On Thursday, new national COVID-19 restrictions came into force in England, effectively closing all coffee shops, except for takeaway service. Although this is being referred to as a second national lockdown, it differs in several crucial respects to the initial (UK-wide) restrictions which were in force from March until their relaxation in England at the start of July. Perhaps just as crucially, coffee shops can draw on their experience of the last eight months to help them through the new restrictions.
Continuing the series which I began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, this post looks at what the latest restrictions might mean for speciality coffee. I also discuss how you can help support the industry. With apologies to my readers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (and, indeed, the rest of the world), I’m focusing on England, since this is where I live and where I have first-hand experience of the impact of the various restrictions which have been in force at different points through the year.
As always, these are my personal opinions, written from the perspective of someone who visits (rather than works in) coffee shops. You can find the official UK Government advice and guidance on-line.
With these caveats in mind, you can read my thoughts after the gallery.
I vividly remember the run up to the introduction of the first COVID-19 restrictions in March, sitting in a near empty Krema Coffee with my flat white or visiting a deserted Surrey Hills Coffee for a takeaway (I think I was the fourth customer that day). At that time, the public were voting with their feet, acting ahead of any restrictions and staying at home. I remember pondering whether I was doing the right thing in attempting to support my local coffee shops. Then, of course, the restrictions came into force and pretty much every coffee shop in the UK closed over the next few days.
This time, the mood feels very different, with more people out and about in the week running up to the restrictions, which came into force on Thursday, although I am basing that on my experiences in Guildford and London, which weren’t under the more severe Tier 3 restrictions at the time. It’s also the case that the restrictions this time around aren’t as strict as they were in March. Crucially, schools are still open and, while my evidence is entirely anecdotal, there’s more activity this time around, which is encouraging for the speciality coffee industry.
In March, faced with an indefinite shutdown and the shear uncertainty of COVID-19, coffee shops simply shut en masse. Slowly, a handful of coffee shops began opening for takeaway service. In my hometown of Guildford, first Canopy Coffee (in May), and then Krema Coffee (June), reopened before the easing of Government restrictions in July. Since then, the majority of coffee shops have reopened.
It’s this experience of operating during COVID-19 that will, I believe, hold many coffee shops in good stead, since they already have the necessary operating procedures and physical modifications in place to allow them to continue serving takeaway coffee. There’s also the knowledge that they are facing (in theory) a time-limited shutdown this time around, with the current restrictions due to expire on 2nd December.
Of course, the decision to remain open (for takeaway) or to close will be one each individual coffee shop will have to take, based on their own circumstances. For example, in Guildford, Canopy, Krema and Koja are all staying open, while Ceylon House of Coffee has taken the decision to close until December. It’s a similar situation in London, where I was last week. Attendant in Clerkenwell, for example, is remaining open, while just around the corner, Catalyst is temporarily closing.
I suspect that with schools remaining open, there will be more people about than in the equivalent stage of the restrictions in March and April. Hopefully, this will translate into sufficient custom for those who have chosen to stay open and I urge you to continue to support your local coffee shops for as long as you are able and feel safe to do so.
Also, please support roasters by buying coffee to drink at home. They will need your purchases as their wholesale accounts slow down. You can either buy direct from the roaster (most have on-line ordering now) or, if you want to help your local coffee shop at the same time, you can buy from them instead.
Remember that coffee keeps well in the freezer, so don’t be afraid to buy more than you think you need right now (I’ve just finished an excellent Burundi single-origin from Ancoats Coffee, roasted on 4th November 2015, which I dug out of the back of my freezer last month!). If you need any hints and tips on making coffee at home, check out my Coffee at Home series (the writing of which kept me occupied through much of April and May!).
In closing, stay safe, look out for each other and keep drinking coffee!
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