A little less than a year ago I wrote a short piece about the price of coffee in London. For that post I’d used the London Coffee Guide produced by a company called Allegra, (who do a lot of research) which launches at the London Coffee Festival which starts tomorrow.
Very kindly, and out of the blue, they forwarded me the data from this year’s book, and in a spreadsheet no less! (Meaning I didn’t have to put the prices in manually this time.) I thought I’d write about where things are now, what has changed and what hasn’t.
A few small changes: those charging the lowest price for espresso have either increased pricing, or those businesses at the bottom end of pricing are no longer in business. At the top end there has been little to no change. However, the change in pricing distribution has moved the average and the mode to be essentially the same. Overall the price of espresso in London has increased, by around 5.3% which is above the rate of inflation (2.4-3.0%).
Pricing distribution looks very similar to last year except that the number of cafes charging £2.00 (the mode) has increased from 35% to 42% of the cafes listed in the guide. I should note at this point that prices for a double espresso were used when two prices were listed.
One rather lovely addition to the data shared is that each cafe had been tagged with its neighbourhood in London. This allowed me to look at the distribution of price across London. Here it is with the average price for an espresso and a flat white, and where they rank from most expensive (1) to cheapest (11):
|Region||Espresso (£)||Rank (11)||Flat White (£)||Rank (11)|
While this is interesting, it is hardly revelatory – but there are a few notables. The most expensive retail rent in London (the West End) comes with the most expensive coffee – I don’t think anyone is particularly surprised by this. The South East is also considered a relatively cheap (in comparison to the rest of London) place to do business, but it is interesting to see how much cheaper coffee is down there.
I was surprised to see espresso in the City was cheaper than the average (even if it is just a little under). Amusingly milk drinks are the most expensive in London, so either bankers are buying bigger cups of coffee (I used the highest price for a flat white listed for each cafe) or the cafes are recouping their expensive rent costs with their most popular drinks. On principle they should probably be more expensive…
I’m not exactly sure why, but I was quite surprised to find the standard deviation across the prices to be so similar – 11p for espresso and 12p for flat whites. To me I would say that this indicates that cafes pay attention to each other’s pricing a lot (probably more than customers) – but I’m aware that I’m stating the obvious again…
I didn’t do the data analysis on milk drinks in 2013, so hopefully I can keep it up from this year onwards. This post is just a presentation of data, and has nothing to do with what I think cafes should be charging for espresso drinks – simply what they are charging right now.
I don’t really like the word hipster, nor do I condone its usage (despite occasional indulgence), but I did spend some time recently trying to work out what it meant and what we mean when we use it.
It isn’t really a cultural label the way “goth” or “mod” were and are. I think the word has ended up being many things to many people, but I think when you use it there is, at its root, one key idea: you are saying “I don’t believe you.”
It is the label given to those who posture, whose cultural, sartorial or intellectual pretence is painful to see. This is why no one self identifies this way – we are believe we’re telling the truth, or at least getting away with looking like we do.
Hipster gets thrown at coffee a great deal too. Half the time to describe the people behind the counter, half the time to describe those patiently queuing to buy it. The aloof barista, with a carefully cultivated sense of ennui and the vaguely disguised disgust at the coarseness and ignorance of customers, is perhaps the arch trope of coffee today.
When we see such theatricality, perhaps we assume that every aspect is a performance. Caring about coffee, being interested in it and deeply involved in it, all of this must be part of the act. How can we, as a customer, tell which part is genuine and which some sort of pretence.
I read a piece on coffee consumption that brought me back to this Frank Bruni piece from a few years ago in the New York Times. This particular sentence was highlighted (emphasis mine):
“In these food-mad times, have the economically privileged among us gone too far in turning simple acts of nourishment into complicated rituals of self-congratulation?”
Have we offered up coffee as a way to define who we are as customers? Is this something modern or is this simply the next step after coffee’s position as the epitome of the Fair Trade movement, the next step in the evolution of our relationship with a product thats complexity is slowly starting to seep into the public sphere.
While I don’t really see coffee in London, or the UK, being regularly used by consumer’s to really define themselves (outside of those for whom coffee is a passion) – I do see a great deal of inauthenticity within the industry.
Part of this, I think, is a byproduct of the homogeneity that can develop in a market or a result of tapping into the hive mind of the coffee industry online. London is home to what others have described as the “chain with no name”, independent cafes that look and feel very similar to each, offer very similar products at similar prices, with similar service experiences, but have no shared ownership. In a situation like this, it seems pretty obvious to anyone that each of these business is unlikely to be the honest expression of an individual, and can end up looking like bandwagon-jumping or an attempt to profiteer from a trend someone doesn’t truly understand. I understand that conformity offers safety, and I see that the industry doesn’t often encourage the kind of risk taking we want to see. This part, however, may in part be because we’ve struggled to work out how the risk/reward model could really offer something compelling.
Authenticity comes from honesty, from transparency. Cafes are great canvases, for the expression of ideas about service, about taste, about design, about community, and about coffee itself. All too rarely are they any, let alone all, of these things. When they are clearly the result of someone’s considered, and personal, vision I think they’re compelling, and I believe consumers can tell and respond strongly to it. My limited experience within my own market supports this.
The cafes around London, past and present, that I have formed the strongest bonds with all have a genuine identity, from their owners and founders, that I find strongly appealing. I deeply hope to see more of this in the future, because I believe it will make talking to people about why coffee is worth their attention, their money and their time so much easier.
Today I closed submissions to the January topic and I’ve updated the blog post to show a full list of further reading links you lovely people submitted. Some people’s submitted links didn’t work, and I haven’t had the time to work out what they meant to submit.
The voters have also chosen the next topic. In the next couple of weeks I will write and post:
An introduction to coffee roasting
This is going to be tricky, and I know that when I call for links to further reading that there isn’t a lot of stuff online. However, there is more than you think…
I just want to make clear that what I will write will be designed as an introduction. It won’t be too superficial (I hope) but I will be leaving out some of the fuzzy stuff that is full of half baked opinions, pseudo science and conjecture. It’s actually quite an intimidating topic to write an introduction for…
There’s some great reading to be had back in the acidity post – so I hope people enjoy getting stuck in!
Maybe I set the bar too high in my own mind, maybe I wasn’t sufficiently clear and maybe (the most likely explanation) it just wasn’t that good of an idea to start with.
UPDATE: Twitter has informed me that the problem is my expectations, and that I should stop being churlish for what many would consider a good result. I have since reviewed my expectations for this – there’ll definitely be a part two… My expectations are likely skewed by the last two times I requested reader participation which each generated 500+ responses.
The idea behind the collaborative learning project was that if you gave a little you got something more in return. The first post on acidity has had 10k+ views, excluding the several thousand who subscribe to the RSS feed. I had hoped that even 1 in 100 page views might yield a submitted link, but for all the views and the thousand of people who read the post I’ve received (to date) 29 viable links on the subject of acidity. (Less than 1 per 400 views)
Let me be clear: I’m not really blaming anyone else but me for this, and I’m not really moaning about it either. This isn’t an “oh poor me!” blog post, I promise you. My predictions of how this would go were based more on my own hopes, rather than evidence or historical precedents.
I’m not yet sure if I am going to continue with the project, or certainly continue it in its current form. I will definitely update the existing blog post with the links submitted on acidity so far, but as for starting a new topic – I don’t think so. Failure is fine, it should be accepted, and sometimes it is ok to let things go and to move on to other projects. There are a few other ideas in the pipeline, so hopefully they’ll come to fruition soon!