Coffee's latest Wave. Are we lost at sea?
Coffee is big business. There's no getting away from it. With Coca-Cola's acquisition of Costa Coffee earlier this year, the expansion of Department of Social Affairs and Black Sheep; buying up smaller roasteries and chains in the process, it's easy to get cynical and downbeat about the state of the independent coffee scene here in the UK. Does anyone really care about the coffee? Is it truly just about making a (big) quick buck at the expense of staff, customer and brand identity? Now, I'm not about to criticise a business model that is based on growth and financial success, but how do we stay true to our original values and passions that brought us into this industry? How do we stay authentic?
Most people that get into speciality coffee do so by accident. They take a cafe job during uni, they're in between jobs and need some cash, or they move to a new city and just need a job for the time being. This was my path. But like so many, we get hooked and we fall in love. We fall in love with the craft, the flavours, the story, the coffee, the farmers and our customers. Those that want to take the next step and open their own shop do so for a variety of different reasons, but most want to have more control over their product and their environment. They care about their local community and want to be a part of it. They obviously want to make money, but I would guess this is a by-product because of the rest.
The latest 5th Wave of coffee is all about The Business of Coffee. What this boils down to, is big brands creating replicable, 'boutique' spaces. Now, the Webster Dictionary definition of Boutique is ‘a small company that offers highly specialised services or products’. This is where I struggle with the 5th Wave. How can you be big business and boutique?
I'd like to look at the 5th Wave a little differently. The Speciality Coffee Scene is clearly influencing the big coffee corporations. Just look at the recent explosion of cold brew coffee into the mainstream. I had my first nitro cold brew at Timbertrain Coffee in Vancouver 5 years ago; it was exceptional and unique to the City. We need to stay ahead and keep innovating and creating products and experiences that customers can't get anywhere else. You can do that as an Independent Coffee Shop in a small town or city. You just must get the foundations right. Great products, unique and welcoming space, authentic brand identity and ethos, well trained staff who are consistent and pay attention to the details. Make your business stand out for all the right reasons. Do this by investing money into the right areas. Do you research and get support for the areas you're not experienced in. Don't get side-tracked by what the big players are doing, because they are learning and taking ideas from us.