Coffee and beverage trade association plans relaunch

The Beverage Standards Association is to undergo a re-launch. At its AGM in Lichfield next week, the new chairman will set out a programme of ideas intended to create a trade association which will mean something to the everyday caterer, and which will feature some surprising aspects – including the suggestion that the City and Guilds VRQ in barista skills should be seen as the absolute minimum standard for anyone whose job is the service of hot beverages.
Steve Slark 4a lowres
The new chairman is Steve Slark (above), the managing director of European Watercare.

“I am not a typical trade association person,” he told us. “I recently went to a meeting of another trade association in this industry which I visited for the first time in seven years, to find that nothing had changed, with the same people still pushing the same interests, and the same people still slapping each other on the back.

“In the BSA, we are an association with new ideas, and I think they are all do-able.”

Among his first intentions are to re-vamp the BSA’s café accreditation scheme, and give new emphasis to the BSA’s training efforts.

The Association was a prime mover in the establishment of the City and Guilds VRQ in barista work, which was recently the subject of a slightly dismissive comment by a famous coffee-house chain, which had launched its own training scheme. That chain made the remark that: ‘there is a VRQ course in barista skills, but it is basic – we want an apprenticeship whereby a graduate could walk into any of the best cafes in the world and be able work alongside their baristas’.

Rather than being upset by this, the new BSA chairman says that this just shows how all the different levels of the trade have to be catered for, and in response argued that a vast amount of work is still needed in the great mainstream trade.

“There are many facets to coffee, and while I understand the role of Q-Graders and those at that level, I also see that there is a vast beverage industry which is made up of people who are given a few hours’ training, and are then expected to go out there and keep customers happy.

“For them, this is very much like getting a driving licence – you get the licence before you get to build up the experience. Here, we are representing the ‘common man’ of the coffee industry, and some of our industry training is for the aspiring world champions and is not for Joe Bloggs at the local garden centre coffee shop. So… does a City and Guilds qualify me for a job at Ozone… or indeed, does it over-qualify me for a job at certain chains?

“This brings up the interesting question of who this industry is catering for – just for the ones with the well-developed palates, or for the masses with a taste for decent coffee? I am looking right across the board – I want to see the BSA helping raise standards in any kind of café.”

To this end, he has made the challenging suggestion that the BSA and C&G standards must be promoted as the absolute minimum level for anyone serving hot beverages.

“Basic City and Guilds training should be a compulsory minimum for all users of traditional coffee machines when used to generate revenue for the majority of coffee providers, such as high street cafes, garden centre cafes and the like. The City and Guilds NVQ course offers everything that the industry should aspire to as a minimum standard.”

Very much the same kind of thinking goes into the re-styling of the BSA’s accreditation scheme. This project, while it was originally developed with the creditable aim of recognising cafes who prepare their drinks in accordance with industry best-practice, suffered from a little over-enthusiasm when it was launched as ‘the Oscars of the beverage trade’ (every industry award is now described as the Oscars!) As a result, the intention of highlighting cafes who make hot beverages in the best prescribed manner got rather lost, and the scheme never did win widespread attention.

Steve Slark proposes to draw attention back to the question of mainstream industry standards, making accreditation more accessible, and more recognised among the trade and the public.

“It’s clear to me that we have to be opening up the entire industry for possible accreditation, and at a reduced application cost. I want anyone who is interested in serving a decent standard of tea and coffee to be able to apply for this, and to be able to display a recognition as being someone who cares about serving beverages the right way.

“It all needs to be more contemporary, to become a respected accreditation.”

Rather unexpectedly, he will bring back the concept of trade shows. The BSA used to have an annual show, and gave up the idea after that event finally wheezed to a slow death… but the new chairman sees a different way.

“I shall propose two pop-up trade events, at low cost to the participant members.

“In a sense, this idea is creative plagiarism – I recently went to a very interesting trade exhibition, which consisted of thirty or forty exhibitors, each of whom was allowed little more than a table-top. The event began with a speaker, then the show opened at mid-day, and packed up around five.

“It cost each exhibitor very little, and it wasn’t a whole day out of the lives of those involved. You throw your rep in the car to work a one-day pop-up, settle on a formula that works, and move it round the country.

“People have been ‘exhibited out’, and are fed up of wasting a whole week and a vast amount of money on two-day shows. I thought – ‘this is the way exhibitions should go’.”
Rather unexpectedly, the BSA now also has international ambitions, and may open up partner organisations in Scandinavia and Ireland. What is it about the BSA that inspires these people to start up something similar?

“I have had expressions of interest,” confirms Steve Slark. “In some ways, Ireland has been in front of the UK in speciality coffee, and they are running the World of Coffee event in Dublin next year. In other aspects, we have been ahead of them. The same applies to Scandinavia – I’ve spent a lot of time out there as well, and while the perception of the area is that it is certainly one of the leading coffee regions of the world, again we have the question of who represents the common man of the industry, as opposed to the elite or the geeks.”

Such activity from an incoming chairman is, Steve Slark acknowledges, slightly revolutionary.

“A lot of feedback from BSA members is that they don’t see us out and about, doing things. I am of the opinion that the BSA should speak out on matters, I want the trade to see that we are doing things, and so this is, in a way, a re-launch for us.”

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