Boughton's Coffee House - the news magazine for the retail coffee and tea trades.   Published in Britain, important to the whole world of coffee.

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Oct 13th

It is a big season for launching new regional coffee festivals – the latest new one is Glasgow, a one-day event at the Drygate Brewery on Saturday, November 29.  Rather unusually, it is not organised by anyone from the trade – it is being put together by the Campaigns Officer of the city’s Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice.

The organiser, Chris Brown, told us that although interest in speciality coffee has been growing in popularity in recent years, Scotland has festivals for everything else, for wine, beer and chocolate - but not coffee. “Glasgow is wonderful city for events, and the people here are always willing to try new things. You’ve got to give things a try and put your all into it - if it doesn’t work out how we imagine, then at least it won’t be through a lack of trying.”

Most coffee festivals do tend to have relatively similar programmes - tastings, sampling, demonstrations, barista master classes, latte art, cupping, art, music and live entertainment, and the Glasow event will have all of these, with the attitude that there remains a vast section of the general public for whom all this detail is still new and fascinating.

“This will very much be a more ‘intimate’ coffee festival,” he confirmed. “We want to make it more ‘about the customer’, a real family day, for everybody. I want people to feel comfortable and relaxed in the environment we are creating, whether you know little about coffee or whether you’re an expert... and there will be a team of experts available to anybody who wants to expand their knowledge of the coffee scene.

“We have handpicked what we believe to be the best cafés in Glasgow and best roasters in Scotland to take part.  We’ll be announcing our full list of participants on November 1st.”

The event will be at the Drygate, an ‘experiental’ craft brewery, which is a working brewery combined with a restaurant and events area. Chris Brown has considered taking the event to different locations every year. Public tickets are £8.

*

This week has been Speciality Coffee Week in Sacramento, California, an event which the local paper tells us was modelled on the area’s ‘wildly successful’ Beer Week, which has grown annually to involve dozens of events – and the coffee event has same adopted the format of dinners, tastings, and some rather more imaginative ideas.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the communities and media in California tend to get behind these things rather more than we are used to in the reserved UK, and when Sacramento tested a trial latte art contest… it was standing-room only.

The Sacramento’s event features some intriguing items.  There is a home-roasting contest, in which each participant collects the same green Guatemalan coffee at the beginning of the week, and is required to submit their roasted result at the end of the week – the top two will be served on a public brew bar by the farmer himself.   Another public roasting event gives an opportunity for consumers to compare the influence of different coffee roasts and how they pair with desserts and cakes. (This is being held at a ‘dessert diner’ – a very American concept!) 

A particularly notable ‘all the family’ event is the ‘Create Art from a Coffee Sack’ contest. This again requires contestants to pick up used sacks from a local roaster, with a week to create their piece of art. The results are to be auctioned for charity.  

The week will host the launch of a new local history book, ‘Midtown Sacramento’, with the launch event focussing on the chapter which records the history of the city’s coffee shops from the 1920s onwards, with the author giving a short talk on ‘Sacramento’s cafes of historic note’.

Again targeted at the general public, there will be a home-brewing class covering the fundamental elements of brewing great coffee at home, including coffee-to-water ratios, grinder settings, and the proper use of French Press, Aeropress, V60, and Chemex.

Sacramento does have a very active brewing community, and this seems to be enthusiastically taking part in the coffee event – a ‘Pushing Coffee Boundaries’ event will feature local bartenders showing how  craft coffee can be used as a main ingredient in new and classic cocktails, and also demonstrating the use of Chemex-prepared coffee served as a ‘chaser’ to rare bourbons. Another event at a local brewery features Guatemalan farmer, who seems to be the special guest for the week, experimenting with infusing his coffee into an IPA beer… and then in another contest, the city’s home-brewing enthusiasts will be invited to try the same thing for themselves. One brewery will be launching its new coffee stout beer.

Then there will be a Coffee Cocktail Competition among eight of the city’s top bartenders, challenged to use locally-roasted coffees ‘to elevate the level of the coffee cocktail’.

All of these events have been sponsored by local companies, and by the local businessmens’ association. It is tempting to wonder what such a detailed and imaginative local event, with similar backing, could achieve in the UK…

*

The Artisan coffee shop of west London has created a highly-visible coffee school in its new Ealing branch.

"Essentially it is a glass room made out of second-hand windows within the coffee shop itself," owner Edwin Harrison tells us. "Customers can look in at the training, and the trainees can look out at the real hustle and bustle of a coffee shop.

"We thought there was a gap in the market for a coffee school run by people who had been there and done it. We have learned that a practical and real approach is required when it comes to training, rather than process-driven training… we find that by asking questions instead of just providing answers, the baristas discover the answers themselves by exploring different results, which leads to better understanding. 

"This school is aimed at both the general public and the hospitality industry, but also serves as a facility for our own baristas to undergo continuous training.

"We'd like to share this knowledge with the rest of the hospitality industry in general."

*

There is a new managing director at one of the top companies involved in water treatment for coffee houses – this is Steve Slark, a well-known consultant in the water-treatment sector, who has joined European Water Care. The company has already been ‘re-branded’, with an emphasis on the British-made aspect of its products.

He is well aware of the new importance being given to water quality by certain coffee houses, he told us. “Water is now high-profile in the coffee sector, and the trendy coffee set who are trying to achieve the perfect coffee now say they need the perfect water… and now every supplier seems to  think they know a bit about it, so we are up against certain manufacturers who promote alchemy and ‘science’ which is mostly bull.

“The new rebranded European Water Care will now introduce a range of targeted solutions which will still be the most cost-effective, the most environmentally-friendly and very proudly made in the UK. We will aim to be the premier provider of water solutions to the coffee trade.”

*

Another of the big Irish chains is reported to be considering development into the UK – it is Insomnia, which has grown steadily over the past seventeen years to the point where it is reaching a hundred stores, and is reported to be worth 25 million euros. The chain did have a blip around five or six years ago, when a large Icelandic group purchased a 51 per cent stake in the company… but two years later a group headed by a well-known businessman and TV personality bought it back again, after which the chain began developing by franchising. The owners are reported to have suggested that the first UK Insomnia should also be open early in 2015, and have said that their entry here will be ‘well thought-out and will happen at a measured pace’.

*

There has been a new development with the annual Lavazza calendar, which for many years was given an extremely glitzy autumn launch, in keeping with the immense budget given to the item – the photography has always been done by the world’s most famous, and probably most expensive, photographers, and certainly, it has always been considered a ‘prestige’ thing to be given one. However, there was no big launch for such a calendar for 2014, and we even wondered whether the annual project had been abandoned.  It had not, and we now hear that the 2015 edition will again be a ‘prestige’ item, with one big difference – for the first time, copies of the calendar will be available for public sale.  The 2015 calendar has been photographed by the international photo-journalist Steve McCurry and has the theme of ‘the earth defenders’, who are the small local farmers of Africa. This theme goes with a campaign which Lavazza and the Slow Food organisation have launched to raise funds for the ‘10,000 gardens in Africa’ appeal, which aims to create managed food gardens in African schools and villages, to try and guarantee that communities have a continuing supply of fresh food.

 

 

Oct 6

The UK has a new national organisation of engineers who specialise in the maintenance and safety of espresso machines, a subject which has remained consistently under the spotlight since the Sainsburys explosion five years ago. The new Confederation of Independent Espresso Engineers follows the creation some years back of the Association of Independent Espresso Engineers, and indeed COFIEE includes many of the former members of the AIEE. “The COFIEE is intended as a replacement for the AIEE, and as a renewed association,” says Stuart Menges of Universal Espresso Care, who has helped form the new body. Engineers looking to join the new body will need to demonstrate a high standard of competence, he told us: “the industry has far too many ‘barista technicians’ who have gained a certificate after a one-day appreciation course, but lack any real competent skills. The COFIEE members come from high-end service industries, having obtained various related national qualifications and full apprenticeships, and all are committed to excellence in engineering. Whilst, respectfully, baristas have a far better knowledge of coffee, COFIEE engineers are far more competent to work on equipment both safely and legally.”

*

Tea has been the most rapidly-increasing hot beverage across the world over the past five years, according to the Zenith International global drinks report. Its progress has been four times that of coffee. According to the globaldrinks.com online database, tea is the largest of the 24 drink categories it measures across 72 countries, and consumption grew by 62 billion litres between 2008 and 2013.  Coffee consumption worldwide grew over the same period by 16 billion litres – considerably less than the consumption of milk (although of course it could be argued that any rise in cappuccinos and lattes automatically brings a rise in the consumption of milk). Tea and coffee both rated considerably higher that the performance of fruit juices, carbonated drinks and beer; indeed, the researchers noted that the increase in coffee consumption was unexpectedly higher than the increase in beer consumption.

*

A rather surprising compliment has been given to one of the world’s biggest tea companies by, of all people, the Greenpeace organisation. According to a Greenpeace campaigner for ecological farming, it follows ‘one of those moments when something extraordinary just happened… a small step that might start something really big’.  That was the announcement by Tata Global Beverages, the owner of Tetley (and indeed Teapigs) that it would be willing to join other giant global tea brands, such as Unilever, in working towards more ecologically-sensitive tea growing. This, said Greenpeace, would be more than just a promise not to use pesticides, but ‘the big shift’ which might completely change the whole tea growing system. It followed the release of a Greenpeace report in India which suggested that tea grown in India for all the major global brands was contaminated with mixtures of multiple pesticides, many of them classified as ‘highly or moderately hazardous’ by the World Health Organisation.  Promises by Tata and Unilever are a clear recognition that ecological pest control practices are the way to go, said Greenpeace. The sheer power of those two organisations means that ‘a jointly-supported roadmap for ecological tea in India has the potential to set the sector on the fast track towards a new global standard whereby every single teabag sold in markets all around the world could be, by default, ecological and pesticide-free by default’.

*

One of London’s great historic coffee bars, Bar Italia in Soho, raised more than £10,000 for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for sick children at the café’s 65th birthday celebration in July. Bar Italia has always been a meeting-place for the local Italian community and also for media and showbiz personalities, some of whom appeared at the event. The Polledri family have run the bar since 1949, and presented the cheque to the hospital last week.

*

We have reported recently on the spate of ‘new coffee concepts’ appearing across the non-specialist catering sectors this summer – and now there is another one! This comes from 3663, the giant supplier to general caterers, and the new concept is Beans and Steam, about which there are not yet any precise details.  All we know is that the coffee is described as a ‘premium’ concept (they all are!) and yet is described as ‘competitively priced’. There are four blends available, with point-of-sale merchandising materials.  It would appear, and we await confirmation of this from 3663, that they may have followed a recent pub trend in creating a way of introducing a specialist coffee offer at non-specialist beverage outlets. 

*

The Cup North coffee festival, which is being held in Salford on 1st-2nd November, will feature a Tamper Tantrum, which is the occasional series of coffee-themed talks and debates created by roaster Steve Leighton of Has Bean and barista champion Colin Harmon of Dublin.  It was largely to hold this aspect of the event that Cup North made a money-raising appeal through Kickstarter in July – and raised £900 more than their target. The festival will also feature a latte art competition with La Marzocco, tastings from Grumpy Mule, Extract and Atkinsons, live roasting by Square Mile, and an appearance by writer Piers Alexander, whose novel The Bitter Trade was launched in a London coffee house earlier this year. The Cup North coffee blend, a collaboration between several local roasters, has recently been available through local coffee houses.

*

There will be several screenings of A Film About Coffee during November. This film, which follows the journey of coffee from farms in Honduras and Rwanda to coffee shops in America and Japan, featuring interviews with trade players at all points in the chain, is intended to ‘open a window into the little-understood world of speciality coffee’. It will be shown on November 7th at the Arnolfini, Bristol’s Centre for Contemporary Arts, with a coffee service provided by La Marzocco, Workshop Coffee and Marco Beverage Systems. On November 10th, there will be two screenings at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. The film’s director, Brandon Loper, will be at the London event and will take part in the Q&A that follows the screening.

 

Sept 23rd

The latest well-known machine name to go into espresso capsules is the Rancilio brand from Italy, whose machines are distributed in the UK by the Coffee Machine Company, which is itself a partner company to Drury Tea and Coffee.  We have seen the prototype of the new machine, which uses the recently-popular concept of a conventional portafilter handle designed to hold a capsule.  In this case, the capsule format is the ‘espresso point’ style, already used to some effect by Lavazza and Illy.  This has enabled Drury to pack its own Cuidado coffee into the capsules.  The new machine is a plug-in one with a four-litre water tank, as opposed to a permanently plumbed-in machine, and is aimed at the caterer doing up to fifty espressos a day – it will be available next month.

*

The Rombouts coffee brand, which was the pioneer of the idea of one-cup filter coffee servings in the catering trade well before the modern coffee-house boom, has become the latest brand to detail the exact make-up of its newest espresso blend (Qualitasse did the same on its Anvil blend a few months ago).  Rombouts has made clear on packs the proportions of the four coffees used in its latest Campione Barista blend, which rather unusually currently includes two Ethiopians, a Sidamo and a Yirgacheffe, together with Brazilian and Guatemalan beans. “You wouldn’t expect a seasonal blend from a name like ours,” the company cheerfully acknowledged to us. “We aren’t a micro-roaster which has just appeared, and nor are we a supplier that is likely to go away… but our roastmaster has been working on smaller-quantity roasts based on ‘what coffee is good at the moment’. And what the market also likes at the moment is a coffee which works well as both espresso and filter… and this does.”

*

Rather surprisingly, the coffee-and-cancer subject has cropped up again in America, with a non-profit organisation in California proposing to sue major coffee chains with the aim of getting them to label their coffee as carcinogenic. The state’s Council for Education and Research on Toxics is reportedly raising actions against Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Seattle’s Best Coffee and others under a Californian regulation which requires warning labels to be placed on products that contain chemicals linked to cancer. The ingredient in question is acrylamide, described as a by-product of coffee roasting, but also something which occurs in cooked vegetables and baked goods, and which is listed in California as a carcinogen – according to ‘expert testimony’, a single cup of coffee contained far more than the state registers as ‘no risk’, and as a result, the litigants want coffee brands to be forced to publish a health warning. The coffee chains’ own experts say that acrylamide in coffee poses no significant risk under consumption of a hundred cups a day.

*

Starbucks has introduced a coffee that supposedly tastes like Guinness. The drink is called the Dark Barrel Latte, and has appeared in a handful of test markets in Ohio and Florida. In the usual over-the-top language used by Starbucks, they describe the drink as ‘inspired by the rise of craft beers, Dark Barrel brings together savoury toasty malt and chocolaty tastes topped with sweet dark caramel drizzle… this sophisticated combination offers a delicious complexity that builds with every sip’.  It does not actually contain Guinness, but a flavoured syrup supposedly tasting like Irish stout beer.   Reaction in America has been described as ‘mixed to negative’.

*

The Sustainable Restaurant Association proposes to extend its work to including rating the sustainability of cafes and coffee shops. In what might be considered a surprising criticism in their launch announcement, the SRA has said: “for too long, cafés have stuck to promoting the social and environmental credentials of their coffee and tea, overlooking the significance of the other ingredients in their menus”. The coffee-house trade itself might reasonably suggest that independent cafes have actually been extremely active in stressing such things in recent years – however, the SRA has recruited Costa to devise a “pioneering new scheme to support and guide the UK’s cafes on their sustainability journey”.  Rating is by a survey, in which respondents provide answers and evidence to questions about their sustainability practice : it can be tested at http://www.thesra.org/what-we-offer/free-cafe-rating-demo/

 

 

Sept 15th

It is a week of environmentally-friendly stories in the coffee world, beginning with the news that Bio Bean of London has won £400,000 from the Dutch Postcode Lottery Green Challenge.

Bio Bean is the company which has proposed to recover vast amounts of coffee waste from London catering businesses, with a view to turning them into biofuel products, such as biodiesel and biomass pellets, used for powering buildings and transport systems. The Dutch Postcode Lottery is an annual challenge for sustainable, creative, innovative products and services that reduce carbon emissions. This year, it drew 324 entries from 57 countries.

The founder of Bio Bean, Arthur Kay, has said that his win will allow him to develop his service outside London, and possibly internationally. He has already approached major coffee chains with a view to collecting their used grounds, for transformation into energy at a factory in Sussex. He says that in eighteen months, he has succeeded in collecting perhaps two per cent of the estimated 200,000 tonnes of coffee grounds disposed of in London each year. His aim is to recycle 40 per cent of the capital’s coffee waste within a year.

 * 

Meanwhile, in Cape Town, Truth Coffee has said that it is now the first coffee roaster in the world to be powered entirely by biofuel.  It has gone over completely to oil power using waste chip-fat and the like, which it says is oil that would have had otherwise to be disposed of in an environmentally-unfriendly way. The flavour of the coffee is, the roaster stresses, not affected.

*

And in London, the Velopresso coffee tricycles have now reached full production stage.  These are the bikes in which the coffee grinders are pedal-driven, and the coffee is brewed through gas-fired lever machines, with a result described as a highly efficient, compact ‘on the go’ coffee service with no motors and no noise.

It has taken three years for the company to get to the stage where it can now accept bespoke orders.  There are as yet only a handful of working models in the world, and in London the cycle café Look Mum, No Hands! has the prototype working in Covent Garden.

*

The latest in coffee research from ‘experts’ outside the industry itself has concluded that the growth of coffee shops has had no effect on the British consumption of coffee.  This one comes from what are described as ‘leisure analysts’ at Barclays, who have said that the UK consumption of coffee is lower than it was eight years ago, and that coffee shops have simply taken over an amount of coffee which was previously consumed at home or in an office. 

Several people in the industry have, while not dismissing the research, pointed out that the industry is a little too complex to allow for generalist statements:  one suggested that physical coffee consumption has actually increased, but that there are confusing side issues such as the arrival of pods, which mean no waste in home use, whereas home users would regularly dispose of maybe thirty per cent of what they brewed.  James Hoffmann of the Square Mile roastery has commented to us that this illustrates a need for the industry itself to have a batter grasp of what is going on: “I had noticed that the total imports/consumption for the UK seem to have tracked with population growth over the last few years. I'm not sure if we're seeing a shift away from instant, whether independents are eroding sales from chains - or if the reporting as a whole is wrong.  Obviously there are lots of roasting companies who roast more than five years ago, or didn't exist then, but I don't know if this is new growth or an upgrading towards speciality. I'd love to be able to understand more about it.”

The green-bean importer Stephen Hurst, the ‘coffee hunter’ of Mercanta, told us “even without hard facts, this would not surprise me – even though the the booming coffee shops serve coffee at 14-20gm a shot, the UK is still a relatively low per-capita consumer. The coffee house boom on the high street may have only had a marginal impact on per capita consumption.”

Barclays has not responded to requests for more detailed information on its research.

*

It is likely that one of the UK’s most distinctive mobile units may come on to the market - Colonel Grumpy’s Coffee Bus is likely to be up for sale. This is the mobile coffee business run by retired colonel Ian Blair-Pilling, which operates from a real Central American bus which he brought home after his army service in the area.  It has become a regular sight at all kinds of event in the south of England.  (Enquiries passed to the editor of Coffee House magazine will be passed on).

*

Of all the celebrity-hysteria stories in the mass media about the 20th anniversary of the American TV show Friends, which was set in a coffee shop, the most entertaining may come from a British company.  CaféPod, which makes Nespresso-compatible capsules, has obtained an artefact called ‘the legendary orange sofa’, which was part of the main set of the series. 

American sit-com programmes have always tended to have one fixed camera position, and all the action goes on in one place, directly in front of the camera – in the case of Friends, this was a sofa.  CaféPod has managed to get its hands on the sofa, and has sent it on a UK tour.  Meanwhile, CaféPod has re-designed its packaging, which now features a rather good image of the New York skyline.

*

Sept 9

With a quite remarkably unanimity of opinion, three of the world’s top coffee-house chains have made new moves in their roasting.

Costa has, after over forty years, decided to create a new roast; this will not replace the company’s existing house blend, but will be the first of a series of limited-edition roasts.  It is to be called the Old Paradise Street No 3  (that’s the address of the roastery!) and is an entirely south American blend of Colombian and Brazilian.  Rather oddly, the chain has said that the new roasts: “reflect how consumer tastes are changing and how their palates have grown increasingly varied”. This is something which other roasters have spoken of for years, of course.

This comes a couple of weeks after the giant Canadian chain Tim Hortons did exactly the same thing – it too has devised a second roast after almost fifty years.  This one, interestingly, is a darker roast, which around forty per cent of its customers say they want.

And Starbucks has started work on what it calls a ‘coffee theatre’, which is a combined roastery,  tasting room and retail store in Seattle, which will give it more production capacity for its small-batch Starbucks Reserve coffee lines. The CEO, Howard Schultz, said: “everything we have created and learned about coffee has led us to this moment.”  Time magazine responded a little acidly: ‘fear not, beverage innovation is here…’

*

There will be a Dublin Coffee & Tea Festival for the first time, at the Royal Dublin Society from 12-14 September.  The event has been created by both the Irish Foodservice Suppliers Alliance and the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe, and as is often the case with such projects, virtually no advance information has been given out, but we do like the idea of a ‘home barista’ contest, and the equipment maker Marco has put together a Roasters’ Village, which is a collection of micro-roasters all looking for face-to-face contact with an audience of consumers.

*

The long-standing battle between Nespresso and the makers of ‘compatible’ systems may be over, according to reports from France.  After years of court cases between the giant brand and other companies looking to make capsules to fit its machines, Nespresso has now reportedly agreed to a solution proposed by French anti-trust regulators, by which the company will give competitors four months' warning about changes to its machines and will hand over prototypes for testing. Nespresso said it would share the information with manufacturers selling outside France as well.  One of the rival companies which has fought Nespresso all the way, and which is run by a former Nespresso  senior executive, said: “everything is compatible today, from car accessories to smartphones – but Nespresso has acted as if it were legal to obstruct competition."

*

Peter Kirton, the managing director who has controlled the rise of the Esquires coffee-house chain in the UK, has retired – almost.    “I am ‘officially’ retired, but the reality is that I shall be continuing to work as a consultant,” he told us.  The new UK managing director is one of the chain’s original founders, Doug Williamson.

*

The ‘coffee club’ subscription concept continues to expand quite dramatically. There have been two notable moves in recent days – Pact Coffee, one of the names to have big progress in the subscription business, has now launched a new service called Coffee Run that supplies offices with regular deliveries. It is nothing new for coffee companies to target the office market, but the opportunity for these clients to choose from the varieties offered by modern artisan roasteries is probably unusual. Pact’s founder Stephen Rapoport has said: "you can bet that many of the 'Best Place to Work' companies in the UK are doing well because of the food and drink they offer onsite to their staff.”

Meanwhile, in the north, Beanify of Leeds has said that it is in discussions with its first corporate client after concentrated on subscription business with individual customers for the first few months of the company’s life. The co-founders, brothers Simon and Stuart Edwards, developed the idea last year as an entry for a local business competition – they got into the final shortlist, and have been running Beanify as a part-time interest until they decide to take it on full-time.

*

The Coffee # 1 chain, which is owned by the Brain brewery of south Wales, has come up with a novel charitable project in support of a disabled two-year-old boy.  The young chap has a problem which, according to doctors, means that he will never be able to walk or talk, and which is a condition that is normally fatal during infancy.  However, the boy has progressed better than expected, and Coffee#1 will be selling gingerbread men for the next three months and donating half of the proceeds to a fund which will pay for supporting therapy.

 

*

2nd Sept.

It is nothing new to hear the media going on about the number of coffee shops in Britain – but a fascinating online Barista Britain service has been devised which tells how many of the Big Three there are in any given area, by keying in a postcode. It uses the Food Standards Agency online database, and although the Manchester Evening News says ‘we have created this tool…’, so does the media in mid-Wales and Yorkshire, so we don’t know exactly who is behind it. The Manchester paper notes that it has 49 Costas compared to just 17 Starbucks ( ‘just’ !) and 17 Caffe Neros.  Meanwhile, farther south, the local media in Spelthorne, which is near Twickenham, has reported that it is the nation’s Costa hot-spot with twice as many branches per head of population than the national average. We could not resist the obvious move, and entered the postcode of the Spelthorne council offices into the Manchester Evening News site: it reports 14 Costas, nine Starbucks and eight Neros within a five-mile radius.

You can find the search engine here -

http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/whats-on/food-drink-news/how-many-costa-starbucks-nero-7685270

*

This month sees the return of the Bring Home the Harvest campaign for British Food Fortnight, which runs from 20 September to 5 October.  Many trade organisations have got involved, and indeed the latest reported today is the  Hospital Caterers Association, which is encouraging its members to get take part.  We have in the past discussed with the organisers of the Fortnight whether or not they consider that coffee roasted in the UK counts as a legitimate British food – and we can report that the answer has been an enthusiastic ‘yes’ (there are precedents – the Indian food trade has been recognised for innovations created here). However, despite their wish to promote British roasteries, the organisers have hit a snag – they have expected to be able to work with a trade association which promotes coffee to the general public, and of course none of our trade bodies is set up to do that. The organisers have repeated their offer to promote British coffee roasting, if only we can find a spokesperson for the trade

*

We have recently reported on various trade-related museums and collections – now we hear that there is to be an entire coffee-themed amusement park.  It is in, of all places, South Korea, at Chuncheon in the country’s northern province of Gangwon. An agreement has been signed between the Tom’n’Toms coffee shop chain, the governor and the mayor, for an attraction will reportedly be eco-friendly and educational. The city is keen on festivals and attractions – it has a puppet festival, a mime festival, a noodle festival, was one of the first cities in the world to hold a marathon (since 1946) and is hoping for a Legoland.  The governor made the rather curious announcement that “the coffee theme park, the largest one in Korea…”, as if there are likely to be several. There appears to be a business logic in it for Tom’n’Toms, which has something over 400 sites in the country – the theme park may double as a big roastery. The chain also appears to be active in Thailand, Australia, and America.

*

The celebrity media are getting themselves extremely worked up about a project to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Friends, the American sitcom based in a coffee shop. On September 17th, the Warner Bros media group will open a pop-up working replica of Central Perk, the coffee shop shown in the soap, with a special blend roasted for the occasion. The Central Perk coffee bar will be located at Lafayette Street in Manhattan and will operate for only a couple of days. Websites for TV soap fans have been getting increasingly ecstatic, exhorting fans to ‘check out signature props from the show, relax on Central Perk’s iconic orange couch, order coffee off the famous Central Perk chalkboard, meet the man who starred as the barista…’ and so on. Not surprisingly, the coffee will be available for retail sale.

*

By coincidence, the Sky 1 channel is attempting to sell, in kit form, the café which featured in 13 episodes of sitcom The Café, and which was sited on the seafront at Weston-super-Mare. The comedy ran for just over two years, to a mixed reception. The wooden building was taken down with a view to being re-built at a park in Taunton,  having been given as a gift when the show was cancelled, and although planning consent had been given and volunteer students were expect to re-build it, the idea was abandoned as impractical. It was decided that the building should be  auctioned off on Ebay with the money raised going to charity.

*

In London, it does now appear certain that the man known for the promotion of Illy coffee in Britain for many years is behind the opening of a new espresso bar in Soho, sometime soon. Marco Arrigo, who is head of quality for Illy in the UK and also manages a linked espresso school, is said to be opening in Old Compton Street, right in the area of the early espresso bars of the 1950s. From what we can gather, the business will concentrate on pure espresso, as opposed to takeaway lattes and cappuccinos, and the big question we have heard asked is: is he using Illy coffee?  Marco himself has simply said: “it’s too early to comment”.

*

The London Tea Company has achieved its strategy of becoming fully Fairtrade-certified across all its products. The big puzzle of trying to make up an all-Fairtrade range has been the availability of ingredients of acceptable quality, not least because the Fairtrade rules are different for ‘tea’ and for ‘herbal infusions’, which are now a major part of every brand’s stock. For everyday tea as it is generally drunk in the UK, the leaf or the blend has to be entirely from a Fairtrade-certified farm, and the owners of the London Tea Company have recently worked on not just getting its own estates certified, but in helping the surrounding farms of independent smallholders to be certified as well, to qualify for premium prices – some of those small neighbours, the company acknowledges, are now producing small quantities of hand-picked tea which is of an even higher quality than the company’s own estates.  For herbal infusions, the familiar Fairtrade ruling applies, saying that a certain percentage of the blend has to be from a certified farm before the entire product can bear the Mark. A typical problem is that Fairtrade-certified bergamot, the major factor in Earl Grey, can be ‘near impossible’ to source in the necessary quality and quantity.  “Creating an all-Fairtrade range has been a combination of imagination, availability, and the practicalities of the rules!” remarks the company.

*

Taylors of Harrogate is offering caterers a chance to win a year’s supply of Yorkshire Tea.  The campaign, which runs from September until November, requires caterers to visit the website  www.taylorsoutofhome.co.uk  for free point-of-sale kits and samples.  The challenge is for caterers to get their customers to Tweet saying that they like the tea, using the hashtag ‘#properbrew’ to identify the café where they drank it. The outlet that attracts the most tweets will win a year’s supply of tea. Rather curiously, Taylors has just released research saying that 46 per cent of consumers would be prepared to pay more for Yorkshire Tea, as a premium brand.

*

There has been a range extension of what have been called the ‘coffee-style’ wines produced by Vinimark.  The Barista Pinotage, launched in 2009, has apparently sold so well internationally that it will now be joined by Barista Chardonnay. The African winemaker Bertus Fourie is known as an experimenter, and pioneered ‘coffee-style’ wines using the Pinotage hybrid grape and a specific yeast strain. The result was described as having ‘mocha and chocolate flavours - the richness of coffee beans, the smoothness of creamy chocolate and the freshness of ripe fruit’.  However, it has also been decribed as ‘the most controversial style of Pinotage wine in the world’, and has sharply divided opinion among wine critics.  It is widely said that fermentation in oak is responsible for the coffee aroma, but the brewer himself says that the taste and aroma is achieved by the right combination of grape and yeast.

 

*

 

Aug 26

 

There has been an interesting result of the move by St Austell breweries to introduce its own-brand coffee into its pub estate.  The Brewer and Bean coffee is supplied by Miko, and the pub chain has worked seriously to promote it in 22 of its 168 pubs, with the result that the chain’s total coffee business has risen by 49 per cent over last year, and one pub doubled its coffee sales. The company says these results prove that the ‘pub-coffee shop’ model is a successful and profitable approach worthy of further investment.

*

Another western brewery with coffee interests is Brain’s of south Wales, which has been developing the Coffee#1 café chain, and now has over forty. The newest outlet is in Newton Abbot, where a former furniture store has been turned into a coffee shop, with deliberately mis-matched chairs and tables.

*

A quite remarkable development of the ‘compatible capsule’ saga has cropped up in America.  As is well known, the business of coffee capsules which will work in Nespresso home machines has been one of the big European growth areas in recent years. In America, the big capsule product is the Keurig K-Cup, and a lawsuit by a group of consumers has accused another coffee company of giving deliberately misleading details of the quality of coffee going into its compatible cartridges – the supplier attempted to produce its lookalike product before the patent on the original had expired, and created a capsule without an inner filter, which it believed would overcome any patent problems. However, to make it work, they then filled the capsules with a mixture of instant coffee and fresh grounds, resulting in what the court has described as an ‘awful’ response from the public. Lawsuits were filed accusing the compatible-maker of violating consumer-protection laws by giving misleading information about their contents, but a court dismissed the original action on the basis that while the coffee may have been bad, its packaging was not misleading.  An appeal court has now reinstated the case.

*

The bubble-tea phenomenon appears to be still on an upward course – Assad Khan, who opened the UK’s first specialist café in Soho three years ago, now has instore outlets in Top Shop, Harvey Nichols and Westfield, shops in Notting Hill and South Kensington, supplies 44 outlets in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Russia, Switzerland and Kuwait, and has reached a turnover of two million pounds.  Bubble tea is a coloured beverage which features chewy ‘pearls’ made of tapioca; it was a big craze in Taiwan, but in some far-Eastern areas the rapid rise of the sector was followed by an equally sharp decline. Assad Khan has now told the financial press that he proposes to become the world leader in the product, saying:  “It is drunk all over the world, but there is no global leader. Where is the Starbucks of bubble tea?”

*

There has been a row among the famous and artistic patrons of a coffee shop in Hampstead, London - the idea that the Brewhouse café, which is in the local stately home Kenwood House, would open at 10am instead of nine has reportedly caused the local intellectuals to have a group fit. The problem arose after a familiar situation in the café world, in which the owners of a property decided to take on a new catering contractor to run the coffee shop.  The owners, English Heritage, then published new, shorter, hours of business… and the local creative community arose in protest. A historian who writes all her books in the café said: “everyone was outraged – there’s a whole cluster of us who use it early and it would be devastating for us creatives.  It’s a very literary, artistic space, different from any other café.”  The Brewhouse is said to also be a writing place for novelist John le Carré, and a Sunday paper columnist has also said he does all his work there; musicians and actors make up a proportion of the clientele. English Heritage later protested that no decision about opening times had been made, and one of the London papers said, slightly sniffily and dismissively, that the row was ‘a very Hampstead story’.

*

A coffee-shop phenomenon which has now cropped up in several places is that of the ‘honesty’ store, where customers are invited to brew their own coffee, and either pay what they think it is worth, or refer to a price list and drop the amount into an honesty box.  The owner of one such business in Valley City, North Dakota, has now reported a curioisity experienced by other such operators – the revenue in his honesty box has actually amounted to a far higher sum than shown on his price list. The owners of the Vault renovated an old bank building and then saved costs by employing no staff, but inviting customers to pour themselves filter coffee from a bulk brewer or espresso from a capsule machine, and serve themselves from a display of pastries.  Patrons can pay by cash, cheque or credit card, although there is a sign below the cash slot which says ‘no IOUs’.  To the surprise of the owners, the revenue has run at an average of fifteen per cent more than they would have received if customers had paid a human cashier the amounts shown on their price list.  There are security cameras onsite, but no customer has yet been seen to leave without paying something.

*

A very unusual branch of Costa, for which planning permission was granted some time ago, now appears to be in the way to completion.  The café will be built inside a wartime landmark at Kings Hill, Sevenoaks – it is an art-deco airfield control tower which is now a Grade II listed building. The architects working on it have said: “wait until you see it - it’s completely different to the usual Costa specification.”  It would appear to be in a good commercial position -  a ‘Wealth of the Nation’ report some years ago listed the area as having the highest average income in Great Britain.

*

 

Aug 19

So far as we can establish, the smaller coffee companies have done extremely well in this year’s Great Taste awards.  While apologising for any omissions (it is always extremely challenging to work through the list)  we see that Hands On of Wadebridge took six awards, including three 3-stars, which is quite remarkable. Beanpress of Dorset got four awards, including one three-star, and Monsoon Estate Coffee of Atherstone also took four prizes. Elsewhere, the Fine Coffee Club of Edinburgh got three, and Bespoke Coffee of Devizes won two awards.  A notable scorer was the Ludlow Food Centre, which took three awards – it roasts only for its own in-house café and its town centre deli.

Among the other regionals that were recognised with awards were Owens of Modbury, Reads of Sherborne, World Coffees, the York Coffee Emporium, Coaltown of Carmarthen, Coffee Care of Skipton, Mariners of York, the Coffee Factory of Axminster and Crafted Coffee of Chichester.

Among the bigger names and bigger roasteries, Bewleys took 13 awards, of which eight were Grumpy Mule from its recently-acquired Yorkshire roaster. Also in the north, Taylors of Harrogate took 13 in total, with a mixture of tea and coffee awards. Cafedirect had seven and Union Hand-Roasted got four, including a three-star for a Yirgacheffe. Café du Monde took three awards.

Among the other interesting items we spotted, Coffee Merchants UK took five, all of which, we think, were for ESE espresso pods… and CafePod got four for Nespresso-compatible capsules.  The Marley reggae coffee from Sea Island got an award for the One Love blend.

The tea section is rather more complex, but we note that Imporient, with the Birchall brand got ten including one three-star; Joe’s Tea of London got four, including a three-star. Two similarly-named brands did well, the London Tea Company (four awards) and The Tea Company of London (eight).

There were seven for Tea Studio, seven for Teapigs, and two three-stars from five prizes for Talisman of London.

(We do applaud Cup Glasgow and the Nela tea company, who had the good grace in their entries to acknowledge Blends for Friends as their blenders… we believe blender Alex Probyn had, as usual, many others successes, but anonymously!)

*

What is probably the first serious analysis of occupation-related pain among baristas has been published in America.  It consists largely of an examination of low-back and shoulder-related activity during the preparation of espresso-based beverages, undertaken partly by questionnaire and also by video for ‘bio-mechanical analysis’.  Seventy-three per cent of respondents reported having experienced lower back pain, half of them blaming their work.  Another 68 per cent reported shoulder pain, and again half put it down to barista work. Particular attention was paid to tamping, which baristas had complained is the most strenuous task involved in preparing espresso. It will come as no surprise to the trade to read the researchers’ report that “during manual tamping, it was observed that baristas put their body into awkward positions in which they then apply considerable force vertically downward… those who reported lower back pain tended to be those who perform manual tamping.” The researchers noted that “although the process of making espresso-based drinks is not considered a very labour-intensive task, there are many components to the process that may significantly, over time, contribute to pain of the low back and/or shoulder regions in baristas. The data reported in this article will be used to create new or redesign existing tools used by baristas, including tampers, and to redesign workplaces for baristas.”

*

The manager of the Esquires branch in Coventry, who is well-known for his charity fund-raising, has suffered an accident on the first day of a proposed 19-day charity trip down the west coast of America.  Steven Prime was hit by a pick-up truck and suffered broken bones in his back, wrist and six broken ribs; a local paper reports that the pick-up driver had swerved to avoid another vehicle and hit Steven who was riding at the side of the road.

*

Scotland’s first tea festival will be held in Auchenblae and Laurencekirk from August 22-24. The festival, taking place, will feature an exhibition on James Taylor, the Scot who became ‘the father of tea’ in Sri Lanka, with the unveiling of a plaque at his childhood home. The festival has been funded through awards and grants from Homecoming Scotland, Aberdeenshire Council, Community Food Funds, Awards for All and other local groups and individuals.

*

An extremely odd case has been reported by the local media in Newcastle, where the staff from a Greggs bakery café were accused of damaging an A-board belonging to another café. The incident was not witnessed, but the independent café owner says that she heard a crash and saw Greggs staff walking away from her damaged sign - Greggs has reportedly apologised, offered to pay for the damage, and says it wants to be a good neighbour.

*

There have been several successes in trade-related funding – Draughts, the proposed board-game coffee-house for London, has completed its Kickstarter crowd-funding by achieving £15,000 in investment, half as much again as it had hoped for, two weeks ahead of target.  The Cup North coffee festival for Manchester also succeeded in making its crowd-fund target, and the Pact Coffee subscription business has raised two million in venture capital funding.

 

*

 

Aug 12

The international media has expressed unanimous horror at a report to be presented this week to the American Chemical Society, which will ‘expose’ the amount of fillers being used in retail ground coffee.  The coffee trade will not be surprised at all about another allegation that certain coffee brands use large quantities of rye, wheat and corn to bulk up their packed products – the difference this time is that a group of scientists has developed a test to detect exactly what unwanted matter is inside a bag of coffee. A team from the State University of Londrina in Brazil says that after roasting and grinding, it is impossible to visually detect foreign matter – however, they say that by liquid chromatography analysis, they can now highlight the ‘fingerprint’ of known compounds in coffee, which can then be separated from the other ingredients, which are therefore not coffee.  Furthermore, the university team say that they can now identify what these filler items are, and can identify with 95 per cent accuracy the presence of corn, barley, wheat, soybeans, rice, beans, acai seed, brown sugar or starch syrup.

Elsewhere, a report from New Delhi says that Greenpeace has raised allegations over unacceptable levels of dangerous chemicals in tea. The a global pressure group has said that pesticides considered both ‘highly’ and ‘moderately’ hazardous by the World Health Organization have been found in leading tea brands. The accusations were denied by the Tea Board of India. 

*

There is never any shortage of research to prove that tea and coffee are either good for you or bad for you, and it is perfectly common to find contradictory ‘findings’ on exactly the same subject.  It has now been reported that four to five cups of coffee a day may protect against tinnitus, the ‘buzzing in the ears’ ailment, and a study of more than 65,000 women has concluded that those who drank the most coffee were at least risk of it. The American professor involved said: “we observed a significant inverse association between caffeine intake and the incidence of tinnitus." However, it has also been confidently recorded in the past that coffee is bad for the ailment – a British health organisation says that “not drinking coffee before sleeping” helps avoid tinnitus, and an earlier American project on the subject reported that ‘caffeine abstinence’ tended to annoy the research subjects rather more than improve their tinnitus. The researchers said: “no evidence was found to justify caffeine abstinence as a therapy to alleviate tinnitus… but acute effects of caffeine withdrawal might add to the burden.”

*

There is a similar divergence of research over the importance of coffee shops to the national high street. The coffee trade was perfectly happy to read quite recently the research which said that “high streets are enjoying significant economic and social benefits brought by the rise of branded and independent coffee shops”.  This research suggested that the presence of coffee shops would increase high street footfall, make customers stay in the high street for longer, and raise local high street economies by maybe four per cent in all. However, a local paper in mid-Sussex has recently been looking into the standard question of ‘do we have too many coffee shops?’, and filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out how many change-of-use applications had been submitted in East Grinstead for the change of retail premises into beverage and food premises. The answer was that of seventeen such applications made in the last five years, all have been approved. The local paper reported considerable local disquiet about the number of cafes, and one person quoted by the paper said: “the high street will now be the death of this town.”

*

It has been a big week for predictable trade research in old subjects. According to United Coffee, three-quarters of all hotel guests are now dissatisfied with the quality of coffee in their hotel bedroom, rating it either ‘poor’ or ‘average’. Rather curiously, this research appeared to suggest that the flashier the hotel, the worse the coffee – forty per cent of ‘boutique’ hotel users said the quality of coffee was ‘very poor’, while guests in B&Bs were more pleased with their coffee. One third of respondents would not return to a hotel which served bad coffee.

*

In recent weeks, we have reported the publishing of an entertaining book Coffee Obsession, by a director of the Square Mile roaster, Anette Moldvaer. Now, in two months’ time, her co-director James Hoffman will publish The World Atlas of Coffee. This book comes about after he was approached by the publishers of The World Atlas of Wine, to write an equivalent volume. 

*

An entertaining subject of recent weeks has been the refusal of Olympic athlete Kelly Holmes to give away the likely name of her new coffee-house, which will open at the end of the month.  It has now been revealed – it is Café 1809 Hildenborough, after the number she wore when she won gold at Athens.

*

Rather oddly, the 2015 latte art championship will be held this year – it will be held on December 13.  The new sponsor of the event is the La Marzocco espresso machine company, which will organise workshops and talks throughout the day, at an event which will be open to the public. The current UK champ is Dhan Tamang of the Caracoli cafes in Hampshire, who earlier this year achieved the probably-unique feat of winning two latte art titles in two days. However, he didn’t get to take part in the world finals due to administrative problems, and tells us that his aim is to do so this time, and that he has already planned his new design.

*

There has been a mixed response to the strategy of a small cafe in Minnesota to cope with the state’s increase in the minimum wage, which has gone up from $7.25 to $8 per hour. The café owner worked out that even with only half a dozen staff, the increase would cost him $10,000 a year, so he added a ‘minimum wage fee’ of 35 cents to every bill. Some customers called for a boycott of his café – but the owner says that business has actually gone up since he made the move.

 *

27th July

 

The Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee artefacts have been found

 

The Bramah collection, the probably-unique archive of historic coffee and tea-related machines, equipment and ephemera which formed the Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee in south London, has been located.

 

Ever since Edward Bramah died in 2008, and his museum and tea-room was closed and turned into a decorating merchant’s warehouse, many people in the coffee and tea trades have wondered about what became of the collection. Soon after his death, there were vague news stories in the south London press which referred to a re-opening at another site, but nothing was heard after that.

 

Boughton’s Coffee House magazine did not give up trying to find the answer… and last week we were permitted access to the collection by the present owner.  We took with us Russell Kerr of Doctor Espresso, the collector whose renovated espresso machines were on display at this year’s Caffe Culture show, and were allowed entry to a basement store-room in which we were able to confirm with our own eyes that the collection still exists.   

 

It is not possible to catalogue in detail the machines we found down there – for the moment we shall simply report Russell Kerr’s comment that one La Pavoni, of a design which dates from early in the twentieth century, ‘comes from the dawn of coffee’ – and then he added that seeing one of them is unusual enough, but seeing two side by side is astonishingly rare. 

 

“This treasure trove of hidden gems should get Espresso Land talking a lot” said Russell Kerr on his Facebook page at the weekend, on which he published some pictures and a brief video of what we found underground.  There is an international ‘community’ of people who seek out, buy and sell, and renovate very early espresso machines, and news that the Bramah Collection still exists will undoubtedly stir worldwide interest.   

 

Edward Bramah was a rare authority on tea and coffee – he actually did start his career in the plantations in the 1950s, and he began designing his own coffee machines in the late 1960s. It has been speculated that his collection began when he started buying up vintage equipment for research into his own designs. He was one of the most entertaining natural speakers in the beverage world, and could hold trade audiences enthralled with his stories of trade history, invariably embellished by a vast amount of humour.

 

He was firmly of the opinion that too few people in today’s beverage trade understand the history of their subject, and once said: “I built two companies on the technique of demonstrating tea and coffee… but we are now paying the price for training salesmen to compete only on discount.”

 

He wrote several books, including the remarkable ‘Bramah Tea and Coffee Walk Around London’, which showed the main historical locations of events connected with the beverage trade, from the site of the first coffee house to the sites of tea warehouses and tea auctions. At the time of his death, he was working on a book to be called ‘Britain's Tea Heritage’.

 

The current holder of the Bramah museum artefacts has told us: “Edward was a collector, a romantic, a social historian. I always told him I would keep the museum alive and now I think we have the first step to bringing it back, and maybe taking it to the kind of museum that Edward dreamed of.”

 

 

The full story will appear in the next printed issue of Boughton’s Coffee House.

 

 

Up to this year, we always shunted our front page news off to the archive after about a month.  Then we realised we had six years of news in a giant archive file!   We're now trimming that archive down radically.

We'll have a new archive ready soon.   News from August 2009 is here. The giant archive from 2003 is here

 

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