Coming Soon: The World Atlas of Coffee

In around two months time, on October 6th, my first book will be released. I’m very excited, and maybe just a tiny bit nervous too. The book is titled “The World Atlas of Coffee”, and I want to talk a little bit about how this happened and what it is.

I remember a moment, very early on in my time in coffee, when I had been cupping coffees and was trying to understand exactly where they were from. I remember the coffee that triggered the question, something from Kalossi. More than that, I remember the feeling of being both stunned and annoyed when I asked which book I should buy to look up where this coffee came from and being told there was nothing. This was astonishing to me, considering how rich the world of coffee was and is.

While I always wanted to be the person to write that book, for a long time I never really felt it was my place to do so. (And I expect to hear that criticism in the future too.)

What changed was very simple: I was approached by a major publisher, already well known and respected for books like “The World Atlas of Wine“, and have a reputation for producing beautiful, high quality titles. They asked if I would be interested in writing this book, and I thought I would be a fool to pass up such an opportunity. So I jumped at it.

What followed was full of all the necessary clichés, best summarised by Douglas Adams, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” I don’t mean to be dramatic but this book is undeniably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. (I know people say that, but there’s a good reason they say that. Listening to Oliver Strand talk about how difficult it is on the portafilter podcast was hugely reassuring.)

I had one unusual challenge in writing this – focusing on exactly who I was writing this for. I wanted to produce something valuable to those coming into the industry who want to learn, and also something that’s a useful reference for those of us who’ve worked in coffee for some time. More than both of this, I wanted to write something for all our customers – the people who go out and buy, brew, drink and enjoy coffee every day. I believe that understanding something more can make it more enjoyable, and I wanted to make more of coffee accessible rather than make it more mysterious and exclusive. I want to help people to understand what they like, explore what they don’t know yet, and feel more confident in the somewhat intimidating world of specialty coffee.

The book isn’t about me, or about Square Mile Coffee, but just about coffee. The book is divided into three sections: an introduction to coffee in general, a section on brewing techniques (aimed at making professional standards accessible and worthwhile to home users) and then the atlas section, with individual countries divided by continent.

This third section was the killer. Finding accurate, credible information and facts that can be double checked felt nigh on impossible sometimes. I’m aware that the moment we publish the book some facts will be wrong, or be disputable. This is why I am hopeful this does well enough for a second edition (which will also be out of date the moment it is published!).

What I have tried to do for each country, in writing a summary of its history of coffee production is to try to explain why its past makes it the way it is. The existence of smallholders and garden coffee in Ethiopia is the result of a very different history than that of Brazil – with single estate businesses that can produce more coffee than all of Bolivia put together. So along, with the history I’ve tried to explain where a customer’s expectation of traceability should be. I’ve done my utmost to get harvest times, altitudes and typical varieties for each region within each country that I’ve covered. Inevitably a source of some contention – there are some very basic guidelines for how coffees from a producing country may taste. (I’m aware that this seems reductive and negative but please wait to judge me until after reading them.)

I haven’t covered every single country that produces coffee. I’ve covered those with a focus on arabica and the capacity for speciality. In some cases I’ve decided not to include a country because I don’t feel the data available is accurate enough. (Haiti, for example, is a difficult place to write confidently about post earthquake.) Equally, this is not a project without constraints of size and word count. If it is successful then it will be expanded in future editions, and the work is already done on some additional countries.

My greatest hope for this book is that it becomes a genuinely useful tool for us to communicate better with our customers, to help make coffee more engaging, and more valuable. I’m proud of the work I have done, I’ve given it my best, and I hope that you’ll either enjoy it, support it – or both! I’m going to promote the book as widely as I can, and I will be working hard to do it in an interesting way – rather than just ramming it down people’s throats until you unfollow me on twitter and block me on Facebook!

I am going to post more about it in the next couple of months – about its availability around the world (Including various translations), about reselling (if people/cafes/roasteries/coffee businesses around the world are interested), to say thank you to those that have helped me, and about any events I may be doing to promote it (come and say hello!).

It’s actually available to preorder on amazon already (and has been for a month already, despite the fact that I’ve yet to hold a physical copy – such is the nature of modern publishing). While I’m deeply conflicted about amazon, I can’t deny it is probably the cheapest place to buy it and if preorders are decent the price actually drops (which is why the US price is already lower than RRP)! The book will only be available as hardback (the digital version I dream of requires some physical sales first) and it is both fabric bound and without a dust jacket! (I just really, really hate dust jackets so this makes me very happy!). Here are some links:

The World Atlas of Coffee – Amazon UK

The World Atlas of Coffee – Amazon US

Barista Guild of Europe – Camp 2014

Today was the day the Barista Guild of Europe launched, at the SCAE show in Rimini, and they started selling tickets to the first event organised under the BGE banner: Barista Camp in Greece.

I’ve been a fan of barista camps since I got to attend one in the USA a couple of years ago, organised by the Barista Guild of America. While I’m obviously a fan of barista competitions, they are expensive affairs that don’t necessarily have an even distribution of value to all involved (this is the nature of competition of course!).

Barista Camps are interesting to me because everyone who attends can have an amazing experience, you can’t really “win” a barista camp…

I’m a little bit involved in this event, I’m the chair of a working committee, but I’m not for a second claiming any credit for making it happen. Isa Verschraegen is doing all the very hard work, with great support from people like Dale Harris, Kalle Freese, Andrew Tolley and others from the working group.

You can read a bit more about the camp on the website here: (You can buy tickets there too!)

I just wanted to post a few things about the ideas behind the camp:

– We wanted it to be as accessibly priced as possible. For food, drink, accommodation and education (with certification too) it starts at €400 right now. I think that is great value, and I hope this price point encourages some cafes to buy a ticket for a staff member – or at least support them financially if they want to go.
– There are three different education tracks available, but also group lectures for everyone. I think it is going to be great to mix up more specialised education with moments where everyone comes together to learn and taste things.
– There are opportunities to volunteer. You can offer to volunteer on the website. You’ll need to get yourself there (which isn’t too expensive at that time of year), but otherwise you won’t pay anything. We expect to get more offers than we can accommodate, so don’t be afraid to sell yourself a little bit if you’re applying.
– The full program isn’t published yet, so keep an eye out as we announce various speakers and other fun stuff!

I hope I’ll see a lot of people there. The opportunity to get together always results in great things. I like the idea of 150 baristas going back to 150 shops afterwards, and then making better drinks and giving better experiences to hundreds of thousands of people across Europe. Grab your ticket here!

Tickets with more info about each track here.

Video: Back to the Moka Pot

This video was uploaded a few days ago, and is worth watching if you use a Moka pot (or have customers who do). I appreciate the tiny little hat tip at the start, and who doesn’t love modding coffee brewing kit to have 4 thermocouples in it for logging data…? I also learned a few interesting things! Worth just under 8 minutes of your time:

Introducing Longberry Magazine

Today I’m proud to announce that a project ,that has been in the works for some times, has come to fruition – Longberry Magazine.

A small group (myself, Ben Szobody and Jacob Forrest) felt that coffee was fascinating, but that most publications were more focused on the trade side of things rather than trying to tell the stories we have to the interested members of the coffee drinking public.

We decided we’d try our hand at creating a magazine and I’m excited to say that we’re now taking pre-orders. The magazine has actually been printed but we’re splitting the distribution between the US and the UK, so right now half of the (very small) print run is on its way to the USA – having been printed here in the UK.



There were a few key ideas behind the magazine that I’d like to share:

– No advertising. We know that this is how the magazine business actually makes money, but we didn’t want that to be part of what we did. We intend to remain ad free. If it stops being financially viable then we will stop printing magazines.

– We will pay authors. We will pay authors a share of the revenue from each edition (physical or digital) sold. The initial print run is very small, so we hope people will also embrace the digital editions.

– We want to tell stories you haven’t heard. We hope to find authors new to much of the speciality coffee world, who aren’t writing for most magazines out there. We’re challenging ourselves to find the best stories we can, to share with an interested audience.

– It should be a beautiful thing. We’ve produced a pretty limited run of physical magazines, printed on high quality stock and they’re lovely things to own.

These two things mean that we have to charge a fair price for the magazine. We believe £7 plus shipping is a fair price and good value. The digital version is priced at £2.50 or an additional £1 if you buy the physical copy.

We hope to publish more in the future, though we aren’t going to promise to release a magazine per quarter. We’re calling it “an occasional journal of coffee”…

Where can I get it?

If you are in North America then we’d recommend buying it from the Longberry Website, as that will be distributed from the USA and the cheapest.

If you are in Europe, or the rest of the world, then we’d probably recommend buying it from the Square Mile Webshop. (Square Mile are helping with distribution – but this is not a Square Mile Coffee project).

If you’re buying just digital then please buy direct from the Longberry site.

Both websites are charging in GBP, because the company (and its bank account) are based in the UK – but you can buy it with any credit card, and Stripe’s conversion into other currencies isn’t painful.

Can I write for Longberry?

You can! You can email a pitch to Longberry at (though I would kindly request that you read the magazine and have an idea of the kind of stories we want to publish before getting in touch).

The Failure of First

There is an obsession with being first in our culture that I find increasingly troubling and frustrating. This isn’t just coffee specifically, I find it throughout various industries and professions.

Journalism has long chased the scoop – the story that no one else has. In the past a scoop wasn’t simply a story that no one else had – it was also revelatory, bringing something hidden to light. Today it is mostly just saying something (or posting a photo of something, or claiming something) before anyone else does.

Journalism has undeniably changed because of the internet. The frustration with the internet is its revenue model – we’re all eyeballs to advertisers. It’s not that we were in some golden age of journalism before, tabloid journalism has always been a horrible thing – and certainly no better than Gawker. The incentives in journalism have changed to writing something that gets as many eyeballs as possible, skewed through a world of analytics of page views and headline optimisation. Nothing gets eyeballs like a “first”, and as a result (and I’m not talking about coffee specifically here) accuracy and truthfulness have gone out of the window. Poorly researched inaccuracies, or salacious claims, can be retracted quietly on the same webpage once the wave of traffic dies back. It isn’t damaging because those eyeballs have moved on, and only the very few that care will revisit the story to see if it has been updated. There was a period of time where you’d often see people try to comment “first” first on a particular article, contributing nothing – simply attempting to claim some non-existent internet points. We all hoped it would go away, but I don’t think anyone wanted it to drift from the comments section up into the content itself.

Linkbait, the now omnipresent listicles, compendia of Buzzfeed-esque gifs, it’s all very…. amusing, but I miss being treated like an adult who might actually want to do some thinking. More information, less titillation. Sadly, there’s a reason why the Daily Mail’s website (which I will not link to) is so appalling well trafficked.

I am aware I have crossed the line into “shut up old man” territory. I’m aware that things change, that newspapers are dying, and there is no moral obligation to save them. I’m aware that the profession of journalism now exists in large part to see how far it can get away with stealing from those who still want practice it, or at least try to get them to work for free. You can argue that if people really wanted great journalism then they’d support it and champion it. The fetishization of longform writing is perhaps a counter to this, but that isn’t really what I’m talking about either. Enough about writing though…

Typically in coffee, we love a “first” when it comes to equipment, something I’ve never really understood. Being the first one in a town, state or country to carry a certain new piece of equipment seems to have gained a perceived value that I don’t believe is being realised or returned. I don’t believe that paying a premium in cash (or time without a fully functioning machine if you bought in beta) generates matching revenues. I don’t think enough people buy coffee because of the machine’s novelty to cover its costs.

The difference with technology is that there is a long precedent of “first” not really winning. This doesn’t stop technology companies launching very average products, barely out of beta, in an effort to be first to market. (I’m not talking about coffee specifically – just technology generally) Being first may give you something of an opportunity, but there is a better opportunity if you enter with a superior product later.

The same is true of ideas. We all want to be able to claim we were the first to do something, though in truth almost every interesting idea in coffee is derivative in some way (this is no bad thing) of another. There is no real ownership of a great idea, but there are definite advantages to executing a good idea well.

In coffee it isn’t unusual to see an older generation roll its eyes (in either frustration, exasperation or amusement) as the younger generation “discovers” something or “invents” something that they’ve seen or done long before.

My biggest worry is that the world of the “first” is very shallow indeed. Ideas aren’t really dug down into because everyone just wants to move onto a new one, rather than work towards a better iteration of an existing one. That is perhaps cultural, and on the upside I believe it leaves enormous opportunities for anyone willing to stick with something to really explore it. This isn’t a universal problem – some of the most interesting businesses and people to me in coffee are doing this: digging down, exploring and taking their time to work something through. I believe they’ll see continued success from this approach, and I look forward to seeing what they learn and where they end up.

I’m not really sure I’m going to make a definitive point here, it is just something that my brain has been chewing for a little while and writing for here is as good a way of any to start to process it a little more. I’ve missed writing on here recently, as most of my creative energy had to end up somewhere else for a while. I’ll share more about that in the not too distant future…

Tamper Tantrum Talk: Bourbon

I was asked by Colin Harmon to give a talk at the Tamper Tantrum event at the UK Barista Championship. He gave me a one word topic, so I thought I’d have a little fun with it.

I hope you enjoy the talk, I’m sure there are a few factual holes that people will pick up on. (I really struggled with the pain from a back injury that day, so it isn’t quite as coherent as I’d like – but no excuses!)

If you haven’t explored the amazing library of talks that they’ve built up so far – then this is what you should do with your weekend! You can subscribe in iTunes too.


Jackson O’Brien wrote a response to the video here.

Reverse engineering espresso

Typically when we think about brewing espresso it all starts with a dose of dry coffee going into a basket. We might start out with our 19g of coffee, and think about what we want to do from there. We might try a ratio that we enjoyed with another coffee, and taste it and measure it and make adjustments from there.

I’m not making a criticism of the way we think – when you make coffee you feel like everything starts with the raw materials, and this isn’t a terrible way to think. At the end of all this you’ll end up with a recipe, but different coffees will need to be treated differently (even if you want to confine them within the same parameters).

Technology exists, however, for us to start to think about it from the end point backwards, to reverse engineer our product. Why does this matter? If we start from the end of the process, we start by clearly defining the customer experience and then using our techniques, equipment and understanding to create and craft that.

This means that we might have to make some pretty critical decisions that aren’t used to making. Let’s start with a topic that’s always a little tricky for us:

How strong should my espresso be?

This is a fun place to start, but it does mean you’ll need some experience in measuring the strength of espresso and have been paying attention enough to know what you like.

As a reference point – I rarely enjoy espressos that exceed 12% strength. At this point the shot certainly have a tonne of texture, but I find the flavours too concentrated to be easily discernible and enjoyable. I really enjoy espresso in the 9–10% range. This is simply my own preference, and by no means a recommendation. Lots of people have strong, positive responses to very strong espressos.

How much espresso do I want to serve?

This feels like a particularly strange question, but it is worth considering. How much liquid do you want to put in a cup? Is 32g of espresso worth the same as 36g of espresso? Either way, for this to work you need to make a decision.

Personally, again all preference, I don’t really want more than 50g as a double – generally I prefer a double to be 36–40g of coffee.

What about extraction?

Enough’s been said about extraction to spare too much in-depth conversation. You like what you like, either as a cafe or a roaster – and certainly as a roaster you should be targeting roasts against a specific level of extraction. I like espresso, from conventional flat burr grinders, at around 20% extraction.

So now I have a recipe. I know I want 40g of coffee, at 9% strength that is a 20% extraction. Fire up VST Coffee Tools and plug it in. By adjusting dry coffee dose until I hit my desired extraction then I can see that for this recipe to work I should start with 18.6g of coffee.

I can then start with 18.6g to 40g and adjust grind until I hit my desired espresso – presuming my water, grinder and baskets allow me to do this. I would pretty much ignore time (though from experience I know it will likely end up in the late 20s/very early 30s). I wouldn’t dial in against time though, I’d be pulling on scales to hit my shot weights.

Is this how I should make all espresso now?

The idea of this post isn’t to change the way you dial in, but instead to present an alternative way to think about how we generate our brew recipes. I think it is pretty healthy to change it up sometimes, to start with what our customer will drink (and how we want that to taste) and to work backwards from there.

How to progress in the coffee industry

I get a lot of email (a lot of emails) from baristas from all around the world, and the most common theme could be summarised as:

“I currently work as a barista, I’m really passionate about coffee and would love to progress in this industry. Do you have any advice for how I should do that?”

It’s a fair question – coffee is a relatively opaque, shrouded industry that doesn’t really give much away in the way of direction for those who have fallen in love with it and wish to do more.

This is similar to the talk I gave at the Nordic Barista Cup, but that crossed over quite a lot into talking to employers and those already established within the industry.

This post is by no means a definitive answer, but hopefully it offers some helpful advice.

Demonstrate Patience

There’s a whole other topic that should probably be covered about writing effective CVs (résumés) and performing in job interviews, but this particular one straddles both. The expectations of those entering industries have changed. People expect to be able to progress quicker, and often the most visible within an industry rose very quickly (or at least appeared to). Other industries generally do a better job of explaining why you should spend a couple of years toiling away for little reward, or at least set clear goals for what must be achieved to progress. Coffee is one of many where this isn’t really a thing yet.

However, employers look at your work history for two reasons: to see what kind of experience you have and to see how long you generally stay in a job.

Collecting a few months at various well renown cafes is significantly less valuable that having put some serious time in at a cafe someone may never have heard of. Yes, a cafe owner may look at that and see a reduced need for training, but if you’re looking to progress into a different role which will require time spent acquiring new skills then skipping around from place to place is potentially going to work against you.

This doesn’t mean you should be you shouldn’t be hungry to progress, keen to advance – that’s definitely a good quality.

Taste Everything

While we generally under-represent the diverse roles within the coffee sector, there are very few roles where being able to taste well isn’t an advantage. Learning to taste well, to taste critically and to build up a level of objectivity around certain aspects of coffee tasting, isn’t easy to do.

If you work at a cafe this means tasting more than the coffees you serve. It means tasting coffees from other suppliers, tasting coffees from other cafes. It means looking for any and every opportunity to taste with other coffee professionals, in an environment where honest discussion takes place. It means looking for opportunities to taste things that aren’t coffee in different environments. Beer, wine, cheese are the obvious contenders as there are often tutored tasting available and things like sweetness, acidity, complexity, aroma or mouthfeel are all key aspects in their taste make up as they are with coffee. If there are opportunities to taste other things then leap at it.

If there aren’t those opportunities where you are then make them. £20 goes a long way to buying a variety of things to taste within a theme – from chocolate to citrus fruits, olive oils to tomatoes. (Thanks to my team at Square Mile for the inspiration here).

Be Part of a Community

If I am honest, online communities are significantly less helpful for curious and passionate coffee people than they were five years ago. Social media has undeniably had an impact, but its return on invested energy is mild frivolity and a worrying acceptance of crass absolutism. I’d recommend looking for a real life, in the flesh type community to be involved in.

In some places this is easier than in others, I accept that. If your city has throwdowns, or open tastings, or coffee book clubs, or general coffee events then get involved. That doesn’t mean just turning up, it means putting in some time and effort. Passive participation can be enjoyable, but isn’t really going to help you move forward.

Networking is a horrible term, but it remains a practice that goes on in every industry. It doesn’t have to be the awkward “press the flesh” type thing though. Guilds, associations and the like are there to offer this function as a core reason for their very being. I’d recommend getting involved with them.

Don’t expect to be spoonfed knowledge

It is an employer’s role to provide necessary information to do a job well, unless they’ve hired requiring a certain qualification. However, it is not really an employer’s obligation to feed every curiosity you may have about coffee. This sounds negative, but in reality it is easier to learn collaboratively with an employee (supporting them in their learning, rather than doing all the heavy lifting) than it is to just have information be a one way street. Not every employer will work this way, and I suppose I should recommend finding employers who have a good track record with developing staff and supporting them in future endeavours is another piece of advice.

This isn’t exhaustive, not even slightly, but I hope it is useful. Obviously I’d recommend keeping an eye on job openings (never easier these days with sites like Coffee Jobs Board, NYC Coffee Jobs and Sprudge Jobs).

Disagreement, dissent or supplementation to these ideas is welcome.


Peter Giuliano has written a great response to this, which I strongly recommend you read.

Introducing Coffee Jobs Board

About 5 years ago I set up a website for coffee jobs in London. Today I’m launching both a redesign of that, as well as a global jobs board hub. If you want to skip the explanations and ideas behind then feel free to explore the site here:



I originally created a site because I’d get a lot of emails from baristas looking for work, and lots of emails from shops looking for staff. I felt like my inbox probably wasn’t the best place to connect people. So I built a simple site, and left it be. It covered its costs, and slowly grew.

People seemed very happy with it, the biggest complaint being people outside of London who wanted something similar. A while ago I decided to start saving up to do something bigger and this is the result.

How the site works

I wanted to build a site full of little hubs, so people could see jobs relevant to them and not worry about what was happening elsewhere (the way craigslist works was a source of inspiration). For each country or city there is a board that you can bookmark, a twitter account you can follow and an email sign up for alerts. I didn’t want to build lots of individual sites, but if there is just one then there’s the problem of when you’re looking for a job in Paris, but a job in Portland isn’t really of interest. You can apply for jobs through the site, and look at employer’s profiles to find out more about them.

I’ve tried to make sure as much of the site as possible has been translated into other languages, though there are some technical constraints I don’t have the budget to overcome –  I hope to improve it in the future.

Advertising jobs

There are three different jobs categories available: city-wide, country-wide and worldwide. For the rest of the month city and country jobs will be free to post. (I don’t want to make worldwide free in case people abuse it and boards get littered with jobs from other countries). In the future the pricing will be:

City – £10. This will appear in that city board, and also the country board. (i.e. London and the UK)

Country – £15. This will appear in the country board, and every city board in that country too.

Worldwide – £100. This will appear in every single job board. It is priced high to discourage use, because I think very few companies need to advertise worldwide.

I wanted to keep it pretty accessibly priced to post – the people part of coffee is hard enough.

London Coffee Jobs

Hopefully most of the existing site has migrated across – including logins etc, so if you’ve posted there in the past you should have an existing account on the new site. If you don’t then I’d recommend signing up again, as it would be great if employers could add a little more detail to their profiles. If there are issues then drop a line to the support email.

Unfortunately if you posted a job in the last couple of days it won’t be allocated to your login, and any changes will have to be done manually by me – just drop a line to support.

Where’s my city/country?!

It wasn’t possible to launch with every part of the world covered, but I am open to requests. If there is sufficient demand then I can create a new board for people to use. Please bear with me if translation is required. You can request a board by emailing

Help me spread the word?

It would be great if people shared the site with friends who may be looking for work, or with business who may be looking for staff. I hope it becomes a useful and valuable hub for people in coffee. Again – it is free to use to post jobs on for the rest of the month.

And if you’ve made it all the way here and haven’t had a look yet – please check it out!


The price of espresso in London 2014

A little less than a year ago I wrote a short piece about the price of coffee in London. For that post I’d used the London Coffee Guide produced by a company called Allegra, (who do a lot of research) which launches at the London Coffee Festival which starts tomorrow.

Very kindly, and out of the blue, they forwarded me the data from this year’s book, and in a spreadsheet no less! (Meaning I didn’t have to put the prices in manually this time.) I thought I’d write about where things are now, what has changed and what hasn’t.

Espresso pricing

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

A few small changes: those charging the lowest price for espresso have either increased pricing, or those businesses at the bottom end of pricing are no longer in business. At the top end there has been little to no change. However, the change in pricing distribution has moved the average and the mode to be essentially the same. Overall the price of espresso in London has increased, by around 5.3% which is above the rate of inflation (2.4-3.0%).

Pricing distribution looks very similar to last year except that the number of cafes charging £2.00 (the mode) has increased from 35% to 42% of the cafes listed in the guide. I should note at this point that prices for a double espresso were used when two prices were listed.

Price distribution by neighbourhood


One rather lovely addition to the data shared is that each cafe had been tagged with its neighbourhood in London. This allowed me to look at the distribution of price across London. Here it is with the average price for an espresso and a flat white, and where they rank from most expensive (1) to cheapest (11):

2013 Vs 2014
Region Espresso (£) Rank (11) Flat White (£) Rank (11)
East London £1.89 10 £2.51 9
Farringdon/Clerkenwell £2.07 4 £2.56 6
Holborn/Bloomsbury £2.09 3 £2.66 3
Inner East/Shoreditch £1.96 7 £2.63 4
North London £1.94 9 £2.50 10
Soho £2.11 2 £2.63 5
South East £1.79 11 £2.33 11
South West £2.02 6 £2.56 7
The City £1.96 8 £2.76 1
West End £2.17 1 £2.73 2
West London £2.03 5 £2.55 8

While this is interesting, it is hardly revelatory – but there are a few notables. The most expensive retail rent in London (the West End) comes with the most expensive coffee – I don’t think anyone is particularly surprised by this.  The South East is also considered a relatively cheap (in comparison to the rest of London) place to do business, but it is interesting to see how much cheaper coffee is down there.

I was surprised to see espresso in the City was cheaper than the average (even if it is just a little under). Amusingly milk drinks are the most expensive in London, so either bankers are buying bigger cups of coffee (I used the highest price for a flat white listed for each cafe) or the cafes are recouping their expensive rent costs with their most popular drinks. On principle they should probably be more expensive…

I’m not exactly sure why, but I was quite surprised to find the standard deviation across the prices to be so similar – 11p for espresso and 12p for flat whites. To me I would say that this indicates that cafes pay attention to each other’s pricing a lot (probably more than customers) – but I’m aware that I’m stating the obvious again…

I didn’t do the data analysis on milk drinks in 2013, so hopefully I can keep it up from this year onwards. This post is just a presentation of data, and has nothing to do with what I think cafes should be charging for espresso drinks – simply what they are charging right now.

Hipsters, coffee and authenticity

I don’t really like the word hipster, nor do I condone its usage (despite occasional indulgence), but I did spend some time recently trying to work out what it meant and what we mean when we use it.

It isn’t really a cultural label the way “goth” or “mod” were and are. I think the word has ended up being many things to many people, but I think when you use it there is, at its root, one key idea: you are saying “I don’t believe you.”

It is the label given to those who posture, whose cultural, sartorial or intellectual pretence is painful to see. This is why no one self identifies this way – we are believe we’re telling the truth, or at least getting away with looking like we do.

Hipster gets thrown at coffee a great deal too. Half the time to describe the people behind the counter, half the time to describe those patiently queuing to buy it. The aloof barista, with a carefully cultivated sense of ennui and the vaguely disguised disgust at the coarseness and ignorance of customers, is perhaps the arch trope of coffee today.

When we see such theatricality, perhaps we assume that every aspect is a performance. Caring about coffee, being interested in it and deeply involved in it, all of this must be part of the act. How can we, as a customer, tell which part is genuine and which some sort of pretence.

I read a piece on coffee consumption that brought me back to this Frank Bruni piece from a few years ago in the New York Times. This particular sentence was highlighted (emphasis mine):

“In these food-mad times, have the economically privileged among us gone too far in turning simple acts of nourishment into complicated rituals of self-congratulation?

Have we offered up coffee as a way to define who we are as customers? Is this something modern or is this simply the next step after coffee’s position as the epitome of the Fair Trade movement, the next step in the evolution of our relationship with a product thats complexity is slowly starting to seep into the public sphere.

While I don’t really see coffee in London, or the UK, being regularly used by consumer’s to really define themselves (outside of those for whom coffee is a passion) – I do see a great deal of inauthenticity within the industry.

Part of this, I think, is a byproduct of the homogeneity that can develop in a market or a result of tapping into the hive mind of the coffee industry online. London is home to what others have described as the “chain with no name”, independent cafes that look and feel very similar to each, offer very similar products at similar prices, with similar service experiences, but have no shared ownership. In a situation like this, it seems pretty obvious to anyone that each of these business is unlikely to be the honest expression of an individual, and can end up looking like bandwagon-jumping or an attempt to profiteer from a trend someone doesn’t truly understand. I understand that conformity offers safety, and I see that the industry doesn’t often encourage the kind of risk taking we want to see. This part, however, may in part be because we’ve struggled to work out how the risk/reward model could really offer something compelling.

Authenticity comes from honesty, from transparency. Cafes are great canvases, for the expression of ideas about service, about taste, about design, about community, and about coffee itself. All too rarely are they any, let alone all, of these things. When they are clearly the result of someone’s considered, and personal, vision I think they’re compelling, and I believe consumers can tell and respond strongly to it. My limited experience within my own market supports this.

The cafes around London, past and present, that I have formed the strongest bonds with all have a genuine identity, from their owners and founders, that I find strongly appealing. I deeply hope to see more of this in the future, because I believe it will make talking to people about why coffee is worth their attention, their money and their time so much easier.