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.
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.
Four weeks ago, I spent a very pleasant Tuesday evening at Amoret Speciality Coffee in Notting Hill, learning all about the properties of foam. Specifically, milk foam, in case you were wondering what this has to do with coffee. I was at the second Coffee & Science evening, organised by fellow coffee blogger, Bean Thinking, aka Karen, who (when not engaged in the important business of blogging about coffee) spends (some of) her time as a research physicist at Imperial College.
The Coffee & Science evenings are a series of informal events held on a (roughly) monthly basis, hosted by the lovely Sadiq of Amoret Coffee and organised by Bean Thinking. The next one is this Tuesday (22nd October) and is all about the science of espresso extraction. Karen is keen that the tag “science” doesn’t put anyone off: the events are fun, friendly, practical, and, most important of all, you don’t need a background in science to attend! Coffee & Science is open to anyone with an interest in coffee and science behind it.
In the meantime, if you’ve ever wanted to know why milk foams (or sometimes doesn’t), which milks foam the best, and how non-dairy milks compare, read on!
Tokyo’s speciality coffee scene is incredibly varied, ranging from international brands and traditional kissaten to small, home-grown coffee shop/roasters, absorbing global influences to forge their own identities. Yesterday’s Coffee Spot, Glitch Coffee & Roasters, definitely falls into the latter category and is one of the most innovative coffee shops that I’ve visited in Tokyo. Best of all, it’s served me some truly outstanding coffee, the subject of today’s Saturday Supplement.
Glitch roasts on a 5kg Probat, tucked away on the right-hand side of the coffee shop in full view of the customers. Concentrating on lightly-roasted single-origins, two of which are on espresso, the real star is the pour-over. There’s a row V60s along the front of the counter, each with a glass jar of beans and a card giving tasting notes and details of the origin.
While you can order by the cup, I was drawn to the tasting flights, which allow you to try two or three of the single-origin pour-overs (chosen by Glitch) side-by-side. So drawn, in fact, that today’s post is all about the two tasting flights I’ve had, the first in 2018 and the other last weekend at the end of my most recent trip.