Earlier this week I had the opportunity to sample an espresso from one of the biggest branded coffee chains. I don’t often frequent branded coffee shops but every now and again I like to pop in to see what they’re up to. The branded coffee chains will be watching current trends very carefully and will be researching the drinking habits in both their existing customer base and also the wider coffee drinking market. On offer today in this particular establishment was a limited edition espresso, it had its own name and included some flavour notes. I opted for a single espresso, paying an extra 20p for this limited edition roast; this brought the price of the coffee to £2.45. The limited edition roast was being marketed as a premium product and therefore it was given a premium price.
I have to say my expectations of the coffee were pretty low and as the young barista set about making my espresso I wasn’t filled with confidence. Hidden behind a clutter of portafilters and various other bits and bobs was a small on-demand grinder. The barista proceeded to dose a shot of espresso into a cold portafilter and then served the first shot he pulled through the machine without really checking the quality – remember I’d paid an extra 20p for this beverage. The resulting espresso was obviously roasted lighter than the normal blend and to be fair I could taste hints of maple which was part of the description they gave. However the overwhelming flavour was that of roast and I really don’t enjoy that in my coffee.
I have a quiet admiration for the coffee chains. I firmly believe if it wasn’t for the likes of Starbucks, then the coffee drinking culture in this country would possibly be very different, and we might not be running a coffee roastery; my first experience of a cappuccino came through Starbucks. I don’t particularly like the coffee in any of the chains but then again I’m not sure that they really are places to go for a good coffee; I wouldn’t go to a MacDonald’s for a decent burger.
I was quite heartened by the limited edition roast being offered in this particular chain. I sometimes feel the speciality coffee industry is a bit pretentious, and our over complication of what has historically been an instant product in this country, does little to engage with the masses. I actually believe we were slighlty star struck by the ‘London coffee scene’ in the early days of Carvetii. Now I hope we are more grounded. We aim to be a ‘neighbourhood’ coffee roaster, though our neighbourhood spans the largest county in England! We are trying to connect with the local population in as many ways as we can: through local events, workshops at our Roastery, blog posts, articles in the local press and by supporting our wholesale customers to produce the best coffee they can. We keep one eye on national, and international trends, we watch our competitors, we evolve, we develop a positive brand identity and look for better ways to engage with our customers. I suppose in that sense we’re not so different from the chains!