The funniest lessons of the coffee-house trade

The funniest business book ever written about the coffee house trade has been published – it is ‘Coffee-house Capers’, credited to Kaldi the Goatherd, and it has been launched at the British café trade’s big annual show, Caffe Culture.

Kaldi is the boy who, according to coffee history, first discovered the coffee bean. The name has been adopted by the writers of Boughton’s Coffee House, the news magazine for people who run coffee houses and tea rooms, and which is popular in the beverage trade for two main things – an irreverent disregard for the self-important pomposity of certain players at the top level of the industry, combined with a keen appreciation of what is really important to the sharp end of the beverage trade.

The magazine says that its job is ‘to entertain, inform and enthuse’ the coffee trade – and in this book, it achieves all three, to a quite admirable degree.

This is a book which pulls very few punches, while putting across many sound and sensible business pointers. The chapter ‘You don’t know it all…’, which centres on customer service in the café trade, will have beverage operators helpless with laughter at some of the things which happen in the business, while at the same time wondering: ‘have my staff ever done that?’

The chapter ‘Here is the News’ records many of the most astonishing news-making episodes things to have happened in the café trade over the years – Coffee House magazine was the first to scan local and regional beverage news from across the world, and is the magazine with a knack for picking up the most bizarre aspects of the trade. The book discusses, with some fascination, why so many café workers in America have tried to rob their own coffee-shops, generally with spectacularly unsuccessful but extremely funny results.

And typically, Coffee House magazine is the one which realised how certain tea-brand promotions managed to inadvertently create a link between Sex In The City, ‘teabagging’, and ginger nuts… a link which is probably best not too graphically discussed in a family magazine!

More seriously, the writers ask, pointedly, why such important incidents as ‘the Sainburys explosion’, and the allied question of espresso-machine safety inspections, have received so little attention throughout the beverage trade. Why, the writers want to know, did the beverage trade completely miss the opportunity to put strong representations to the Portas Report on the state of the national high street, at the exact time when the trade is under fire for saturating the high street with coffee shops? Why is the marketing ability of certain beverage trade associations rated as ‘roughly the equivalent of a high-street charity shop’?

Equally pointedly, the book tears strips off the beverage industry’s ability to promote itself through advertising and public relations, and the big brands do not get away unscathed – but the writers do so in a thoroughly entertaining way which highlights the silliness of so much trade advertising, and the uselessness of so much public-relations nonsense in the beverage trade. Do the small-business owners who run cafes really want sanitised PR nonsense, or do they want real information which is important to their business, ask the writers. Do suppliers to the trade realise that they are paying for such a vast amount of PR silliness?

There are parts of this book which will make some people in the beverage trade uncomfortable, by raising questions which really need to be addressed. There are very many parts which will make players in the trade laugh out loud.

The great value of this book is in the combination of the two – ‘Coffee-house Capers’ succeeds in spotlighting sound questions about the tea and coffee business, while raising a vast number of laughs. Who would ever have thought that the beverage trade could be so entertaining?

*

“Funny, insightful, and full of great lessons” – Angus McKenzie, managing director, Kimbo Coffee.

*

Coffee-house Capers, by Kaldi, Ian Boughton, Trudi Roark and Scoop Malone, is published by Boughton’s Coffee House magazine at £8.99, to include postage. Details and orders: http://www.coffee-house.org.uk

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