An Analysis of Nespresso – Part I

This is the first in a little series of posts looking at how and why Nespresso works the way that it does. There’s a few things I think when it comes to Nespresso:

1). We continue to underestimate their success, and their ability to leverage technology to overcome hurdles of quality.

2). Speciality coffee roasters share more customers with Nespresso than they’d like to believe.

3). There’s a lot of speculation about the technology they use. Lots of it is clearly proprietary, so I wanted to dive into it a little bit more to try and understand what is happening.

Continue reading “An Analysis of Nespresso – Part I”

Talking about talks

There was a great little video about Re:co posted today, that really gets to the heart of why I think the event is an essential part of our industry. It isn’t just about the speakers and talks themselves, it is about being in the room with the people to talk about the talks.

Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood spoke wonderfully Symposium this year, and I’m sure it will be online on their youtube page soon. It was a great presentation, not only because of its content and delivery, because as soon as it was done I had three or four different conversations with other attendees about it. Here I was challenged, a little inspired and a little relieved to find people struggling with the same issues as me for and looking at different solutions. Watching the talk online later will have its own value – and I strongly recommend you do it – but to only think about a Symposium’s value in terms of the talks themselves would be to misunderstand the event.

As the list of speakers for June’s Re:co is slowly being released, I hope lots of you will take the opportunity to join us to talk about the talks there.

The London Coffee Festival 2015

This week is the return of the biggest coffee event in the UK, and surely one of the biggest in Europe. Last year had around 22,000 visitors across the four days and I’d expect at least that again this year. It’s an interesting event so me, in that it mixes it’s audience. The first two days are for trade – and this means it is free entry those days if you work in coffee – so all baristas need to do to attend is sign up! If you’re not trade then the tickets are still pretty cheap, and there’s a few left – and the proceeds do go to charity. 1 The weekend is dedicated to a consumer audience, with a different program of events and workshops.

While I’ve attended, and taken part in various aspects of the show since the beginning, this is the first year where we’ll have a stand and I’ll be there every day. I’m looking forward to sharing a load of fun things we’ve been working on – and obviously we’ll be making lots of coffee for people. There are once again signed copies of The Atlas back in stock, and we’ll have a few at the show as well as some delicious and unexpected things to eat!

Hopeful if you’re in the UK, and you read this blog, then I shall see you there. Come and say hello!

  1. I should disclose that I am a trustee of that charity  ↩︎

The price of coffee in London – 2015 edition

For the last two years (2013 & 2014) I’ve published a simple analysis on the prices of coffee in London, based on the data collected by Allegra for the London Coffee Guide. Kindly, they’ve once again sent me the breakdown so let’s dig in and see how things are changing across London year to year…

Espresso pricing

2013 Vs 2014 Vs 2015
Year 2013 2014 2015
Lowest Price £1.30 £1.50 £1.50
Highest Price £2.60 £2.60 £3.00
Average Price £1.89 £1.99 £2.03
Mode Price £2.00 £2.00 £2.00

Surprisingly not much of a change. It is hard to find much data but it seems that the 2% rise in the average price is exactly on trend with inflation for consumer goods in the food/restaurant world in the UK.

Espresso by region

Here we’ll have a look at espresso drinks by region of London, comparing them to last year. Here you can see the change in prices from this year to last, and also the change in ranking for price for each of the 11 regions:

Espresso Prices 2014 Vs 2015
Region Espresso (£) Variance (%) Rank (11) Variance
East London £1.97 4.2% 10 0
Farringdon/Clerkenwell £2.16 4.3% 3 ⇡1
Holborn/Bloomsbury £2.14 2.4% 4 ⇣1
Inner East/Shoreditch £1.99 1.5% 7= 0
North London £1.99 2.6% 7= ⇡2
Soho £2.23 5.7% 1 ⇡1
South East £1.83 2.2% 11 0
South West £1.98 -2.0% 9 ⇣3
The City £2.05 4.6% 6 ⇡2
West End £2.17 0.0% 2 ⇣1
West London £2.09 3.0% 5 0

A few interesting bits here. Soho is now the most expensive place to drink espresso in London, taking the top spot from the West End. Price in Soho went through the largest increase in the city too – so I’d infer from this that Soho is probably the most difficult place to sell coffee in London. Rents are painfully high, competition is fierce and I think prices reflect the high costs of doing business there.

Also worth noting is the South West of London, that went through a price decrease. This might be a quirk of the data – it is unlikely that anyone lowered their pricing, but we might be looking at a number of new cafes opening with lower pricing. I’m not sure that this is a good thing. The data next year should be pretty indicative. I’d wager the prices in the region go back, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Flat White by Region

Let’s have a look at the flat white pricing by region in London:

Flat White Prices 2014 Vs 2015
Region Espresso (£) Variance (%) Rank (11) Variance
East London £2.49 -0.8% 10 ⇣1
Farringdon/Clerkenwell £2.71 5.9% 3 ⇡3
Holborn/Bloomsbury £2.69 1.1% 4 ⇣1
Inner East/Shoreditch £2.61 -0.8% 6  ⇡2
North London £2.53 1.2% 8 ⇡2
Soho £2.73 3.8% 1= ⇡4
South East £2.46 5.6% 11 0
South West £2.50 -2.3% 9 ⇣2
The City £2.65 -4.0% 5 ⇣4
West End £2.73 0.0% 1= ⇡1
West London £2.59 1.6% 7 ⇡1

Interesting to see the South West also drop in price, but not as dramatically as prices in The City. Again, I’m hesitant to read too much into this, because there are opportunities for the data to be skewed. I take the cheapest price listed for comparison, so if cafes are introducing smaller sizes this could also push prices down.

Harder to explain is pricing in The City. Espresso prices leapt up (on average) but prices for flat whites dropped.

As a little notable bit of data, I should disclose the number of businesses within each region. This could be taken as a distribution of speciality coffee, based on cafes Allegra have designated speciality:

Number of Cafes per region
Region Cafes
East London 31
Farringdon & Clerkenwell 7
Holborn & Bloomsbury 7
Inner East/Shoreditch 19
North London 22
Soho 12
South East London 21
South West London 13
The City 14
West End 24
West London 14

In some ways I’m a little surprised that East London tops the charts, but then again the middle of London is so subdivided, while East London covers a wide geographic area. I think it is far to say that South West and West London remain the two unconquered areas of the city when it comes to population density vs great coffee.

Last year I referenced the Standard Deviation for both espresso and flat whites across the city. I thought, for a last table, that I should break that down and look at that too.

Standard Deviation of Espresso & Flat White pricing
Region Espresso STDEV  Flat White STDEV
East London  £0.16 £0.14
Farringdon/Clerkenwell  £0.29 £0.16
Holborn/Bloomsbury  £0.22 £0.17
Inner East/Shoreditch  £0.22 £0.16
North London  £0.16 £0.24
Soho  £0.20 £0.15
South East  £0.23 £0.17
South West £0.22 £0.15
The City  £0.20 £0.18
West End  £0.31 £0.18
West London  £0.21 £0.17

I was surprised that espresso pricing is a lot more variable than flat white pricing. I was also surprised that the lowest variance for espresso pricing was in North London, which had the highest variance for flat white pricing. I think the implication is that if you like espresso and are price driven, the West End may be the most expensive but you can find cheaper coffee if you look for it.

Again – I don’t have permission to disclose the full data (though it is available in the book if you want it), but if you have questions then ask me on twitter.

Coffee Jobs Board, WBC and the new blog

We decided that Coffee Jobs Board should support the Go Live! streaming of the World Barista Championships this year. The goal is to introduce the service to a wider audience, and connect more coffee people with opportunities around the world.

As part of that we made a short video, which you can see below (including a celebratory discount code so you can post free jobs for the rest of the month, wherever in the world you are):

We are also launching the Coffee Jobs Blog. Here we’ll be posting a mixture of things. Some focused on baristas, and those seeking career opportunities (such as interviews with members of the industry about their careers and advice they have, tips of making job applications as effective as possible and highlighting potential opportunities for learning or progression). For employers we’ll be postings tips on getting more applications, on creating career paths for staff and opportunities to help develop the staff or coffee program within their business.

Keep an eye on the @coffeejobsblog twitter account, and we’ll be posting through the other twitter accounts too. I’m pretty excited about this – and hope you enjoy it!

The Cappuccino Index

For a year or two I’ve had an idea lingering in the back of my mind, that I had done nothing with. I was in Seoul a week or so ago, and had a chance to chat a little with BK of Fritz Coffee. We’d talked about this particular idea, and he reminded me (rightfully) that I’d done nothing with it. This was the nudge necessary to turn this thought to action.

Last week I posted a few questions: Where in the world do you work? What do you earn per hour? How much is a cappuccino in your cafe?

Sprudge had done some extensive research on barista pay, that I wasn’t looking to replicate. I wanted to look at it in a different way:

How long does a barista have to work in order to earn a drink in their own cafe?

I felt that this question could, potentially, offer up some interesting information. Baristas in Australia earn more per hour than baristas in Lithuania, but to compare wages like for like fails to account for the difference in cost of living.

I decided to use the cappuccino in the cafe as a benchmark for a few different reasons:

– Just about every cafe serves a cappuccino
– Espresso isn’t a reliable metric as some places dramatically discount espresso to encourage consumption
– Coffee alone isn’t a fair data point – as it is often imported, and also traded against the US dollar. I wanted a local ingredient in there to balance out the impacts of currency and global trade

I didn’t know what I would find, and hoped to keep an open mind. However, what I did find has thrown up a few different interpretations which I’m going to look at as I examine the data.

At the time of writing this I had received over 700 responses from baristas around the world. Inevitably I wished I had had more.

Let’s start with the basic index. How many minutes do I have to work to earn a cappuccino:

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 13.23.45
Click to embiggen


So – what does it mean, that a barista in Japan has to work twice as long as a barista in Denmark to buy a cappuccino in their own cafe?

Initially I looked at a cost of living index, to see if this would provide some insight. It did, in as much as it showed there wasn’t really a correlation between cost of living and the cappuccino index. Certainly, countries that had the highest cost of living (Switzerland, Australia) were the lowest on the cappuccino index, but there wasn’t strong correlation throughout. There was a rough trendline but it didn’t explain the data particularly well.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 13.31.47

I wonder then, if the cappuccino index could provide some sort of metric of the speciality coffee industry within a particular country. Australia has had a pretty long history of speciality coffee, and so the market is pretty developed. A more developed market might have lower drink prices (due to increased competition) but also higher barista wages (due to increased competition for qualified capable staff).

In Australia this worked well – but the US didn’t reflect this particularly well. The UK has a newer coffee culture than the US (with respect to coffee generally, as well as speciality) but a barista in the UK works 5 minutes less to earn the same drink.

At this point you’d be right to point out a flaw in the data. Countries where tips make up a substantial percentage of earnings may not have disclosed accurate data. I had asked what people earn per hour, and my issue with tips (well, one of my issues…) is that they aren’t guaranteed. They vary, and so it is hard to accurately factor them in to the idea of how long you’d need to work to buy a drink. Many people reported base wages (mentioning + tips) but others reported including tips too. In future I’d probably be more specific around this particular question.

However, the cappuccino index does speak – to some extent – to the “specialness” of specialty coffee. If it is out of the immediate reach of the people who made it then it is positioned in the market more as a luxury product. The countries at the top 10 of the index were Costa Rica, Russia, Poland, Romania, Malaysia, Taiwan,Turkey ,Ukraine, Mexico and Indonesia. I should note, several of these countries lack real data for respondents.

I live in a country that has an extremely uneven distribution of its economy. London is, in many ways, distinct from the rest of the UK. It’s economy didn’t suffer recession the same way as the rest of the country. It is disproportionately wealthy, and also distinctly expensive to live in. I wondered, digging into cities a little more, if this was reflected in the cappuccino index.

According to this survey a London barista earns, on average, 8.2% more money per hour than the average in the UK and 14.9% more than baristas in the rest of the UK. (The UK average excluding London). The average cappuccino in London costs only 7.4% more than the rest of the UK – so there is an argument that it is better to be a barista in London than outside. (The average barista in London earns a cappuccino 1 minute and 20 seconds quicker than someone outside of London). However, the cost of living in London is substantially higher than the rest of the country – so outside of the cafe your money doesn’t go as far.

I did also wonder if, within a market, the price of a drink in a cafe would be any sort of indicator of how they paid their staff. Does a place charging more pass this on, on average, to their staff. I had to look at this within a particular city (rather than internationally or nationally) because this is a very difficult question and the data looks very weak very quickly.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 13.28.25

I used London again, because I had more respondents from this city than any other. The answer here: maybe. There’s a vague correlation but I’d say that the price of a drink is a pretty bad indicator. Looking at the chart you can see a wide range of pay for baristas making a drink at the £3.00 price point.

Equally it’s interesting that Perth in Australia has the most expensive drinks in the country, and its baristas earn the most – but Sydney baristas earn more per hour (on average) than Melbourne ones to serve cheaper drinks.

There are so many ways that this data could be picked apart. What if respondents have only just started at a cafe? What if it pays more experienced staff better? What if baristas lied?

Ultimately the sample pool here is very small. Way too small to be truly useful, but I think this is still an interesting little metric for barista culture that I would like to explore more in the future.

A very quick survey for baristas around the world

I’ve been thinking about collecting a little data for a while. A recent chat with BK, of Fritz Coffee in Seoul, has prompted me to get around to posting the question.

This isn’t really a survey about earnings specifically, as Sprudge has already been pretty thorough here. If you work in a cafe I’d love it if you could answer 4 very quick questions, and perhaps share with other baristas at other shops around the world.

A new home for The Learning Project

Last year one of my goals was to use the blog as a platform for learning, and this resulted in what I called “The Learning Project“. For a few reasons it never really got past the first subject (Acidity), and has languished, unloved, since then. The principle was simple: I wrote an introduction to a topic, people submitted interesting links relating to the topic and that was turned into a larger resource. In return for submitting a link you got to vote on what the next topic was.

The failure of the project to continue, as was pointed out to me a few times, was sad and something of a wasted opportunity. Now there is a new home for The Learning Project – a home where I think it can be more useful, and reach a wider audience: The Barista Guild of Europe.

Regardless of whether or not you are in Europe, there is going to be an opportunity to learn and contribute to others’ learning. The internet has made the world very small, and we should absolutely take advantage of that.

If you want to participate, actively or passively, then I suggest you follow BGE on twitter, sign up to the newsletter, and check out the website for this and more in the future.

I’m very happy to see the project live on, and I look forward to participating myself in the near future.

My favourite question

When behind a bar, at a certain time of day, there is a question that I really love to ask. The timing may vary but between 8am and noon I like to ask a simple question:

“Have you had coffee yet today?”

If the answer is “No” then I realise that my priority, above all is, is going to be quickly and efficiently getting this person what they asked for. No unnecessary questions, no additional choices, no upsell. Get to work and get this person coffee right now, and be sympathetic for their need for caffeine. Especially if it a grumpy, uncaffeinated and impatient “No.” from the customer too.

I think we sometimes lie to ourselves about how much we care about coffee when it comes to our first cup of the day. (I must credit Tracy Ging and the SCAA Symposium for really driving this home to me.) If I look at my own habits, for the first cup quality is actually lower down on the list, below convenience. I am not alone in this, even amongst other industry professionals – let alone habitual consumers. I’ve seen swathes of coffee people choose to skip the line at a brew bar to grab their first cup from a giant urn of very average hotel coffee. Most people, at the start of the day, just need coffee. We don’t have to like this fact, but we do have to accept it.

However, once we’ve had a coffee – then the world changes a little. The chemical need is alleviated, and I think this change is an important one for baristas.

If I ask someone if they’ve had coffee yet, and they say “Yes” – this is very useful information. They’re not necessarily looking for caffeine – to alleviate their withdrawal – but, more likely, they are looking for a tasty cup of coffee. I can ask if they’re in the mood to try something different, I can suggest a different coffee or perhaps a different drink. As a barista I have a little more space and time for the conversation. Even better is when they tell you what they’ve had today – the more information you can gather about someone the more easily you can delight them. Everyone needs something a little different in terms of service and experience, so any opportunity to understand them a little more should be taken. This is, to me, the very root of great service – and I hope this one little question is useful to those of you reading this.

Make Or Steal

Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of people who’ve opened cafes. One of the key ideas I’ve brought up early on is that for a new cafe, every single one of your customers currently buys their coffee from someone else. If you subscribe to Kevin Kelly’s 1000 true fans idea 1, then you need to find around 1,000 people to become your regular customers. They won’t come everyday necessarily, but if you’ve got a 1,000 loyal customers then I think your coffee business will be fine.

An important thing to think about is this: Changing where you buy coffee is changing the very routine of your life. It might affect your route to work, which public transport stop you get off at, or even what time you wake up in the morning. People are generally slow to change their lives. Owners of new cafes often get frustrated that in the first weeks of opening people come and say the drink they just had was, perhaps, the best coffee of their lives. Then you don’t see them for another week. Why haven’t they immediately made the switch, given that this is the best coffee they’ve ever tasted!? As I said, it takes time to change someone’s life.

This isn’t really what I want to write about now, but something related. What I want to talk about is what I see as a change in the dynamics of the coffee market in London, that raises a new question for me. Over the last seven or so years the market in London has changed dramatically. There has been a huge boom in the number of cafes trying to compete on the quality of their coffee. What has changed more recently is that the rate of new cafes opening has outstripped the growth in consumers for higher quality coffee. The market is becoming more competitive and cafes are beginning to actively engage in doing their best to capture and retain as many existing quality focused consumers. However, this means every new opening increases the competitive pressure on the market and the challenge of being successful is harder for each new cafe than for the last. I’m not saying for a minute that it was ever easy, but I do think that the attitude was a little different in the past than in the marketplace now.

All this does presume a fixed pool of consumers to draw from. Which, while technically true, is the wrong way to look at it. I think more effort needs to be made on creating more customers who would value better coffee.

Looking back, perhaps through rose tinted glasses, it seemed like there was a coherent movement in London to market the idea of better coffee. Not to market individual businesses, though that’s always going to be important, but to collectively promote and celebrate all that is good in delicious coffee – right through the value chain. Be it community events, coherent messages in the media, things like the Disloyalty Card – all of these contributed to the idea that better coffee was a good thing for everyone. I don’t see that coherent drive now, and I believe it is needed now more than ever.

Creating our customers, and not just stealing them from competitors, is vital for our industry’s longevity. I think many of the coffee roasting companies I respect are good at this. Taking the business of supply from another quality focused roaster does little to develop a marketplace, but working with new businesses to help them do more definitely does. I think this is worth considering in marketing strategy regardless of where in the coffee supply chain you lie.

This isn’t written as criticism of the way coffee businesses are marketing now. I want to highlight that there can be another message, or approach that could be more valuable to both businesses and the industry in reaching these new customers and a wider market. It is something I will be thinking more about, and trying to incorporate into the work that I do.

  1. I know I’ve linked here several times before…  ↩︎

Coffee Brewing Class from ChefSteps

I am excited about the launch of a new coffee class from ChefSteps. If you follow me on twitter or elsewhere then you’ve likely noticed how much of a fan I am of what ChefSteps are doing. I genuinely think they’re one of the most innovative and interesting companies in food, and I can’t think of anyone else pushing out as much information for free. Their videos have made techniques that I had previously thought too difficult, or intimidating, seem approachable – and cooking from their recipes has resulted in some of the best meals of my life.

Hopefully you’ve already enrolled in the ChefSteps espresso class  – if you haven’t you should do so now because it is free and because it is incredibly good.

I’d been talking to the team at ChefSteps for a little while about a coffee brewing class. I think their approach and style would be a great way to communicate both the techniques and the knowledge required to brew delicious coffee. While in Seattle last year, with Ben Kaminsky, we shot some videos covering techniques and discussion, and since then the class has been built up to be exhaustive and I think genuinely innovative. That class goes live today:

ChefSteps Coffee Class ($14)

So what’s included in the class?

For the beginner:

There’s a great, thorough introduction to brewing better coffee covering buying coffee, getting the right equipment, an overview of dialling in, a guide to tasting and then techniques videos and guides covering French Press, Aeropress, and pour over. We cover what extraction is, why it matters and how to control it.

Aeropress brewing


For the knowledgeable coffee brewer:

You might think that if you’re already brewing tasty coffee at home then there’d be nothing for you here. I would disagree. There’s plenty of stuff in the course that I think would appeal to readers of this blog: rapid cold brew, Liars Latte (everything people like about milk drinks without any milk of any kind) and also some useful techniques to improve the quality of the ground coffee you brew with – regardless of the grinder you are using. There’s also a technique involving rinsing for french press brewing that had me utterly intrigued when they first sent through a little phone video of them doing it, and is the result of what happens when very smart food people start looking at coffee seriously. Easily the cleanest cup of french press you’ve ever had – completely sludge free.

The not-chocolate chocolate


They also get into that difficult realm: coffee as a culinary ingredient. There are several recipes here, some simple and useful, through to a whole new thing that is chocolate made without cacao and is my favourite thing on the whole course. I’m sure that if you work in coffee and watch this technique you’re going to get pretty excited too.

If you’ve bought a ChefSteps class before, or enrolled in one before, then you’ll have noticed that classes continue to be developed after launch – recipes get added, techniques further explored. I love that they do this, so it is worth returning to the class after finishing it.

There’s a great community around ChefSteps online – and I’d recommend getting involved there too, especially if you have any interest in cooking better, and understanding the theory behind the techniques in the kitchen. It is one of better discussion forums out there, and I suspect a lot of coffee people have a strong culinary interest too.

I hope you check out the class, it’s about the same price as a bag of coffee ($14), and I think that it’s a worthwhile investment.

ChefSteps Coffee Brewing Class