A Little Coffee News Roundup

There are a few interesting pieces of coffee news floating around at the moment, that seemed worth discussing.  There is a common sentiment across the three that is kind of interesting.

Harris & Hoole

This is the announcement of the joint venture between Tesco and Taylor Street Baristas.  For a little more background there is an article in the Independent here.  There are aspects of this that I can’t really comment on in great detail, because of my friendship with the crew from Taylor Street, but I am afraid I can’t jump on the bandwagon of “this is a terrible thing”.

My greatest hope (aside from it being a success for the Tolleys) is that this raises the bar of expectation for those starting up a cafe.  Up until now the benchmark has been Starbucks/Caffe Nero/Costa Coffee and to do better than them has not been seen as a great challenge.  I hope Harris and Hoole make new and existing cafes step up their game.  The locations they are going for are beyond the reach of most independent cafes – and I don’t mind the idea that finding a tasty cup of coffee just got a little easier.  I think it is fair to expect well sourced coffee to go into this – Taylor Street have a long standing relationship with Union Hand Roasted, a company that was a pioneer in relationship coffee – so I am expecting the importance of provenance to carry over regardless of who the main suppliers are.

Yes, I admit – I’m not the biggest fan of Tesco, but I will also admit that I’m not hugely comfortable with aspects of what companies like Intellectual Ventures do – but I am proud of my involvement in Modernist Cuisine, so who am I to judge?

(I should admit that while I’ve mentioned in a few talks that I expected to see well funded, quality focused cafes appear I really wasn’t expecting anything of this magnitude.)

The Protests in Totnes

There have been a few articles about the town in Devon who are protesting to try and prevent Costa Coffee opening there because it is a chain (or “clone”), and it is therefore damaging to their town and the health of their local businesses.  Am I missing something?  Would it not be far more of a message to just let them open, spend the money on build-out and marketing and then just not frequent it?  Having it go out of business, rejecting it this way, seems far more sensible than whipping up a self righteous media storm about it.  Or do they feel that if it opens then somehow they’ll all be powerless to avoid going?  Perhaps that it is somehow a money magnet that just hoovers up the cash they’d planned to spend at independent shops, regardless of their attempts at free will?

When we portray the chains this way, we portray ourselves as gormless sheep – bending the whimsical will of coffee chains.

UPDATE:  I retract much of the above sentiment based on my own stupidity.  As was pointed out very quickly by a number of people very soon after posting – I completely failed to take into account that this is a town with a strong tourist economy.  This is a massive and embarrassing oversight on my part (especially as I should really identify, coming as I do from a tourist town!)   Shame on me.  The final sentiment still stands though:

I remain confused.  That said – I really don’t understand the bulldozer mentality of the chains who still try an open in places where people clearly don’t want them….

 Starbucks & Square

I know the whole Clover thing still makes elements of our industry uncomfortable, when Starbucks flashes the cash to jump the line to having the latest cool thing.  Square has been around for a while, and its use at places at like Sightglass in San Francisco generated a good amount of interest.

In terms of “reacting” to this, I think most independents (in the US anyway) ought to be looking at their payment processing options.  Like it or not, Starbucks are able to drive their agenda across a large customer base.  What mobile payments had been missing was the critical mass required for accelerating widespread adoption.  Starbucks’ decision to combine adoption with investment seems incredibly smart as this will doubtless drive more customers into this kind of payment method.

The implications of the potential security issues here, or an increasingly cashless society aside (and this really isn’t the place for discussing the value of cash to many independent shops and cafes), payment processing technologies look like they are finally going to start doing interesting things (Stripe being another interesting recent startup) and I think cafe owners would be wise to start paying attention, even if they don’t want to get involved at this stage.  To start walking away from this, because Starbucks are involved so it isn’t cool anymore, would be a mistake.