A rare visit to a coffee chain

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to sample an espresso from one of the biggest branded coffee chains. I don’t often frequent branded coffee shops but every now and again I like to pop in to see what they’re up to. The branded coffee chains will be watching current trends very carefully and will be researching the drinking habits in both their existing customer base and also the wider coffee drinking market. On offer today in this particular establishment was a limited edition espresso, it had its own name and included some flavour notes. I opted for a single espresso, paying an extra 20p for this limited edition roast; this brought the price of the coffee to £2.45. The limited edition roast was being marketed as a premium product and therefore it was given a premium price.

I have to say my expectations of the coffee were pretty low and as the young barista set about making my espresso I wasn’t filled with confidence. Hidden behind a clutter of portafilters and various other bits and bobs was a small on-demand grinder. The barista proceeded to dose a shot of espresso into a cold portafilter and then served the first shot he pulled through the machine without really checking the quality – remember I’d paid an extra 20p for this beverage. The resulting espresso was obviously roasted lighter than the normal blend and to be fair I could taste hints of maple which was part of the description they gave. However the overwhelming flavour was that of roast and I really don’t enjoy that in my coffee.

I have a quiet admiration for the coffee chains. I firmly believe if it wasn’t for the likes of Starbucks, then the coffee drinking culture in this country would possibly be very different, and we might not be running a coffee roastery; my first experience of a cappuccino came through Starbucks. I don’t particularly like the coffee in any of the chains but then again I’m not sure that they really are places to go for a good coffee; I wouldn’t go to a MacDonald’s for a decent burger.

I was quite heartened by the limited edition roast being offered in this particular chain. I sometimes feel the speciality coffee industry is a bit pretentious, and our over complication of what has historically been an instant product in this country, does little to engage with the masses. I actually believe we were slighlty star struck by the ‘London coffee scene’[1] in the early days of Carvetii. Now I hope we are more grounded. We aim to be a ‘neighbourhood’ coffee roaster, though our neighbourhood spans the largest county in England! We are trying to connect with the local population in as many ways as we can: through local events, workshops at our Roastery, blog posts, articles in the local press and by supporting our wholesale customers to produce the best coffee they can. We keep one eye on national, and international trends, we watch our competitors, we evolve, we develop a positive brand identity and look for better ways to engage with our customers. I suppose in that sense we’re not so different from the chains!

  1. Though it’s fair to say this coffee scene has migrated to most large cities in the UK  ↩

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Ellie says:

    An interesting read! I have the same concerns when I go to a cafe and am served a dry old scone with squirty cream! Luckily we know how to serve good coffee (thanks to Carvetti training) and make decent scones every day, served with clotted cream 🙂

  2. Thanks. You have saved me the bother of having to try and confirmed my prejudices 🙂

    That said, the chains are, to me, the gateway through which many people reach speciality coffee. if they are serving single origin espresso, then so much the better if it introduces people to the concept.

    So long as they don’t make such a mess of it that they put people off speciality coffee for life, of course…


  3. chefy59 says:

    Hey guys.
    A tad late to this, as I just stumbled onto your webpage, whilst scanning for a particular Kenyan coffee.
    Brilliant article. Totally agree with your point on the pretentiousness of coffee roasters, certain outlets and many baristas. You’d think they were performing open heart surgery, they’re so full of their own self-importance.
    I worked in financial services for around 25 years and particularly in the investment world, there was a real smugness over the use of terminology. I’ve seen this creeping in at a pace in coffee world, probably heightened by social media growth.
    Don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff. Forever learning about and searching for different beans. I owned a cafe for 10 years and am likely to be entering the arena once again, so it’s important for me to know the roasters out there, both as Joe Public and as a business owner. I totally get and believe in speciality/third wave (damn, did a terminology thing!) roasteries.
    However, all this smoke and mirrors stuff, does my head in. I know Jamie at Glen Lyon Coffee and a more down to earth, decent fella you’d be hard pushed to find. Nothing ostentatious. He and his wife just get on with the job of sourcing ethically and producing great roasts. I sense the same thing about Greg and Emma at Footprint in Wales.
    Anyway, I haven’t tried any of your beans yet and though I have a small hillock of Has Bean & Rave Coffee to get through, I’ll emerge unscathed and ready to order!
    There ya’ go. One blog article and one accidental reader…serendipity in action.
    Keep up the good work…

    Colin McNicoll

    ps. Now following on Twitter…

    1. Thanks for taking the time to post on the blog. I like to think of myself as a coffee geek with my feet placed firmly on the ground. I am always seeking out new knowledge but also spend a lot of time wondering how to connect with the end user – I’m probably more interested in the majority of coffee drinkers rather than the minority who are as equally geeky as me! Probably something to do with my teaching background.
      Thanks again, and for the follow. New espresso components from this week so hopefully you’ll get a chance to try soon.

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