Chains + Speciality Coffee: You Can't Have Your Cake and Eat It.

An interest of mine in the early mornings is to look through any social media posts published by not only my favourite little local coffee shops but also the big guys of the coffee shop business.

Especially since I’ve been using LinkedIn, I’ve become ever so more fascinated with the business strategies adopted by these large corporate chains, especially Starbucks and Costa Coffee. It’s fascinating to see how they appeal to the masses.

However, a quick scroll through my Instagram story of Costa’s and something alerted to me to something which has been (in my opinion) an underlying problem with these chains for a significant while.

Costa Coffee’s Instagram is showing a photo of a very lovely flat white (tulip and all), standing on a brown leaf to symbolise Autumn. I’m not phased by this in the slightest; even I promoted coffee yesterday (and the ever so controversial Pumpkin Spice Latte) through the subject of the Autumn Equinox. I mean, it’s not a secret that coffee lovers seem to thrive in an Autumnal habitat.

It’s what was next on the story which irked me. Costa makes a small quip stating that if any customers who dislike coffee are still in luck; they’re available to treat themselves to a loose leaf tea. Fair enough. But wait; it strikes me that they advertise only one store for this: Shelton Street. A quick Google brings me up to its location, and to be honest I’m not surprised in the slightest that this branch is in London.

I’ve seen how successful Costa Coffee is, and therefore this cannot be an argument regarding cost. Working in several coffee shops in the past, as well as being an avid tea lover at home, I know for a fact that buying loose leaf tea in wholesale is not in the slightest bit extravagant. I understand there would be a slight cost in purchasing new teapots to brew loose leaf tea, but once again these definitely do not break the bank; especially when bought in bulk.

I understand slightly that the demand for tea in Costa Coffee is probably much higher than any speciality coffee shops in London and therefore tea bags are much ‘easier’ to use (although this would not be the case if teapots were used such as ‘Stump’ pots with a built in strainer). However, there is something about being handed a Twinings tea bag (a company not actually that popular in the UK despite what our international stereotype dictates otherwise) which makes me shudder slightly. If the need for teabags are necessary for Costa, I would definitely recommend switching to a more premier company to make the tea lovers feel just as pampered and treated as their coffee loving company.

Another example is located in Upper St Martins Lane, known as ‘Starbucks Reserve’. I have personally never visited this store (although I did work down the road for a good year and I’m surprised that my curiosity did not get the better of me). London Town describes the store as “an open bar space surrounded by arena-style seating to enjoy the ‘theatre’ of coffee” with the latest “on-trend” brewing methods. Now don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly praise Starbucks for trying to create more depth in their branding with a speciality coffee shop like this; especially in an area which has several Top 30 (in the London Coffee Guide 2016) shops within a 5-minute walk from their store. An article on the Guardian website suggests that Starbucks is looking to branch out these in other areas of the country, but with the great extent of positive customer feedback, I personally feel that they should have launched a handful dotted around the country at around the same time.

Once again, I do not (believe it or not) want to slate these large chains, as their business strategies for the coffee loving masses are on point. I was an avid fan of Costa Coffee growing up as it was the only place available in my high street and it was a great introduction into coffee for my 16-year-old mocha loving self. However, I think there’s a slight backwards-thinking approach being used by these large chains. If you’re able to roll out these speciality products in selected stores; especially in London (which is probably the most costly to run in the country), there should be the consideration in branching out to other, well, branches.

So it makes me ask this question: If these large chains are trying to appeal to the masses but still keep up with the ever-expanding third wave coffee culture which is growing in the UK, why do they limit said speciality drinks to select stores? I’ve seen it plenty of times dotted across the comments section of various social media, where you find customers living away from London complaining that they are not given the same opportunities to sample speciality tea and coffee as their neighbours in the capital city. And surely implementing a higher level of speciality coffee in a country which is constantly increasing in third wave coffee culture will only bring more profit and more business, rather than see a decline as a result of their costs? The owner of the latest coffee shop I worked in once told me: “as soon as you get comfortable in your business you’re going to fail”, and I don’t think these large chains are an exception to this.