With a very few coffee shops for me to write about at the moment, I am once more searching for meaningful Coffee Spot content. Today’s offering is therefore another first as I turn my attention to the videos of James Hoffmann. Before I go on, it’s worth mentioning that I am not a great fan of video. First and foremost, I am a reader, followed by a listener. Video comes a distinct and distant third. So, how come I’m writing about videos, specifically James Hoffmann’s YouTube channel, in today’s Saturday Supplement?
I’ve known of James for many years (I even met him, once, for about 30 seconds, at a London Coffee Festival: I’m sure he had no idea who I was) and have vaguely been aware of his YouTube Channel for a couple of years. However, I only really discovered it while writing my own Coffee at Home series earlier this year, his videos frequently coming up on internet searches for a variety of topics. At first, I just watched them for research, but as I did, I discovered that I was really enjoying them. Now I am a regular viewer, slowly making my way through James’ back catalogue.
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.
This summer, something very special happened in the heart of Mayfair with the opening of Queens of Mayfair, best described as a high-end coffee, brunch and cocktails spot. That in itself is not that special, since the coffee, brunch and cocktails market is already well served, particularly in London. What makes Queens stand out is the quality of the coffee, with an espresso-based menu featuring a Brazilian Daterra, roasted for Queens by Difference Coffee. However, I covered all that when I wrote up Queens in its own Coffee Spot earlier this week. So what is it that makes Queens so special?
The answer is its coffee service, which caught the headlines with what has been tagged as UK’s most expensive cup of coffee, which comes with an eye-watering £50. For that, you get a very exclusive micro-lot of an Ethiopian Cup of Excellence winner. However, in fairness to Queens, describing it as a £50 cup of coffee hardly does it justice since you are a paying for a whole lot more than just a cup of coffee. Instead, you are paying for a whole coffee experience, something which, when I visited Queens last week, I had to try for myself.
Welcome to the second (and final) part of my Saturday Supplement looking at how coffee shops around England have been interpreting and implementing the Government’s COVID-19 guidelines since the restrictions were relaxed at the start of July. In Part I, I looked at some of the many things that coffee shops have put in place, usually around processes (such as providing information and introducing things like door control, one-way systems, table service and on-line ordering).
In this, Part II, I’m looking more at physical modifications, such as seating layout and physical barriers, as well as more processes, including cleaning and contact tracing. As before, I’m highlighting what has worked for me in terms of what has made me feel extra secure when visiting a coffee shop (whether I’m actually any safer is another matter). I’ll also illustrate my points with specific examples from coffee shops that I’ve visited over the past two months in London, Reading, Chester, Birmingham and Liverpool.
The usual caveat applies: these are my personal opinions and this post should not be taken as a “must do” (or “mustn’t do” for that matter) guide. And, of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolving, who knows what the future holds?
COVID-19 has turned the world as we know it upside down. For speciality coffee, along with many others in the hospitality industry in the UK, it meant the near overnight closure of cafés and coffee shops. However, these started to return in May and June, initially for takeaway service, before the relaxation of restrictions (in England) on July 4th allowed sit-in service to resume.
Initially I was sceptical, worrying that the (entirely necessary) precautions required to keep everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic might ruin my coffee shop experience. However, after my early forays to London to visit coffee shops in July, I realised that my fears were unfounded, as I rediscovered the simple joy of sitting in a coffee shop. Since then, I’ve expanded my horizons: as well as several return trips to London, I’ve visited Reading and Chester, two contrasting places, each with their own ways of coping with COVID-19.
I should add a caveat: I time my trips for weekdays, completely avoiding the weekends, visiting around lunchtime and early afternoon, so I can’t comment on how busy places are outside these times. That said, many coffee shops open between 10:00 and 16:00, which tells you something!
For much of my life, coffee shops have been very happy places for me. I started the Coffee Spot in 2012 to celebrate all the great places where I like to drink coffee and, over the years, the Coffee Spot has become an all-consuming passion. You might think, therefore, that I welcomed the relaxing of the COVID-19 restrictions that came into effect in England on July 4th with open arms.
However, as I discussed in a series of articles in the run up to the relaxation of the rules, I had my concerns. Having read the Government guidance on reopening for sit-in customers, I worried that the (entirely necessary) precautions to keep everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic might ruin the coffee shop experience for me.
Come July 4th, I was rather sceptical, but, having giving things a week to settle in, I decided that, for better or for worse, I needed to see how things were for myself. Since none of Guildford’s three speciality coffee shops have reopened for sit-in customers, I decided, on Tuesday, July 14th, to catch the train to London, the first time in four months that I’d gone on public transport, and visit some coffee shops.
As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, coffee shops in the UK have adapted. At first, this meant pretty much universal closure, followed by a slow, cautious reopening as takeaway-only operations, exemplified in Guildford by Canopy Coffee and Krema Coffee. Now, with the UK Government relaxing its social distancing rules, this has paved the way for hospitality industries in England, including coffee shops, to reopen for sit-in customers on July 4th.
In Part II of this short series on where we go next, I looked at the Government’s guidance and pondered what it might mean for coffee shops. However, I was prompted to start this series by this tweet from Wrecking Ball Coffee in San Francisco which argued, in essence, that just because coffee shops could reopen, it didn’t mean that they should. It’s this question that I’m returning to in this, the third and final part of the series.
The same disclaimers apply here as in Parts I and II. First, I don’t work in coffee shops, I write about them, so this series focuses on the consumer viewpoint. Second, this is about on what might happen in England since, due to devolution, the rules differ elsewhere in the UK.
As was widely expected, the UK Government made its much-trailed announcement this week that has paved the way for hospitality industries in England, coffee shops included, to reopen for sit-in custom on July 4th, now just over a week away. In Part I of this series, I looked at what this may mean for speciality coffee shops, asking many questions along the way, but providing few answers. Now that the Government’s guidance has been published, this post (Part II) looks at what a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic might look like.
The same disclaimers apply here as in Part I: First, I don’t work in coffee shops, I write about them, so these posts are focused on the consumer viewpoint. Second, this is very much focused on what might happen in England (due to the devolved nature of the UK, while the announcement was made by the UK Government, it only applies to England). If you are interested, you can download the UK Government’s guidance for the hospitality industry or read it online. I’m basing my thoughts on the version that was issued on June 23rd. For further practical advice from a UK industry perspective, try United Baristas.
I hope that I’m not jumping the gun, but it’s almost certain that the UK Government will announce an easing of social distancing rules this week, enabling hospitality industries, including coffee shops, to reopen in two weeks’ time on July 4th. What will this mean for the speciality coffee industry? Just because coffee shops can reopen, does that mean that they should? In theory at least, they could have remained open, offering a takeaway service, throughout the last three months, but most chose not to.
The inspiration for this series of posts came from the USA, via a tweet from Wrecking Ball Coffee in San Francisco. You can see the original tweet in the gallery, but the gist of it is as follows: while Wrecking Ball can legally put out chairs and tables for its customers, it’s decided not to and is encouraging others to follow suit. Which got me thinking: should UK coffee shops reopen when they are allowed to? Do I want them to reopen? This series of posts (of which this is Part I) is an attempt to frame, and then maybe answer these questions, or at least provide some pointers as to which direction to go in.
My local speciality coffee shop, Canopy Coffee, reopened two weeks ago. As part of the process, it converted itself from a small, sit-in shop to a takeaway-only operation, serving from a hatch to the right of the main entrance. You can see what I made of the new-look Canopy when I visited for my Coffee Spot Update, which is normally where I’d leave things.
However, given the current situation, with many coffee shops unable to safely open during the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought it would be useful to share what I learnt from the conversation that I had with Jonathon, Canopy’s owner, about the steps he took to reopen Canopy and the thought processes he went through.
There are lots of factors to consider when opening during the COVID-19 pandemic. Is it safe, both for staff and customers? Will it be economical? Can you stay true to your ethics and values? What compromises will you have to take in order to open? As you will see, Jonathon had to wrestle with all these issues, but if there’s one piece of advice he asked me to convey above all others, it’s not to open until you’re absolutely ready to.