A week ago, I’d just arrived in Chicago for work, having flown in from Atlanta. While there were worries around COVID-19, and people were taking precautions, everything seemed very normal. I went for a walk around the city and visited some coffee shops. That weekend now feels a very, very long time ago.
The day after I arrived, Sunday, 15th March, the Governor of Illinois announced the closure of all bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes to all except takeaway customers, and I made the decision to return home. I flew to Boston the following day and on Tuesday, I flew from a near-empty airport on a near-empty flight back to Heathrow.
Since then, I’ve been trying to readjust to life at home and practice social distancing, while continuing to work (I’m fortunate that I work remotely anyway and, for now, work is carrying on as normal). I’m also trying to support my local coffee businesses as best I can and for as long as I can.
Am I taking unreasonable risks? I don’t know. Am even doing the right thing? I don’t know. All I can tell you is that I’m asking myself those questions every day, re-evaluating, every day.
You can see what I’ve been up to after the gallery.
I got back home late on Tuesday night and went straight into a four-hour conference call. The next morning, I went food shopping, because I had almost no food in the house, having been away for over three weeks. I managed to get some of what I needed, but with many supermarket shelves stripped bare, I needed to go out the following day, and the day after that, each time visiting three or four shops to get what I needed. Perhaps I should have tried ordering on-line, but I felt that I should leave that option for those who really couldn’t go out.
I also visited Krema Coffee, one of three town-centre coffee shops that I regularly frequent (on the rare occasions that I’m in Guildford). That was on Wednesday, when it was open, but very quiet. I was one of five customers and sat by myself at a table that a member of staff had just wiped down. I was more than two metres away from anyone else the entire time I was there, other than when the barista brought my drink to the table.
Was it an unnecessary risk? At the time, I felt it wasn’t. There was certainly far less human contact and far more distancing going on than at any of the three supermarkets I’d visited. The following day, Krema switched to takeaway service only, so maybe it was an unnecessary risk. I don’t know.
That same day, Thursday, I visited Surrey Hills Coffee and bought some coffee beans. Surrey Hills sells coffee by weight, rather than pre-packaged, and I’d brought my own bags, so contact was minimal. I also had a flat white to go in my HuskeeCup. I was the only customer in the shop.
On Friday, I visited the third of the three shops, Canopy Coffee, which was only serving takeaway customers. Again, I had a flat white to go in my HuskeeCup, although this time the barista made it in a disposable cup and poured it into mine.
Friday saw the last of my shopping trips, since I’d finally got what I needed to last me a week. However, I went out again over the weekend. On Saturday, I went for a walk, ensuring that I kept my distance (easily done, since Guildford town centre is almost deserted and the streets are quiet) and called into Krema, buying some Horsham Coffee beans and having another flat white to go in my Therma Cup. The barista poured the espresso into my cup, and then free-poured the latte art, all without touching the cup.
Yesterday (Sunday), I went for another walk, calling into Surrey Hills, where I caught up with owner, Monika. The shop is now takeaway only and is selling basic groceries (eggs, bread, sugar, oat milk) along with coffee and coffee beans. I bought some more beans, another flat white and chatted for a while with Monika, both of us keeping our distance on either side of the counter.
Now I’m at home, writing this…
Did I do the right thing in visiting my local coffee shops? Should I keep doing it? I honestly don’t know. I do know that I had far more physical and social contact on each of my supermarket visits (despite doing what I could to minimise both), but at the same time, food shopping is essential. Coffee is not.
On the other hand, each of these three coffee businesses is owned by people I know, people who have poured their heart and soul into them, and I want to support them. Each time I visited, the staff were very grateful that I did and thanked me for my support. Each time I’ve paid using a contactless card and, since Wednesday, I’ve been the only customer in the shop. Using my own cup seems to me to be a sensible precaution, since I don’t have to handle the shop’s cup and the barista doesn’t have to handle my cup.
Part of me wants to keep supporting my local businesses as long as I can. Part of me wants to just stay in the house and keep all contact to an absolute minimum. After all, I can work from home and I have plenty of coffee at home. In fact, my normally, daily routine often seems me not going out at all.
I fear that even the minimal contact of my five visits has been an unnecessary risk. I also note that things are being taken out of my hands. Over the weekend, first Canopy (Saturday) and Krema (Sunday) decided to close, leaving just Surrey Hills off three open in the town centre.
There are, of course, other ways of supporting coffee businesses. For example, I’ve just ordered some coffee from another local roaster, Chimney Fire Coffee, and I’ll keep ordering on-line from various roasters, keeping what I don’t immediately need in the freezer. But what do I do about visiting my (one remaining) speciality coffee shop?
I know what’s happening to the coffee industry is happening to many other industries around the country (and the world), so, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a very small part of a very big problem. I want to keep supporting my local businesses, but, honestly, I don’t have any hard and fast answers and would welcome your thoughts.
Are you still going to coffee shops if you can? Are you buying on-line? Do you want more articles about making coffee at home?
Monday, 22nd June: as the UK Government moves towards allowing coffee shops to reopen on July 4th, I’ve written a short series about where we might go next with COVID-19.
For a different view on the challenges caused by COVID-19, try this excellent video from James Hoffman about the impact on coffee businesses. Meanwhile, if you want to know more about how to keep your staff and customers safe while still serving takeaway coffee, here’s a very practical article from Nick Cho, which he has updated and expanded.
If you want to know which roasters are open and still shipping, Caffeine Magazine has put together a handy list (for UK roasters), while on a much more local level, here’s a list of Michigan coffee roasters from The Pourover. If anyone has corresponding lists for other countries or localities, let me know and I’ll happily post links to them as well.
Finally, Sprudge has an international list which it has supplemented with a worldwide map showing who is still roasting. It already has loads of roasters, but it’s far from comprehensive, so I recommend any roasters selling coffee direct to the public to add themselves to the map.
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