Cutting edge reporting from the Telegraph

There was a most unusual article today in the Telegraph that you can view here.  I’m probably going to do myself no favours by picking up on a few problems with the article, but also in the piece there are some really important points that probably require a longer post that this.

The most avant-garde espresso experts now say that crema is rubbish. Apparently, when you really concentrate on the taste, crema is very bitter. Those in the know treat it like scum, and skim it away before drinking.

This ‘espresso-stripping’ started in fashionable Copenhagen at a place called the Coffee Collective, but it’s now spread to London where its leading proponent is James Hoffmann, a spiky-haired coffee geek who looks a bit like Gareth Malone.

Why yes, of course – I am absolutely the leading proponent of this.  It is all I talk about.  I never drink espresso with crema.  Oh wait, nope…. It actually appears that I just made a video over 2 and a half years ago about how removing it was interesting and worth some discussion or experimentation.  Cutting edge reporting there….. 1

One other quote set off a little train of thought in my head – about which I am happy to be proved wrong.  I agree with the quote from Tim, but not the inference that follows.

Williams agrees that the world of London coffee is evolving at such a pace it’s hard to keep up. ‘When I arrived in 2006 a good cup of filter coffee couldn’t be found.’ Now, thanks in part to antipodeans like him, London has become a mecca for coffee purists.

I think antipodeans have had a massive positive effect on London.  However, I would argue that the vast majority of places pushing good filter coffee in London are not Antipodean owned business.  Just a thought.

Onto the really important stuff – that merits its own separate post and discussion really.  (I’m going to skip my quibbles about us going too far with Penny University  It turns out Tim never said this….).  This is something that I agree completely with:

Williams also thinks the current obsession with new gadgetry has become a distraction. Japanese syphons can be a gimmick, in his view. ‘It would be ridiculous to walk into a wine bar and order it by the device the cork’s been removed with!’

I agree.  I think selling the brew method is bad idea.  By this, I mean promoting the way we make a cup of coffee as part of the way we sell it.  We should, I believe, be selling the coffee itself first and foremost.  The price should match the experience and no brew method improves a cup of coffee, it doesn’t make it more valuable. You can argue that “experience” has a worth, a value – so the engagement of a syphon means that it can be sold for more.  I believe that this leads to bad cups of coffee, sold at high prices, justified by the spectacle.  As for argument of theatre – how many performances of exactly the same thing would you pay to see before you got bored?  If I price by the spectacle of the brew then it gets less and less valuable the more often I buy it – not great encouragement for repeat purchases and customer loyalty.

I promise to write up something a little more developed on this topic soon, but in the meantime I probably won’t be rushing out to buy a copy of the Telegraph.  As for the aeropress – I think it’s great, and I swear I once saw a box with a picture of Gareth Malone on the side…

  1. I should add that I didn’t speak to this journalist and had no input into this article  ↩︎

6 Comments

  1. “As for argument of theatre – how many performances of exactly the same thing would you pay to see before you got bored?”
    Amen, brother!

  2. “I think selling the brew method is bad idea.  By this, I mean
    promoting the way we make a cup of coffee as part of the way we sell it.
     We should, I believe, be selling the coffee itself first and foremost. ”

    I agree but what about shops that sell these brewing devices? Isn’t promoting a certain device/brew method a good way to get customers to buy one? Show them how to use it, and then they might get excited and want one for their own home, all while making a strong connection with the customer?

    Or, maybe shops shouldn’t sell brewing devices to start with? :

  3. Dear Gareth!
    Have to agree that the theatre of the brewing method, (while interesting for customers who haven’t seen it before) has a limited value as a sales “enhancement”. My experience in the BrewBar was that second time ordering, customers just asked for, siphon or V60 or chemex, then sat down and waited for their drinks to be brought. People just want nice coffee.

  4. I think it’s good to have alternative brew methods in coffee shops. It keeps and interest for regular consumers, it’s exciting to watch people make a nice coffee from an unusual contraption, and its good for the shops themselves by promoting their products, and also keep in interesting for themselves. Making 50-60 V60s a day is still fun, but it would be nice to have an alternative at least now and again.

    I think places like The Barn in Berlin have got it right, who will decide which method would suit a coffee best and make every one sold with that brew method with up to about 3 different methods at a time. That way you’ll be sure you can get the best out of each coffee you’re selling and get to use all the fancy brewing methods.

  5. Selling equipment absolutely is a good idea, and I think simply using certain equipment will prompt interest without having to push it as a way to sell drinks.

    Retail equipment requires a different strategy, and I don’t think promotion of the method via the drinks menu is the most effective way of generating sales.

  6. Although I haven’t equipped our store with the whole arrey of fancy brewing tools, I still use V60s and AeroPress to inspire. Not to ‘educate’ my customers, but to inspire: Our main focus is our beans and our roast, but as I know the loudest voice addressing the home coffee market out there is ‘nespresso’ and fancy one-button brew machines, my ‘mission’ is that if you master just a few parametres of coffee brewing, anyone should be able to do the same ‘alchemy’ at home as we do on the counter here. I don’t need to diss neither fully automatic machines nor the IKEA french press: but as our coffees are our ‘back bone’, I aim at inspiring to approach them a little differently.
    Even Beethoven was amazed by the syphon: looking at the long and winding road of coffee extraction, todays gadgets are just new attempts in achieveing that better cup. Unfortuneatly, the last generations have successfully managed to kill any remains of a seremony connected to coffee brewing.
    That’s why I believe the brew bars popping up everywhere might inspire. I heartily agree, though,  that more often than not, the ‘elixir’ served is wrongly extracted (and this is mostly syphon coffee), but customers in my store confess to learning to brew coffee by watching what we do  -because it can easily be done at home.  No, not every one purchases a pocket scale and a thermometer, but most people get the idea what our ‘mission’ is:  you don’t even need any fancy gadgets to do this at home.
    In some of these new ‘Brew Bars’ -and places like the norwegian restaurant ‘Maaemo’- -there are enthusiasts demonstrating ‘slow coffee’ in new ways: I believe this is where Speciality Coffee takes a step away from the mainstream coffee highway  :)

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