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

Canny Jack’s new tea

May 29, 2013

Northumberland tea

One of the most famous footballers to come from the north-east of England has appeared in support of a new ‘regional’ tea brand – Jack Charlton, star of the country’s only team to win the World Cup, has become the public face of Northumberland Tea. With a rather neat tag line, he is quoted as calling it ‘the best cup since 1966’!

The concept of ‘regional’ tea has been used regularly in recent years – the first and most successful use of the strategy remains Yorkshire Tea, produced by Taylors of Harrogate. However, it is now possible to find Lancashire Tea and even Welsh Tea.

The Northumberland version is created by local people Bill and Helen Logan with James Pogson, who says that the product is not just any old black tea, but features a distinct advantage over certain other ‘everyday’ teas.

The blend is largely Kenyan, with a secondary proportion of Assam, and a minor amount of Ceylon – these are the constituents of the classic English Breakfast blend. However, says James Pogson, the big difference with this tea is that the ingredients are those three teas, and nothing else.

“The blend we use is a classic blend that was used successfully by many tea companies since the advent of the tea bag in the early 1960s,” he says. “But if you were to buy a few boxes of various brand leaders’ tea, and tore open their tea bags, you would see that there is a proportion of off-grade ‘reducers’ that are in there to keep the costs of the tea down.

“These teas are often from poorer African countries, although Vietnam, Argentina and Brazil also produce teas that are cheap enough to bring the cost of a blend down without significantly altering the look of it in the cup, but the taste will be just noticeable. These types of reducers are used at up to 30 per cent by some of the well-known brands.

“We are committed to the non-use of reducers, thereby providing our customers with a better quality, more ‘honest’ blend of teas.”

The personality who appears on the packs is one of the most recognisable English footballers, who is another local man, and a friend of the tea marketeers. The product will also support a cause with another north-eastern footballing connection, the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation – a donation is made for every box of tea sold. The first box of Northumberland Tea to come off the production line was presented to Sir Bobby’s widow, Lady Robson.

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

The coffee culture is still on the rise

May 11, 2013

Reaction to last month’s London Coffee Festival has sparked more debate over whether speciality coffee has yet reached the crest of its wave, or whether the public’s enthusiasm still has some way to go – and if so, how the hospitality trade should be prepared to respond to even greater consumer interest in coffee. The public response to the event surprised even many of the exhibitors, when they heard that the attendance was 16,209, of which 10,127 were consumers and 6,082 were trade visitors.

These figures were indeed surprising – even the number of ‘trade’ visitors, members of the leisure industry who turned up to see what is happening in the coffee world, were claimed to be higher than the coffee trade’s own specialist business-to-business shows.

The public attendance figure was quite astonishing, even in an industry which has been often reported to be dominating the high street.

The trade press which serves the beverage industry has been suspicious of some of the more wilder and over-enthusiastic figures which have plagued the coffee trade in recent years – three years ago, a survey commissioned by one of the biggest coffee chains attempted to show that 35 per cent of the British population go into coffee shops once a week, and just last month a daily paper reported that ‘eight in ten of the population drink coffee every day… spending an average of £2.88 per cup’.

These figures, which simply do not relate in practical terms to the ‘economically active’ population, are a combination of exaggerated ‘research’ and loose reporting, but it is certainly true that the public enthusiasm for coffee does continue to soar – and it is true that at the London Coffee Festival, crowds really did stretch round the block for each of the three sessions held over four days.

What drew these crowds is still unclear. Enthusiasm for coffee in the ‘gourmet’ or ‘connoisseur’ sense was probably behind many of them, as it is correctly said that the general public is these days more knowledgeable and demanding of its coffee than ever before. Equally, the social aspect may be responsible for having drawn many of them – the community role of the coffee shop continues to be higher than ever before. Putting the two together, the demand for truly good coffee in a truly desirable social space, is something which certain parts of the hospitality trade have yet to catch up with.

There was been much to learn from interaction between trade and consumers at the London event, organiser Jeffrey Young told Coffee House magazine. One clear observation was that many trade suppliers felt a sense of coming together with the public in a common enthusiasm for a ‘movement’ surrounding the concept of great coffee and the coffee-house culture.

“The increase in standards of quality coffee and café environments has made the cafe culture appealing to the British consumer lifestyles,” remarked Jeffery Young. “There is an important social aspect to the café culture – people go to coffee venues not just for coffee and food, but also to be around other human beings, and this is a compelling factor as to why this sector has been so robust, even in recessions.

“At the same time, consumers are curious and interested about coffee, which is a fascinating product, as part of the overall growth in ‘food culture’.”

At the London Coffee Festival, several exhibitors agreed that the hospitality trade must now respond even more to the enthusiasm being shown by consumers.

At La Cimbali, a maker of Italian espresso machines, marketing manager Matt Tuffee reported that the general public displayed a genuine interest in both coffee and equipment.

“We had wanted to avoid a pointless queue of people just wanting free coffee. We got around this by engaging in conversation with every person that asked for coffee, in demonstrating what we were showing… and this seemed to get a really good response.

“For the trade to capitalise on this interest, we need to keep the momentum up.”

Union Hand-Roasted, a pioneer of speciality coffee whose festival appearance involved a continuously well-attended series of live coffee-roasting demonstrations, roaster Jeremy Torz suggested that the London festival demonstrated the coffee trade and the public getting together in a way which embodies the spirit of the modern coffee culture. This, he acknowledged, is something which the wider hospitality trade could do well to recognise and react to.

“From the public profile, most of the people we spoke to had a genuine interest in coffee, and probably represent the emerging trends of the ‘early adopters’. Both the trade and public visitors reflected a true emergence of the coffee sub-culture.

“It seems that all we feel about the ‘boutique’ and ‘third wave’ coffee is now slowly coming true, and that the tipping point we hope for in creating a new sense about coffee, and new standards for coffee in the UK, now has a real chance of breaking through.”

This is not, he suggested, simply a minority interest. It was that ‘sub-culture’ interest in gourmet coffee, popularly known as the ‘third wave’ of the modern coffee market, which recently inspired the big high street coffee chains to raise their game significantly. Now, the hospitality trade in general could do well to look closely and seriously at what is really happening in coffee, and to realise that coffee is no longer something they can regard as a commodity product… the general consumer now expects something truly special in return for their two or three pounds a cup.

If the hospitality trade clicks to this, the standard of coffee in the UK could be in for another quantum leap.

“Let’s not forget that the big coffee players looked very closely at what was happening around the edges, and reacted accordingly,” agreed Torz.

“There are exciting times ahead!”

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Suspended coffee – a charitable row begins, and inspires a new trade version

April 5, 2013

Angus and Louie low-res
Angus McKenzie (left) and Louie Salvoni

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A remarkable row has cropped up over the recent craze for ‘coffee in suspense’, the practice which originated in Italy and which has now been taken up by several British coffee shops after becoming widely-spread over the internet. At the same time, an imaginative variant of the idea has been created to benefit Shelter from the Storm, a charity supported by many in the coffee trade.

The ‘suspense’ practice, which was first reported in the UK by Coffee House magazine last year, is rather similar to the ‘paying it forward’ practice already familiar in the USA, but probably originates from Italy. The ‘suspense’ coffee is made available when a customer tells a café that he will buy one for himself and another to be ‘put up on the board’. It remains there ‘in suspense’ until a needy person comes into the café, and asks if there are any free items available – some coffee houses promote the fact that they offer such pre-paid items.

In recent days, there has been quite a rush of cafes taking the idea up – Suspended Coffee Sheffield has become a movement, set up on a Facebook page, and a couple of local coffee shops and tea-rooms have already become involved. The same has happened in Scotland. In Bedford, Frescoes has begun its own project, and in Coventry, a community café has taken the idea up.

And then it was reported by one of the daily papers that Starbucks had followed the trend.

However, not everyone is in favour of the idea. Doubts began to be raised when it was pointed out that the purchase price paid by a generous donor does not actually go entirely to the needy recipient – the vast majority of the price of a coffee goes to a café’s costs, and to their profit. Thus, it is argued, a café offering the ‘suspense’ facility makes a profit from any coffee put up on the board, and therefore is not being entirely charitable.

There has been a deal of support for a blog written by Karen Mercer of the My Coffee Stop café at Enfield Chase station, who has come out against the idea.

My Coffee Stop is known in its area for supporting both local community projects and local business projects, and highlighted a different aspect of the scheme. On her blog ‘My Coffee Stop Stories’, Karen wrote:

“The idea has gone viral all over Facebook and people are loving the concept, it really pulls at their heart strings and you’d think that coffee shop owners and large chains would be rushing to support, it wouldn’t you?

“They do NOT! But why not, when it seems like such a brilliant idea, an idea that pumps money into the coffee shop, makes people that pay for the coffee feel good, and gives a little help to a homeless soul?

“I am completely against it. We have spent hours discussing how our coffee shop can be of benefit to the community, but when we heard about the suspended coffee scheme, we had a bitter taste in our mouth and a sadness in our hearts… although this idea seems like a good one on the surface, we would never ever do it.

“Part of the spirit of owning a coffee shop is that you can pass support onto others when you can. I believe most people in coffee shops will give a coffee and a bite to eat to a homeless person, without such a scheme being in place. Plenty of independents and chains do the same. There doesn’t need to be a scheme, as most people running coffee shops have a really big heart and sense of community.

“Do you really think that if a homeless person walks into a coffee shop, they get turned away, if there is no ‘suspended coffee’? I see it as part of the pleasure of owning a coffee shop that if someone can’t afford a coffee, they’re homeless, destitute, depressed, we can offer them coffee, water, tea, soup and a little snack to take away.”

And then, she referred to the dangerous matter of the profit element.

“I really, really wouldn’t want my customers to pay for what I see as quite a spiritual thing. We have a responsibility to share our success with others that need help in our society. It would feel dirty to get money from someone and make a profit from someone else’s misery.

“To set up a scheme like this and get everyone to say ‘ah’ and get them to pay for coffees that they don’t know are ever going to be provided stinks of scam and it’s not necessary.

“If you truly want to support these individuals, either ask what coffee they would like, and take it to them, or make sure you visit your independent coffee store more regularly, in the knowledge that most of them would give out coffees upon request and at discretion to homeless people. Book an appointment with yourself and friends, to meet in your local independent coffee shop, buy them all coffees, introduce them to a great business, help the business to thrive, so they can keep trickling down the love and support that you have given, into their community.

“That’s sustainable!”

Her argument drew many comments – some people argued that to be seen doing good in any way is a great thing, others argued against it, and one even said that the supermarket practice of inviting customers to donate tins of food was simply a profit-making scam. Some agreed with the concept that any decent coffee shop owner would donate a drink to a needy person, others said this would not happen in business.

(A barista from another country, writing with tongue firmly in cheek, suggested that he could make a nice profit from the extra coffees, and even more if he did not give any away at all – as the homeless are unlikely to be reading Facebook, he suggested, they will not know the scheme exists, and are therefore unlikely to come in and claim a ‘suspense’ coffee!)

One of the cafe owners working the scheme, Kevin Kavanagh of Frescoes, readily acknowledged that there are potential problems, and that he had attempted to balance the altruistic aspect with the commercial needs of a business.

“I did think of the other aspects, and it’s a tricky one,” he said. “However, we open Christmas Day morning for the homeless, and we make no charge for things like that whatsoever. So I see the ‘suspended coffee’ idea as enabling Joe Public to do something… if Joe wishes to. If you like, I’m creating the opportunity for people to help the homeless in their local area.

“The other commercial consideration is that it’s important not to harm the business by clogging up the day-to-day operation with lots of people after a free coffee… so I am doing it as a 12oz takeaway from 8-30 to noon only.”

Meanwhile, within the supply side of the coffee trade, a different version of the idea was devised.

Angus McKenzie, managing director of Kimbo Coffee, came up with the idea of a ‘suspense’ coffee which benefits Shelter from the Storm, the homeless shelter in London founded by Louie Salvoni of Espresso Service and supported by many in the trade.

McKenzie’s idea was to set up a text donation scheme – by texting a code ‘CAFÉ13£2’ to 70070, a donation of £2 would be given direct to the Shelter, and that donation would be entirely given over to supplying cups of coffee to those in need over the shelter’s counter. As the Shelter is a non-profit charity, there would be no question that any portion of the donation could be used for any profitable purpose.

The suggestion was taken up so quickly that the text line was open within hours… and one of its earliest supporters was indeed Karen Mercer from My Coffee Stop, who had raised concerns over other schemes.

“We have done away with any doubt about where the money goes,” said Louie Salvoni, of the Shelter.

Curiously, Louie Salvoni did suggest to Starbucks that they take up the idea in support of the Shelter, but the giant has taken another route.

“Coming soon, when a customer buys a suspended coffee we will provide coffee to that value to our long-standing community-charity partner Oasis, which will distribute it through community hubs across the UK,” the company announced.

The man who had the idea in support of Shelter from the Storm, Angus McKenzie of Kimbo, said he understood the concerns raised by My Coffee Stop.

“I know Karen is very central to her community and she simply grudges the notion of a genuine and existing concept becoming branded and stolen, to the delight of the big social corporate responsibility departments of chains,” he remarked. “In the high street chain model, there would be an outcry if the £2 donated by one consumer really meant that the costs of a coffee – perhaps 23p – were passed to a needy recipient and the remainder went towards operating profits of the host coffee shop!

“So, our inverse scenario promises a very simple idea – your ‘micro donation’ of £2 goes entirely to the charity and is further enhanced by charity tax relief, so the shelter can give even more in a place where the needy get shelter, warmth, nourishment plus love, compassion and TLC. We’ve taken the very best human spirit and kindness and simply channelled it directly, cleanly, transparently, to those who need it.

“How fitting that in April, as it snowed on the streets of London in the bitter, bitter cold, chunks of £2 started flying in to help. It’s heart-warming, it’s bloody great, it’s real and it’s happening!”

This story also appears on the Caffe Culture news portal

Bewleys of Ireland buys top UK coffee roaster

April 2, 2013

Bolling Coffee of Yorkshire, creator of the high-profile Grumpy Mule brand, has been acquired by Bewley’s, the giant coffee business of Dublin.

“We have had a lot of interest,” Bolling’s managing director Ian Balmforth told Coffee House. “We accepted Bewley’s because they are honest, seriously good coffee people with integrity, and are absolutely right for the future of Bolling.”

Both companies have a high reputation in the direct-sourcing of coffee, which in its correct form is the extremely deep and thorough system of sourcing which involves a true ‘relationship’ between roaster and farmer.

“Bewley’s think we work in the correct way for the UK market,” said Ian Balmforth. “Their direct sourcing is an example of best-practice in the industry, and at the Allegra conference last week I said from the stage that I was bloody well fed up with some of the nonsense that some brands talk about ‘direct sourcing’… and I got a round of applause for it!

“We have talked for a long time about ‘beyond Fairtrade’ and ‘beyond Rainforest’, and the way Bewley’s works and the way we work joins up a lot of very good dots in good direct-sourcing practice. We all see sustainable, traceable, ethical sourcing as the future of the industry.”

Bollings will come under the direct control of Brendan McDonnell of Bewley’s as managing director; Ian Balmforth will adopt a commercial director role, allowing him to undertake more commitments outside the company.

“This is my baby, and I’m not going anywhere,” he told us firmly. “I’m just not working seventy hours a week any more!”

This story was first exclusively reported by Boughton’s Coffee House. http://www.coffee-house.org.uk