Five years ago, a cup of coffee was simply a warming beverage that was designed to wake you up and give you energy especially since traditionally the UK has very much been a nation of instant coffee drinkers – cheap and convenient.
But all that has now changed with the arrival of the third (and rumoured fourth) wave of coffee, creating what Gwilym Davies described in 2009 as ‘an English coffee culture which hasn’t existed… since the 18th century.’1
And it’s true – coffee has become a crucial part of our lifestyle, as we frequent coffee shops not only to buy a cup of coffee to go, but also to socialise and to work. Across Europe, traditions are changing as people improve their knowledge of speciality coffee and look for a higher quality coffee experience when they visit coffee shops.
The recovering economy is also contributing to an increased interest in speciality coffee as people once again incorporate a morning coffee into their daily routine and socialise away from home – for both of these occasions, they are looking for a unique coffee experience.
And there are plenty of these to be had, with new cafés opening all over Europe, each one striving to be different by offering a new coffee experience. There are cat cafés, cereal cafés and theatre cafés – while these may seem slightly gimmicky, their audience still expects them to serve better quality coffee.
One trend that is still relatively new in the UK is the Ziferblat (German for clock face) – a pay-as-you-stay coffee shop where the Wi-Fi and coffee is free, but you pay for the time you spend there. At Ziferblat in Shoreditch, visitors clock in as they arrive using a vintage alarm clock, paying their fee (5p per minute) as they leave.
This could be the answer for the thousands of people choosing to freelance or work from home, who use coffee shops as a home office away from home. With fast Wi-Fi, a desirable buzz and high-quality coffee, the ‘coffice’ is fast becoming a haven for business meetings and home workers.
Although some coffee shops worry that people will nurse one cup of coffee for hours as they make good use of their electricity and Wi-Fi, there are in fact benefits of allowing freelancers to work in their coffee shop and others are embracing them.
Starbucks, for example has redesigned some of its stores to cater for workers, providing additional plug points for laptops and free Wi-Fi to Starbucks Card holders, not to mention their new wireless charging stations. Other coffee shops offer loyalty schemes for regular workers, or a menu that offers a discount for anyone ordering both breakfast and lunch.
This welcoming nature is perhaps another reason for the social growth of coffee shops. They’re also child-friendly, making them the perfect location for parents looking to meet friends during the day. While pubs are also open all day, they’re still often associated with men and – despite them now improving their food and coffee offerings – alcohol.
At the other end of the scale are the coffee shops transforming into wine bars during the evening. European cafés have been offering coffee, beer and wine for years, yet in the UK it’s still fairly unusual.
However, the trend is growing with the likes of Caravan, Shoreditch Grind and other independent coffee shops expanding their offering to include unique food and wine menus and a weekend brunch can now very easily turn into dinner and cocktails as well.
Coffee has always brought people together, whether to relax, eat or socialise away from home and work and the coffee shops that offer a pleasant, welcoming environment and excellent coffee are those that will continue to flourish.