Why we’re messing with espresso!

Jun 8, 2014

It seems I’ve spent my life pursuing two careers where people hold very strong views about what is right and wrong.  Nearly twenty years in the teaching profession has taught me there are numerous approaches to educating children (and adults for that matter), each of which can have desirable results at the hands of a trained and motivated individual. I’ve also come to realise that everyone has an opinion on how best to teach children, quite often of the ‘well it worked for me’ based argument. Over the years I’ve developed a reasonable ability to sift out those people who are offering an opinion from those who are just opinionated.

Having left the teaching profession behind, it seems I still have to suffer the ‘well that’s not how I would do it’/’it shouldn’t taste like that’ brigade. Considering we have a somewhat shameful history when it comes to good quality coffee in the UK, it seems people can get somewhat defensive when you start messing with their daily shot of caffeine.

I’ve just spent an enjoyable few minutes reading Jay Rayner’s post following his experience at the London Coffee Festival. It’s pretty apparent that he doesn’t enjoy the contemporary style of lighter roasted espresso and I’m okay with that. I’m not a fan of the darker roasted espresso he fondly describes in his article. That doesn’t mean I want everyone to start roasting coffee lighter – far from it; there are people who enjoy darker roasted coffee and there are those who appreciate the subtleties of the lighter roast. There are also a large number of people who don’t care either way.

Some of the best teachers I have had the privilege to work with adopted a traditional style, very different to my own. They achieved fantastic results year after year and as a young teacher I tried to adopt some of their strategies. I never achieved the same results. I was not a traditional style teacher, I actually had a style that borrowed from different philosophies. It worked for me, it worked for my personality and it worked for the children I taught. I would never force my style on those outstanding traditional teachers and nor would I want to.

I suppose coffee is very much the same. The coffee market has been dominated by dark roasted espresso and, in Cumbria in particular, it still is. It is a style that suits the palate of many people although it is fair to point out that it is often served in a bowl of a cup with copious amounts of milk, three sugars and a caramel shot. When we opened Carvetii Coffee Roasters we wanted to offer an alternative; we wanted people to see coffee differently; we wanted to offer people a choice. There are some who do not enjoy our coffee and there are as many who now drink coffee because they tried ours.

A coffee industry which offers consumers a choice should be welcomed and not criticised (unless your job is to be a critic I suppose). Imagine if our schools still seated our children at individual desks laid out in neat rows, learning by rote, always in fear of the teacher (I can just hear the cries of ‘well it worked for me’). As a profession we moved on, we tried new things, we failed and we succeeded but ultimately our schools are better than they were.

This lighter style of roasting has also spawned a new generation of milk based coffees such as the flat white.  Rich and smooth with an intensity of coffee flavour, I’m pretty sure many a flat white would be overwhelmed by a darker roasted espresso.

We try to focus on other aspects of our industry which are more worrying regardless of whether you prefer a light or dark roast. The quality of staff training and understanding of coffee in Cumbria is, at times, woeful. A little bit of understanding can go a long way and we devote a lot of time to staff training. The price paid for coffee also bothers us. At a time when the public are looking for value for money, it astounds us how many establishments are seeking to pay low prices in order to maximise their coffee margins. Spending 10p more per cup still results in high margins but offers customers a much better experience. And then we have the danger of becoming too pompous as an industry, which Jay Rayner alludes to in his article. Brewing a delicious cup of coffee can be a satisfying and enjoyable task, which is relatively simple if we stick to a few basic principles. The coffee industry has developed a bit of a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ syndrome and there is a danger of us becoming detached from the coffee drinking public, driving them towards the bleakness of instant coffee or the expense of pod based systems.

If dark roasted coffee is your thing, you probably won’t appreciate what we’re trying to achieve.  We don’t want to be ‘all things to all men’; we enjoy drinking the style of coffee we roast and our experience shows there are large numbers out there who feel the same way.