

“I’m going to do the best I can to support the new UK Chapter as I think they have the coffee industry’s best interests at heart, above self-interest (as we’ve perhaps seen in the past).”

A fresh point of view comes from Tim Sturk, training manager at Baxter Storey, the contract caterer. He is unusual in that he is the first man from such a business to take up a Co-ordinator role with the SCAE (he is jointly in charge of the education activity) and also the first to put a serious collection of contract-caterer entrants into the UKBC. He is also a former competitor.

“I am one of those who have used the timing of heats to my advantage in the past – I competed in Lancaster and in Scotland myself, and I have had baristas from London competing in Cheshire, Scotland, and Norwich!

“This year, the date of the London Coffee Festival, where the final is to be held, is what has triggered all this – they have moved the date three weeks earlier, which hasn’t left a lot of time for anyone to plan, so the idea was put forward to run all the heats in one week.  My baristas will suffer –  between now and the competition, in a very difficult labour environment, we will only find very few days available to practise.

“I think the idea of the ‘superheat’ was not communicated well… but the good ones will still rise to the top as they have in the past.”

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A more promising aspect of the current situation is that the new UK Co-ordinator, Steve Leighton, despite his protests that he is only a ‘temporary’ officer, has already given the clue that he has wider ambitions for the role, and that the UK chapter of the SCAE will develop a more wide series of events and projects for the trade in general than it has done in the past.

“My role until the finals is just to make a competition happen – I have little other focus on my mind.

“But the day after the UKBC winner is announced, I start work on events for people other than baristas.  I want to bring the whole UK chapter together with fun events that are not just based around the competition season.”

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This story has also been reported, in a slightly condensed form, on the Caffe Culture news portal, the news site of the UK’s main coffee exhibition.  www.caffeculture.com

British espresso must get better, say BSA awards judges

October 23, 2013

The catering trade’s training of making espresso coffee has to change – because coffee itself has changed so radically in recent years. That is the remarkably challenging view of one of the major winners in this year’s awards from the Beverage Standards Association.

These awards seek to recognise best-practice in the making and serving of hot drinks, and establishments who are judged to make coffee and tea the proper way can win the right to display a sign confirming that their work is up to the trade’s best standards.   However, early in the judging for this year’s awards, the BSA assessors were scathing about the standard of straight espressos served to them, saying that ‘basic espresso will pass – unfortunately, basic is too high for some in our industry’. The point being made was that while straight espressos are still a minority drink in Britain, espresso itself remains the major base ingredient of every popular milky coffee.

The winners of the ‘best drinks’ section of the awards were in agreement, and most notably, Mike Haggerton of the Habitat cafe in Aberfeldy, Scotland, who took the BSA prize for this year’s best espresso.

He won the prize with a coffee roasted by Has Bean of Stafford, and told Coffee House magazine that everybody in the catering trade now needs to re-evaluate just what makes ‘a good espresso’. It remains true, he confirmed, that the hospitality trade in general serves much bad espresso.

“I agree – it’s awful out there! The level of understanding is poor, both amongst the trade and customers. Espresso is still seen as a bitter drink, and 99 per cent of the time it is, in most places.  And that is seen as acceptable, because many people haven’t tasted a well-made espresso brewed with great beans that have been roasted for great flavour.

“Espresso coffee can be better now because of improvements in various areas. There is better farming, there are different roast styles, there are developments in grinding and brewing technology, as well as an increased awareness of the importance a skilled barista plays within the chain. Unfortunately, while this information is well known amongst speciality coffee professionals, the message has so far failed to fully reach ‘normal’ cafes and catering businesses. The common belief still seems to be that making espresso is just a matter of buying some coffee beans, and the machine will do the rest.

“The coffee trade’s trainers need to be re-trained on espresso – and coffee bean suppliers need to stop telling new catering customers that one day’s training is all they need.”

A certain agreement about changing long-accepted standards came from Ian Steel of the Atkinsons café-roastery in Lancaster, which took the BSA’s prize for the best flat white.

“We read the rule book some while ago, but have pretty much torn it up and written our own!” he said  cheerfully.  “Our flat white is actually the same as our cappuccino – a seven ounce cup with a double shot and steamed milk with latte art. The blend is usually 80 per cent Guatemalan Finca la Bolsa, and twenty per cent  Ethiopian Negelle Gorbitu, an unusual natural Yirgacheffe.”

The best filter coffee award went to the Bottle Kiln of Derbyshire, for a Kenyan coffee roasted by Peter James at James Gourmet Coffee.

“The coffee used was a Kenya Kirimahiga AA 2013, from the Muranga region in central Kenya,” the Bottle Kiln told the trade’s news magazine.  “Kirimahiga is both a wet mill and a co-operative society, transparent in ecological and ethical practices. The taste profile is Juicy grapefruit enveloping soft blackcurrant.

“We use the two-cup filter holders – we started with ceramic, and moved to plastic as they retain the heat a lot better, and we place straight onto the cup instead of using a stand, as this also brings in an element of heat loss. Drinking a cooler filter coffee can give a much more interesting profile, but on a commercial basis, heat is unfortunately the big factor.”

The ‘best tea’ prize also went to a barista often noted for his coffee – this was Steve Dyson of Spring Espresso in York. He made the interesting point  that when a customer asks for a ‘green’ tea, that may not be exactly what they want.

“All our Chinese teas come from the Canton tea company. We serve all of these teas in our shop in a Piao tea pot (something which looks similar to a cafetiere, but allows for an upper steeping chamber which allows brewed tea to pass into a lower serving chamber).

“We serve on a wooden tray with a modern Chinese tea cup without handle, and with extra water.  The extra water is given because although Chinese teas appear expensive, £3 in our shop, you can get many infusions from a serving.

“More and more we have an increasing number of customers asking for ‘green tea’. What they often mean is a Chinese-style tea, as a lot of them have heard about the health properties of these teas. If they say ‘green tea’ we will try to suggest other Chinese teas they might like.”

His winner was an oolong from Canton. “As the water cools from the 90c we serve it at, the flavours change and develop – many customers say they get peach or honey flavours.”

Among the BSA’s other ‘best drink’ awards, the Apple Tree of Barton Marina, Staffs, won the best hot chocolate, the Crema espresso bar in Bridlington took the best latte, and Pumphrey’s of Newcastle  won the best cappuccino.

Several cafes won the right to display the BSA’s 5-cup emblem, which represents the association’s judging of the very best practice in beverage preparation and service. They were the Bottle Kiln, the Barista’s Coffee Shop of Chester, Pumphrey’s, the Crema, Spring Espresso, Coffee Fix of Gatley, the Apple Tree, the Hall in Lancaster (that’s also the Atkinson’s roastery), Cartmel Coffee of Grange-over-Sands, and the Habitat in Aberfeldy.

(It was quickly noted by several observers that all the top awards went to the midlands and north… however, there were many southern winners of the next grade, the 4-cup rating).

The retired champion athlete Dame Kelly Holmes presented the awards. She has, of course, ambitions to open a coffee house of her own shortly.

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This item was written by Boughton’s Coffee House magazine, and has appeared on the Caffe Culture news portal, the website allied to the coffee trade’s main show : www.caffeculture.com      

The Beverage Standards Association can be found at www.beveragestandardsassociation.co.uk .

 

 

 

 

At last – is hotel coffee on the way up?

October 17, 2013

After years of enduring criticism from the coffee trade, the hotel industry is finally fighting back – one of the world’s biggest chains has launched the biggest worldwide coffee-related improvement programme that the trade has ever seen. And in a remarkable piece of imaginative re-design, the Le Meridien chain will even re-design its foyers and lobbies in the style of cool coffee shops.

It is quite remarkable how unanimous the coffee trade can be in its criticism of hotel coffee in general – few subjects have united the coffee trade in such unanimity as the appalling standard of hotel coffee in general. Even those big-name brands who are very happy to take business from the hotel sector are unstinting in their criticism – in a recent interview, the managing director of a renowned coffee-roasting company said that while he would often use one famous five-star hotel for business meetings, he would always tell his guests ‘don’t touch the coffee – stick to the mineral water!’

A clue to the existence of the Le Meridien project came recently when the hotel group announced the results of a survey it had commissioned on global coffee and travel habits.  The world’s press did not see what the chain was getting at, preferring to report the findings that coffee surpasses sex as the ideal wake-up call for hotel guests (according to 53 per cent of respondents) and that three-quarters of hotel guests would rather give up alcohol, social media or sex with their spouse for a year if they could replace it with a decent cup of coffee.

It was only the British coffee press which suspected what Le Meridien was really getting at, and Coffee House magazine challenged Brian Povinelli, Global Brand Leader at Le Meridien, as to whether he is leading a charge to change the image of hotel coffee in general.

“We do believe that Le Méridien is one of the first global hospitality brands to implement brand-wide initiatives that will result in a better coffee experience for our guests,” he responded. “In order to meet the growing demands of coffee lovers worldwide, Le Méridien has launched the Master Barista program in over a hundred hotels around the world. We believe that Le Méridien will now be in a unique position to capture those who appreciate a good cup of coffee, and to provide them with experiences that foster that sense of discovery every time they stay with us.”

Why do so many hotels get their coffee so terribly wrong?

“I think coffee is often treated as an afterthought by hoteliers around the world,” answered the Le Meridien executive. “Our guests tell us they want coffee as part of their stay, and coffee certainly adds to the guest satisfaction.  But I think that many hotels have not figured out an operationally effective way to deliver great coffee to guests.

“Rather than putting coffee in the room, we give a voucher guests can redeem for an espresso or latte as one way to try and upgrade the experience. Honestly, some boutique hotels and small chains are better at it, but it’s still a challenge for the industry as a whole.

“What really sets us apart from other hotels, and even the travel industry as a whole, is the way we view coffee.  We view it as an art and an integral part of the brand’s culture, rather than a commodity that a hotel ‘has’ to offer.  The premium coffee experience is often neglected not only in hotels, but also on planes, trains and even restaurants.  We’re hoping our coffee initiatives might help change all that.”

What, then, must the worldwide hotel industry do to correct the situation?

“Identify great partners,” returned Brian Povinelli immediately. “Illy has helped us to crack the code to deliver a consistent, high-quality experience across the globe. Training is key so that all hotel associates, behind the bar or back of house, truly understand how to make a good cup of coffee, and have respect for the process, and Fritz Storm (world barista champion in 2002) has been our consultant on our coffee initiatives.”

The new Master Barista programme will promote certain members of staff to serve as ‘coffee culture ambassadors’ at each Le Meridien hotel. They will be expected to ‘remain fully immersed in current coffee trends while elevating the local community’s awareness of coffee and what makes a great cup’. Each Master Barista will mentor a team of trained hotel baristas, perform as lead coffee server and as point person for all coffee matters in each hotel.

Each Master Barista will go through an extensive online training program developed by Illy’s Università del Caffè in Trieste, and each will have to continue all levels of training on an annual basis.

The most obvious sign of Le Meridien’s reliance on coffee culture comes in design – the chain will transform many of its hotel foyers and lobbies into areas inspired by great coffee lounges. These new foyer areas will be known as Hubs, and will develop the brand’s ‘arrival experience’, says Le Meridien.

“The Hub interprets the traditional lobby concept into a social gathering place, and it is important that we developed an understanding of global coffee trends,” remarked Brian Povinelli.  “The new Master Barista program will bring to life a quintessential European café culture at Le Méridien hotels around the world.”

Growing interest in coffee among top hotels may be illustrated by the number that attended the Caffe Culture show this year – they included buyers from De Vere, the Four Seasons, Hilton, Inter-Continental, Park Plaza , Radisson and the Peninsula Hotel group.  And indeed, visits to the coffee trade show from hoteliers in general did show an increase this year.

 

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This item, written by Coffee House, has also appeared on the Caffe Culture news portal, the website of the coffee trade’s main show. www.caffeculture.com

 

The café trade – the star in a dismal high-street setting?

September 10, 2013

The coffee shop sector continues to grow – but, in two reports out this month, we find that it is the only growth area in an often depressing retail landscape, and once again it has been confirmed that the beverage sector needs to re-appraise the value of the older consumer. 

According to Keynote’s new ‘Coffee and Sandwich Shops’ report, there are over 15,000 coffee shops in the UK, with chains making up around 22 per cent of the market of these. The chains, says Keynote, are ‘displaying apparently unstoppable growth’, and the number of top ten branded coffee shops is expected to grow by over 21 per cent between now and 2017.

The problem with many trade reports is that a reliance on remarkably detailed statistics and surveys tends to cloud the overall picture – however, there are two useful figures in the latest Keynote work.

One is that 54 per cent of those adults surveyed had been to a coffee house in the year to last December, and most went to them less than once a month. This is considerably more realistic than some of the ‘surveys’ which have been released in recent years, some of which have contained wildly improbable figures in an attempt to suggest that most of the UK population spends its days in Starbucks!

It is curious to see that in 2012, ‘the likelihood that a respondent would have visited a coffee shop increased with age’.  The Keynote figures suggest that ‘those aged under 45 were generally less likely than average to have visited a coffee shop in 2012, while those aged above 45 were more likely than average to have done so’.  In detail, 54 per cent of 35-44 year olds said they had visited a coffee shop, and quite remarkably, 59 and of those aged 65 and over had done so.

Indeed, for those who visited a coffee shop four times a week, and for those who visited two or three times a week, the number of over-65s is virtually the same as the number of under-25s… the number of over 65s, and the number 45-65s, who visit once a week is greater than the number of under-25s.

Not surprisingly, Keynote echoes the often-quoted warning that it is going to become more important to look beyond the hipness and coolness of youth, and understand the grey market.

Elsewhere, the latest report from the Local Data Company looks at this analyst’s specialist subject, the make-up of Britain’s high streets.  It regularly reviews 1,900 high streets, to check occupancy rates and the rise and fall of various business sectors.

This autumn, says LDC, one in seven shops remain empty. The shop vacancy rate in 650 town centres remains constant at that figure, and the worst situation is to be found in shopping centres or malls, where the average is 16.1 per cent. This, says LDC, is at an all-time high.

Regional analysis again shows significant variations – vacancy in London is nine per cent, while in the North West it is more than twice that at 20 per cent.

A surprising figure, says LDC, is that while the number of vacant shops in the top 650 town centres is 22,339, there has actually been growth in ‘stock’, or the number of buildings available for shop use – this has gone up by 403 units.

In the specialist food and beverage sector, LDC echoes the observations of Keynote, saying that openings in this sector are three times that of any other business type.

“A significant number of high streets are ‘long term sick’ with little or no prospect of re-occupation as shops,” remarks LDC.  “In the top 650 town centres alone, these empty shops equate to 23 equivalents of Sheffield city centre being devoid of any trading shops. Demolition or alternative use is the only option for these ‘surplus to requirement’ shops.

“To that end restaurants, bars, cafes and even betting shops have come to the rescue as the growth of leisure takes off in our town centres. They will be able to absorb some but not all of this excess stock.”

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Key Note’s 2011 Market Assessment Update, Coffee & Sandwich Shops  is available to purchase from Key Note on 0845-504 0452, by e-mail at sales@keynote.co.uk or at http://www.keynote.co.uk, priced £395.

Local Data Company:  http://www.localdatacompany.com

This story, by Boughton’s Coffee House magazine, also appears on the Caffe Culture news portal, the site allied to the coffee trade’s main show:  www.caffeculture.com

 

British coffee – is it really that bad?

July 24, 2013

The majority of espresso coffees tasted by the assessors in the first stage of this year’s Beverage Standards Association awards have failed to meet expectations.  An analysis of the first hundred venues judged, from a cross-section of sites over England, Scotland and Wales, has shown that 54 per cent of espressos served were unsatisfactory. “Our standards are not ‘pie in the sky’,” head judge Ranald Paterson told Coffee House magazine. “Our assessors do not expect world-shattering quality – ‘basic’ will pass. Unfortunately, basic is too high for some in our industry.”

The point of the BSA awards is not, as in some trade schemes, just to hand out prizes for the sake of it. The point is to highlight the need for good practice in beverages, and to allow professionally-run venues the chance to display something to show that they have been assessed as meeting trade standards in their work – the ambition is that as these accreditations become more familiar on the high street, more venues will strive to achieve them, and the standard of coffee in general will rise.

The awards were launched a few years ago with the ambition of becoming the coffee equivalent of the Michelin stars, but a more realistic parallel, which the trade’s news magazine has made on several occasions, is with the Cask Marque scheme in real-ale pubs.

That scheme is widely credited with the great rise in the standard of real ale over the last twenty years, and it is because of this that several in the coffee trade have not been entirely depressed by the head judge’s findings.

“All the findings were from first-round assessor visits,” Ranald Paterson has confirmed to us. “A small espresso is the one compulsory drink required of all entrants. All 54 per cent failed on extraction time alone, the majority through under-extraction (or, ‘too fast’).  There were parallel faults such as too hot or cold, and incorrect water volume.

“That does not mean that the remaining 46 per cent were all good. Let us say they were ‘acceptable’. Less than five per cent were of our 5-Cup standard.

“A variety of reasons for the unsatisfactory espressos were given, including insufficient training to make espresso, machines awaiting service, and ‘I know it’s bad, but only the service engineer is allowed to alter anything’.

“It is true that espresso on its own is a minority drink in the UK. But it is the base of all the biggest-selling coffee drinks, and inevitably the standard of these drinks is compromised by a bad espresso.”

This is not a new observation. Indeed, it was at a speciality coffee conference a couple of years ago that James Hoffmann, the UK’s first world barista champ, remarked that: ‘ninety-nine per cent of all cups of coffee brewed in the world are bad – maybe ninety-six per cent, but nearly all of them’. And nobody in the coffee trade disagreed with him.

Two companies from the coffee trade have, between them, sponsored well over a hundred entries into the BSA’s awards contest this year. Their reactions to the news were more optimistic than might have been expected.

“I would be saddened to the point of a cliff jump if any results from my own customers were that bad!” said Angus McKenzie of Kimbo Coffee, who imports a range of espresso coffee blends from Naples. “There is a good and a bad side to the policy of sponsoring many entries to a contest – on one hand, results like this would appear to be bad press for the industry, while on the other hand, we feel we may get a more real picture of what is actually happening.

“But… you might imagine that when the Cask  Marque organisation started judging beer back in the 80s, they found ninety per cent of them to be undrinkable, badly-handled beers, from which they went on to massively change practices and knowledge among consumers, suppliers and publicans, as a result of which, we now drink great beer.

“So, let us fly our flag and explain about best practice. This may be the light that starts showing the way.”

It was Jaguar Espresso Systems, a supplier of espresso machines and parts, who sponsored most entrants.

“While 54 per cent of espressos were ‘unsatisfactory’, almost half were satisfactory,” commented Jaguar’s Helen Taylor . “The BSA’s benchmark for ‘satisfactory’ is actually a very good standard.

“The BSA stipulates that every outlet must be assessed on its espresso (and rightly so as the base of all drinks). Perhaps because over 95 per cent of drinks in most coffee shops are milk drinks, cappuccinos and lattes, coffee-shops do not recognise how important the espresso part is, and in many instances are simply not used to serving it. I cannot remember the last time I was in a coffee-shop and the person in front of me ordered an espresso.

“Perhaps more emphasis needs to be given during barista training to espresso making – extraction time (why it is important) and grinder set-up, how (and more importantly, when) to adjust the grinder.

“If the industry is being challenged, standards will hopefully rise as a result of this.”

Reaction elsewhere in the industry has so far ranged from agreement to downright rejection of the findings.  The La Cimbali brand of espresso machines has made the point that the coffee trade now needs to judge the correct balance of manual skills and technological assistance (it has recently introduced a system by which the espresso machine and grinder ‘talk’ to each other and automatically adjust their settings if necessary).   One of the world’s biggest coffee brands has, understandably, commented that instant coffee avoids the problem completely!

Elsewhere, equally predictably, there has been a questioning of the reliability of the assessments.

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This story first appeared in Coffee House magazine and on the Caffe Culture news portal, which is allied to the UK coffee trade’s main show.

Lavazza, Wimbledon, and the world’s biggest coffee shop

June 26, 2013

It has been suggested that Lavazza’s involvement in this year’s Wimbledon tennis tournament might count as the biggest centrally-managed single-site coffee operation in the world – it will involve serving over a million coffees in two weeks.

Lavazza Wimbeldon stencil 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sheer breadth of the promotion is remarkable. There will be 60 Lavazza service points staffed by more than 600 people, working 200 machines – all of these staff will have gone through training at Lavazza immediately before the event.

The supporting advertising campaign has attracted vast attention because it features real Wimbledon tennis officials drinking Lavazza – these officials have never before been allowed to get involved in such a commercial project.

Even the mother of the UK’s big hope, Judy Murray, is likely to join Giuseppe Lavazza on a panel as a Lavazza coffee ambassador.

There is a rather clever Wimbledon stencil for the ‘dusting’ of coffee drinks, which depicts crossed racquets and the slogan ‘Lavazza for Wimbledon’. It is not, we have discovered, trick photography – the stencil actually exists.

(There is also, we feel duty-bound to report, a slightly-silly online contest in which consumers are asked to create ‘a new tradition’ by creating a match between coffee drinks and contemporary British customs, such as drinking a macchiato through a moustache, to win Wimbledon tickets, the limited-edition version of the A Modo Mio Wimbledon capsule machine or iTunes cards.)

Quite typically, the British arm of Lavazza has been perfectly happy to sweep away the hype and PR-speak, and talk about the practicalities of the event. The media machine has said that there will be 600 baristas serving a million perfect coffees, which marketing director Barry Kither translates into practical trade terms:

“Yes, we did serve over a million coffees last year. Yes, there will be 600 people serving, and yes, we will have trained them all, even though we have to bring in a team of 15 from Italy to go with our own core of qualified trainers. To call the 600 all ‘baristas’ might be going a little far, because while the traditional espresso machines are all manned by trained baristas, there is a vast number of bulk-brew machines which we have to monitor, but which don’t require the same training. There are 200 machines in all – the hospitality areas have A Modo Mios (the Lavazza capsule machines), and the other areas have everything from bulk brewers to bean-to-cups. We know that the capsule machines will be the least of our problems!”

And yet, there is an almost evangelical element of this – Lavazza is actually sending trained coffee workers back out into the wider catering trade, which must be helping to develop the cause of decent coffee in the bigger world.

“The interesting thing about the staff training is that Wimbledon always gets the very best catering staff. These are the absolute cream of the catering trade, and they’re a pleasure to train… and some of the ones who come out best in barista training are those who have never before had their hands on a coffee machine!

“But this can’t be far off being the biggest coffee shop in the world – this truly is a massive circus, and the coffee outlets range from the staff canteens to the players’ lounge, which is quite wonderful, to the queues outside.”

That is a reference to one of the most unusual service areas. The queues at Wimbledon, particularly the ones full of hopeful non-ticket holders, are themselves known worldwide… so Lavazza has its own arrangements for those who have not yet made it into the ground.

“The Q café is for the queue, and there actually is a counter and machines. We either take the people a coffee, or we will mark their place and take them to our café for a free coffee. This year, we shall also be giving samples, which you are not allowed to do inside the ground – but this is outside. The famous queue is now quite a civilised procedure – it’s held in the golf club, and it is actually a nice queue!”

It has become customary for Lavazza to create a special drink for the event. This again, says Barry Kither, is something which has to be approached on a practical brewing basis, and not be carried away with the PR hype.

“The special drinks are only served at a couple of outlets. We have learned a lot about these things – last year, someone created a signature drink in the Wimbledon colours, and we had to explain that you cannot hope to deliver a drink like that in one of the busiest catering environments you’ll ever see… some drinks are a training-room trick.”

The one which actually will be served is the Lavazza Cappuccino Special 2013.

This involves a ‘cappuccino mousse’ (Lavazza has been keen on its coffee mousses ever since it did a series of experiments on them with the noted chef Ferran Adria). This mousse is pre-prepared (cream, espresso and gum syrup) and kept to hand in a fridge.

The Cappuccino Special is a single espresso, 80ml steamed milk, a topping of the mousse, and a small dusting of cocoa powder. Preparation time is reckoned to be 45 seconds.

This story is by Boughtons Coffee House magazine, and also appears on the Caffe Culture news portal, the news arm of the coffee trade’s main exhibition: http://www.caffeculture.com

Lavazza invents the new kind of coffee cup

May 29, 2013

Lavazza Ecup 4a

Lavazza, whose attitude to ‘design’ in the Italian sense has led to such fascinatingly diverse projects as the world-famous annual calendar illustrated by world-leading photographers, the cappuccino foam, and the spoon with a hole in it for stirring espresso without disturbing the crema, has produced another unexpected invention – the ceramic cup shaped for the pouring of espresso.

This is the E-cup, which includes three unexpected design features, only one of which is immediately apparent.

This is the fact that it has no handle. Instead, it has two slight hollows in the wall providing a grip for the fingers – in the language used by Italian designers, this ‘allows even more intense contact between container and content’, and is ‘minimalism and purity in a simple coffee cup’.

The other features are not obvious.

One is that it has a double wall that insulates the coffee. The second is that the cup is asymmetrical – the inner wall on one side is steeper than the opposite wall.

The point of this, explains Lavazza, is to ‘allow the coffee to fall gently and fluidly from the espresso machine’s spout to the bottom of the cup… the E-cup then collects the espresso gently, just like two hands joined to protect the content’. In practical terms, this means that there is no breaking up of the crema.

‘This creates a timeless no-nonsense cup, dedicated exclusively to espresso and offering the irresistible experience of the slow flow of coffee, which respects preparation times, protects perfectly the coffee’s aroma and solid consistency and reflects the ritual nature of Italian-style espresso’, says Lavazza.

Interestingly, the saucer also follows the asymmetric theme – one half of the saucer inclines towards the other, exactly like the inside of the cup.

An additional feature of the E-cup is the use of the discreet ‘white on white’ branding on the outer wall. This is so discreet, it is quite possible to miss the branding entirely – however, says Lavazza’s British office, there has been a quality improvement to this etching, in that it now remains absolute pristine after a lot of washing.

The overall result is of an extremely stylish espresso cup, although the very best description is probably most entertainingly left to the Italians:

‘The clean and coherent design enhances the complementary nature of the two objects: the cup and saucer seem to blend into a single austere and seductive unit. The exceptional nature of the E-cup is revealed gradually, at the same slow meditative pace with which a good cup of espresso should be savoured.’

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This story, by Boughton’s Coffee House magazine, has also appeared on the Caffe Culture news portal, the news site allied to the coffee trade’s main exhibition. http://www.caffeculture.com

Fairtrade to run coffee-themed autumn promotion

May 29, 2013

The Fairtrade Foundation, whose annual awareness Fortnight in the spring has never really fulfilled its possible potential with regard to the promotion of hot beverages, is to run a second event this autumn concentrating solely on ethically-sourced coffee. The Foundation is taking the event sufficiently seriously to say that its backing will be ‘a media spend twice that of Fairtrade Fortnight ’.

The campaign is a two-week one and the major incentive to attract public attention is the opportunity to win a trip to an exotic coffee-growing origin (a reasonable guess at the location would seem to be Peru).

The event is being largely driven by the enthusiasm of Fairtrade’s product manager Kate Lewis, who has herself just returned from a visit to origin in Central America. The trip and the promotional event, she says, are both more aimed at delivering trade support than Fairtrade has been known for in the past.

“We have been to Costa Rice, Honduras and Nicaragua, partly to see what’s happening with leaf rust, and partly to respond to requests from a lot of our trade customers, who want to know more – they say: ‘we know what Fairtrade is, but what’s the real impact?’“

This, she acknowledges, is a change of emphasis for Fairtrade. The organisation’s promotional work in the past has concentrated too much on consumers recognising the Fairtrade Mark, and perhaps too little on practical support for the beverage trade.

“A lot of our story in the past has been consumer-focussed, and the consumers want the touchy-feely stories – but the trade wants to know about productivity and quality,” acknowledges Kate Lewis. “So, our meetings over there were structured around what the trade here wants to know – crop yields and so on. So this time we are not bringing back pictures of grinning farmers, but of their nurseries and organic farms.

“We have been looking into the question of ‘the thin months’,” (the periods in which even Fairtrade-supported farmers are alleged to go without food, highlighted by Coffee House magazine last year), “and we have found that a lot of farmers have used their Fairtrade premium to create new sources of income, such as growing bananas or oranges – not for export, but for their local sales. Some co-ops have used the Fairtrade premium to create low-interest loan programmes.

“A lot of conversations were about leaf rust. We now have some positive stories about organic methods improving yields, which is a huge effect. When we raised the premium, the extra was to be used for investment in quality – and it has been. We have found that they are experimenting, and one co-op in Costa Rica has used the premium for a test plantation to try out crop-resistant diseases.”

The awareness campaign in September and October is intended to not just promote the concept of Fairtrade coffee, but to promote the coffee trade in the eyes of the public.

“It is a consumer-facing campaign, but to be used as a tool for catering businesses, because it will be driven through point-of-sale at outlets.

“For the public, the theme is to buy a Fairtrade product, get a code, go to the website, and win a trip to origin. There is a celebrity involvement – the consumer views online a film of the celebrity, and has to guess where they are.

“We are doing it because the trade has asked us to communicate the Fairtrade coffee message. We have tried to make this eminently suitable for independent coffee-shops, because the requirement from them is limited – we are providing the free point-of-sale material. We have really taken on board the trade feedback, and this is the coffee-specific campaign they wanted.

“We may have to tailor it further, but at the moment the feedback we are getting suggests that the trade likes the format.”

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This story, by Coffee House magazine, has appeared on the Caffe Culture Portal, the news site run by the UK’s main coffee trade show. http://www.caffeculture.com


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