Coffee has never been better than it is right now. An astonishing number of new coffee shops have opened in London in recent years, establishing a new normal for quality expectations from punters. These openings have driven big change outside of cafes too. Knowing there’s a speciality cafe within ten minutes walk of just about anywhere in London, the TATE roasting their own coffee, dependable coffee across the Soho House Group and speciality grade cold brew in supermarkets, why settle for something worse than you can find so easily elsewhere?
Coffee as we know it has already been tipped on its head, and with Silicon Valley tech investors taking an interest it’s likely that there’s plenty more change coming for the world’s favourite beverage. As an Australian working in coffee in London, I’ve always been asked if coffee here is as good as it is in Australia. My answer has remained the same, that the best coffee in London is as good as anywhere else in the world, but that expectations at the base level are higher in Australia. It’s taking a huge cultural shift to create the environment for that to even out - people drinking less alcohol, taking more interest in the provenance of their food and drinks - but it’s well under way. Big changes, while they take a long time, often creep up on you so here are a few things to keep an eye on.
Office coffee has become big business, with companies like Blue Tiger Coffee linking up corporates with London’s best roasters and even setting up in-house cafes with a full barista service. Facebook’s cafe ‘Common Grind’ has developed their own app to allow employees to order coffee from their desk to avoid queuing and they can even gift a coffee to a colleague to say thanks.
The coffee at home market has been well and truly disrupted with tens of thousands introduced to brewing their own coffee at home by Pact and similar subscription services. Their promise of ‘the best cup of coffee you’ve ever made’ has opened consumer’s minds to seasonal favour changes and the world of possibilities beyond espresso based coffee. On that note, filter coffee is shaking of its stale, stigmatised image and has the coffee world excited. Whether it’s a hand pour, Aeropress or batch brew, filter coffee has increased in popularity phenomenally in the last few years especially as consumers understand the product more.
Even pods are having their moment as coffee pros are meeting people in the middle and using the tremendously convenient Nespresso format to showcase their carefully sourced and roasted coffees. I’m personally not an espresso lover but the version you get from a Colonna pod is really different and we’re going to see much more happening in this format which will come as great news to restaurants and hotels where full espresso service may not be viable.
Looking further afield, companies like Sudden Coffee in San Francisco are challenging the idea of instant coffee by using speciality grade for a just-add water version. This comes as part of the wider growth of ready-to-drink coffee, led predominantly by bottled cold brew coffee, the gentle brewing method that involves infusing coffee in cold water overnight. Young people keen to participate in coffee culture are drawn to cold brew by its smoother, mellow flavour with less bitterness. Already a maturing category in the US, cold brew is becoming a standard fixture on coffee shop menus in the UK and is opening up new avenues for speciality coffee-like supermarkets. Starbucks are onto it too, their new Starbucks Reserve concept in Covent Garden providing an outlet to test concepts like nitrogen infused cold brew.
Airport coffee might be the last one to change but the Stumptown Coffee Roasters cafe at Portland International Airport could be an early indicator that we’re moving towards bad coffee as the exception rather than the rule. An authentic experience of coffee culture comes from making something that’s normally standard into something special. Given many Londoners feel like they may never own their own home, everyday affordable luxuries like the coffee they drink form a part of their identity as much as the clothes they wear. The important thing to remember? Don’t underestimate the importance of coffee. Whether it’s in an effort to capture some extra sales earlier in the day or as a vehicle to spend more time engaging with guests, now’s the time to make “good coffee” part of your identity too.
Hugh Duffie is the co-founder of Sandows