Once obsessed only with tea, the UK has metamorphosed into a nation of coffee lovers in recent years. According to the latest UK Retail Coffee Shop Market report from Allegra Strategies, the UK coffee shop market was worth 6.2bn in 2013 and is showing strong year-on-year growth. One in five Brits now visit coffee shops every day, compared to just one in nine in 2009.
The original coffee revolution was led by branded chains such as Starbucks and Costa, who brought espresso drinks to the mass market, albeit heavily disguised with syrups, sprinkles and gallons of milk. After years of thinking instant coffee was the pinnacle of sophistication, Brits were soon hooked on vanilla lattes and mocca chocca frappacinos.
In recent years, however, the market has shifted again and Britain has entered what aficionados call the ‘third wave’ of coffee drinking. Inspired by the café culture of Australia and New Zealand, a proliferation of artisan coffee shops and roasters have emerged, serving lightly roasted single-origin coffee prepared by highly-trained baristas.
“The coffee revolution is really part of a broader revolution that is taking place in the UK food and beverage industry,” says Chris Ammermann, co-owner of London restaurant and roaster, Caravan.
“We now have fantastic restaurants, micro-breweries, bakers and all sorts of artisan producers. Coffee is a big part of that.”
Branded coffee chains continue to dominate the market – according to Allegra they recorded a turnover of £2.6bn last year and delivered impressive sales growth of 9.3 per cent – but experts believe independent, artisan shops will gain increasing traction in the market and start spreading further outside of the Capital.
“Allegra’s belief that the artisanal independent influence will strengthen and stretch beyond London is upheld this year by industry views,” said the Allegra report.
“51 per cent of industry leaders believe that independents will grow in importance compared with branded chains.”
Although the artisanal segment is predominantly London centric, there are already some successful businesses operating outside of the capital, such as Brighton’s Small Batch Coffee Company – which operates numerous shops and a roastery in the seaside town.
As the third wave moves further into the mainstream, a fourth wave is beginning to emerge – which Allegra has branded ‘the science of coffee’.
While the third wave focused on high-quality beans, lighter roasts, latte art and delicate methods of preparation such as cold-drips and pour-overs, the fourth wave is all about using scientific principles to perfect the coffee making process from bean to cup.
According to Italian espresso machine manufacturer La Cimbali, which is holding a seminar on ‘The Science of Espresso ’at the London Coffee Festival in April, there are four main elements to a perfect cup of coffee – the grind, the temperature, the pressure and the milk.
By applying a scientific approach to the process – setting the grinder to the correct levels, keeping the water temperature at the exact optimum for the bean, adjusting the pressure throughout the brewing cycle and texturing the milk to maintain its protein structure – it is possible to create coffee perfection.
Allegra predicts that as the fourth wave takes hold, consumers “will become even more informed about the subtleties of coffee preparation and delivery from bean to cup, in particular origin and roast as well as the importance of milk foaming and water quality.”
With consumer knowledge and expectations rising, the pressure is on for non-specialist outlets such as restaurants, pubs and hotels to increase the quality of their coffee offering.
“People are realising that there is a great difference in quality with speciality-grade artisan products compared to the one they are buying for the same price from the big chains,” says Nick Barlow, marketing manager at Small Batch Coffee Company.
“It is a one-way street - once you start drinking good coffee you don’t go back.”
This will become increasingly important in the face of competition from companies such as Caravan, Ozone Coffee and Workshop, which are edging into the all-day dining scene by offering extensive food menus and alcohol alongside quality artisan coffee.
Ammermann says it can be a challenge for bars and restaurants to produce top quality coffee, because the majority will not have dedicated baristas.
"It is more of a secondary element in restaurants, your primary revenue is not coffee, you are maybe making 20, 50 or at most 100 coffees a day and those coffees will be made by generally bar tenders, sometimes waiters who have a wide variety of other skills such as great cocktail knowledge and wine knowledge but their coffee making skills will naturally not be as good as a baristas," he explains.
However, he and Barlow agree that coffee can be a great revenue stream for hospitality businesses that get it right.
“If you are a little pub in the countryside that has incredible coffee, you have a whole new crowd of people that will come and spend money,” says Barlow.
Guide to serving quality coffee:
Ammermann and Barlow say that the hospitality industry is starting to take an interest in quality coffee, with more and more restaurants buying beans from artisan roasters.
However, they both stress that buying coffee beans is only the first step. “You can buy good coffee beans but it doesn’t mean you are going to make a good cup of coffee,” says Barlow.
With that in mind, here are their top tips for serving up the perfect brew:
Choosing your beans
As with food, quality coffee starts with good ingredients. “With all the specialty coffee roasters on the market these days I think you should shop around and find out what people are offering,” says Chris. “Most people go and try coffee from a few different roasters, and then it is a combination of personal taste, flavour and budget.
“Just make sure you don’t tie yourself into long contracts with a coffee supplier – it is best to retain your freedom as far as what you offer.”
Using your beans
Coffee is a delicate creature, and using it too soon or too long after roasting can affect its flavour profile. “People have varied opinions on roasting dates, but we tend to recommend that you don’t use coffee until between 3-5 days after roasting,” says Barlow.
“Once coffee is roasted it is giving off a lot of CO2 and if you try and set a grind with fresh coffee it is difficult and you get varied results. If you let it de-gas for a bit it settles down.
“You want to use coffee probably within around four weeks of the roasting date. Coffee doesn’t really go off, it is quite inert from a certain point on, but it loses a lot of the flavour.”
Types of brews
Next, you should decide what sort of coffee you want to serve. “Smaller restaurants don’t have sufficient space for an espresso machine and it is not really a big requirement so we would recommend filter coffee straight off the mark,” he explains.
“Why spend many thousands of pounds on a new machine and equipment for something you are never really going to get a return on? But for bigger restaurants I think an espresso is a vital part of the offering.”
Filter coffee has the added advantage of having less variables than espresso, improving the chance of serving consistent coffee. “And with filters you are getting single origin coffee that is seasonal and from all over the world so one month you will have an ethopian coffee and the next you may have a guatamalen coffee that taste completely different but both are equally amazing,” adds Chris.
Other low-cost options include vacuum brewers such the Aeropress and pour-over brewers like the Chemex and Hario V60.
If you do want to serve espresso, make sure you have equipment that is worthy of your premium beans. “There are plenty of very decent affordable coffee machines out there,” says Barlow.
“If you are using an old one make sure you get it serviced, and get a new grinder or at least get new burrs in your grinder so you get an accurate measure each time.”
Both Barlow and Chris agree that the most important element of all is staff training.
“A lot of coffee is served too hot, a lot of espresso is extracted wrongly and you end up ruining good coffee that farmers have spent a lot of time working on and that we have taken real care in roasting,” says Barlow.
“All of this hard work goes into it and then at the end someone gets the grind wrong or extracts it too quickly and you end up with a bitter cup that has wasted everyone’s time and money.”
Most artisan wholesale companies offer training as part of their supply packages, and Barlow says there are also plenty of barista trainers around the country.
“It is worth investing in,” he says. “There is so much you can do to improve your coffee offering in terms of machinery and filtered water and things like that, but you need to have people knowing what they are doing making it.”