Wyatt Cavalier, Bibium5th July 2018
Underdog coffee. Nice name; what’s the story?
We’ve always believed in supporting the little guy – smaller suppliers making outstanding coffee. The name is one that also lets us do some interesting and creating things, brand-wise…coffee roasts named for specific underdogs throughout history, perhaps.
We’re out drinking coffee all the time (who isn’t?). Where should we be going? And where should we avoid?
Go anywhere that’s not a national chain, honestly. Because they buy and roast such vast quantities of coffee beans, they’re forced into producing a very homogenous (average) product.
Find a place you like the feel – so much of a cup of coffee is the atmosphere in which you consume it.
What’s the most common barista mistake you see?
Not spending enough money on a decent grinder. We see loads of baristas buy £9,000 espresso machines then pump inconsistently ground beans into it.
Bad coffee in = bad coffee out, no matter how good your espresso machine is.
Coffee culture has put a fair few pubs out of business, right? And what is this doing to communities?
I’d say it’s not coffee culture that’s done it but an evolution of general attitudes in the UK.
People are choosing healthier lifestyles, moving toward wine, and want a meal with their pint. So typical boozers are feeling the pinch. That said, a number of pubs are changing with the times, opening earlier, serving a decent coffee provision – Wetherspoons offers unlimited coffee in all its pubs now.
Starbucks just launched in Italy. What’s your prognosis?
I think they’ll struggle. Now isn’t the time for imperialist America to invade old world Europe. Plus the coffee is terrible.
You might say nothing, but what should we admire about Starbucks?
Starbucks propagated the second wave of coffee, moving beyond a hot cup of brown liquid and towards a focus on good coffee as a thing to be enjoyed.
We wouldn’t be where we are today as an industry if it weren’t for Starbucks.
"Bad coffee in = bad coffee out, no matter how good your espresso machine is"
You’ve taken the step of adding user reviews to your site. Why? And won’t this piss off a few of your suppliers?
No one else does this, and perhaps it will annoy a few suppliers, although studies show a certain number of negative reviews actually increase conversions.
We’ve done it because nearly all our clients are buying a coffee machine for the first and only time and don’t really know anyone else who’s bought one. So their only source of information is the company selling them the machine, which obviously isn’t great. Buying a commercial coffee machine is far harder than it should be, and we want to make it a bit easier.
So, if your customers had to review you, what would they say?
Ha! All good things I hope! We spend an inordinate amount of time making customers happy and doing things no other supplier would, and I hope that comes through.
The rise of domestic espresso machines – reliant as they are on plastic pods – good or bad?
Short term, bad. But ultimately good.
I think we, as an industry, will solve the plastic problem, creating eco-friendly technologies, sooner rather than later. Nearly 90% of consumers still drink instant coffee at home, so anything that nudges this toward decent coffee is a good thing.
Milk seems to be evolving faster than coffee right now. Why do you think that is?
There are far more problems to solve with milk than there are with coffee. Lactose intolerance, fat content, refrigeration requirements and so on. Every change to coffee is an enhancement rather than removing a problem, and people care more about getting rid of the pain.
‘Farm to fork’ dining is commonplace. Are there ‘farm to cup’ examples? Should there be?
Coffee farms are a lot farther away than carrot farms, so it’s much more difficult and expensive. And harder to verify.
It’s something we’re working toward and hope to achieve soon, but generally speaking, once a coffee company is big enough to do this sort of thing, they’re too big to worry about this sort of thing.
The ethics of coffee are complex. Who is getting this right?
I don’t think anyone has really got it right because no one controls their entire supply chain.
There are 15 – 20 steps along the coffee supply chain – more if you add in machines – and beyond the complexity, no two people can really seem to agree with what’s ‘right’. Thrive, in the US, is doing the best job we’ve seen so far. They promise the farmers themselves a cut of the final roasted price of the coffee, which ensures they see some of the value-add to their beans.
That still leaves out the 1785% markup a coffee shop puts on the beans, though, as they transform 14p worth of coffee beans into £2.50 worth of espresso.
‘Your margin is my opportunity’ and all that; what’s coming next in the coffee industry business model?
Great tasting coffee is getting easier to make via technological advances and automation, so we’re going to see the bar get a lot higher in terms of what’s expected by an average consumer. Because of that, you’ll probably see a lot of coffee shops and vendors coming out with gimmicks trying to differentiate themselves.
As a company, we’re leading the charge toward an end to the tyranny of information asymmetry. Put simply, we think coffee lovers have been kept in the dark for too long, and we’re trying to pull back the curtain a bit.