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Bristol’s Caffeine Scene

Coffee addict Crystal Rose takes a look at the city’s lively bean-based landscape and chats to local experts about its changing nature

Waiting in line at my local independent coffee house, patiently awaiting my daily caffeine fix, my ears catch scraps of a particular lexicon (“Double shot, soya, caramel macchiato without the drizzle!” “Skinny, decaf cappuccino, please!”) It’s perfectly normal morning discourse to me,
a millennial in the throes of a coffee craze targeting an ever-younger market and transforming the way the bean-based beverage is consumed.

For most, long gone are the days of simply guzzling standard instant from the comfort of their own kitchen. We’ve swept aside soluble, freeze-dried granules in favour of freshly ground fabulousness and we’re happy to travel for it, pay extortionate rates, sometimes even plan a day out around it. The likes of the espresso, flat white, cafe bombon and pumpkin spiced latte (now the butt of many a millennial-mocking meme) have become firm favourites.

Recent stats from the British Coffee Association indicate that we’re drinking 95 million cups of coffee a day – which means, on average, one person drinking two cups. An AM dose and then a lunchtime hit, perhaps, to keep them going. As the second most popular drink in the world (following water), it’s no wonder the variety of coffee-related drinks seems to be endless. Over 50% of coffee-house customers are millennials – the modern-day coffee connoisseurs – and it would seem that we’re all about the speciality blend brew. But not just that, we also want maximum Instagrammability – a proven, increasingly important factor in choosing how we spend our leisure time.

So what is it about coffee that is so irresistible to this younger market? The rise in social media is sure to have impacted our love – we’re the generation that has been directly affected and most obviously targeted by social media. Sipping at that steamy, frothy mug of magic just wouldn’t be the same without some picture-perfect art atop.
The ‘latteart’ hashtag has over five million tags on Instagram, and users of the platform are typically millennial or Generation Z. Does this partly account for the boom in speciality coffee? If all we see as we scroll down our social network feeds are exotic-sounding, carefully crafted liquid artworks, we’re bound to contract a slight case of FOMO.

Image by Edd Cope

“Social media promotes the need for coffees to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible, which is why we’ve seen such a boom in accounts showing off their incredible latte art,” says Laura Wogan at Bristol’s Wogan Coffee. “This can mean that it becomes the leading focus, but it does also mean that coffee is being given more screen time than ever before. Independents (both roasters and cafés) are now given so much more of a chance to be in the public eye.” And certainly, if they use their platforms effectively and successfully, they can massively benefit from this digital development.

The consumption rise and demand for ‘craft’ coffee houses had a positive impact on independent companies, and it’s given rise to specialist festivals such as Bristol’s recent new Coffee House Project, celebrating local artisan roasters, independent retailers and homegrown baristas. This year they found that millennials contributed to over 50% of their visitors. And not only are we the generation drinking all the coffee, we’re a generation welcoming and encouraging of new, more guilt-free ways of doing so. The recent introduction of re-usable coffee cups could make a huge environmental difference and is a positive sign for the future. Plastic straws are a thing of the past in many places and what’s more, independent coffee houses such as Mokoko and Society Café are using compostable and eco-friendly packaging such as ‘vegware’ to help reduce plastic waste. Many millennials are much more conscious in their decisions these days, says co-founder of The Coffee House Project, Louisa Parry: “They want to know about the story behind it, where it has come from; is it ethical? Therefore the end product has had to improve to keep up with customer demand and expectation. More millennials are wanting to immerse themselves in the subject; to learn, appreciate and experience.”

So the culture has changed; the expectations have shifted. “Having a coffee is now associated with the whole experience it generates,” says Louisa. “It has become an activity rather than just a requirement, and when you do something with purpose, you want a great experience out of it.”

Girls Who Grind is one of the South West’s burgeoning indies (image from Coffee and I UK)

But, with Brexit looming, what effect might this year’s trade have on this fast-changing scene, and our pockets? “Brexit’s a tricky one, simply because there’s so much uncertainty as to what it will actually mean, that it’s almost impossible to predict how it will affect the average coffee drinker,” says James Wogan. “I’d be incredibly surprised if there was any positive effect – I can’t see a way in which the breaking down of deals and trade links could possibly benefit UK coffee roasters, at least not in the commodities markets, which are pretty much all traded in US dollars. For us personally, we always forward-contract our coffee, meaning we can play the market to keep our prices as constant as possible, essentially riding out any spikes and fluctuations. Brexit promises to be one hell of a spike, but we’ll be watching every step of the way, to try and ensure that we ride over the financial tidal wave!”

Last summer, the cold brew and iced latte seemed to take over and now we’re being told a vast variety of iced drinks are making their way to menu boards for good. We’re hearing about buttered coffee, bubbly carbonated coffee, mushroom-made coffee; more use being made of cascaras – the rich red coffee cherries full of antioxidants but usually thrown away. The whirlwind is not slowing down and neither is our demand for speciality blends. We’re full of beans and we’re loving it.

Image by Jim Lampard at Bristol Nature Channel

“In terms of trends for 2019, we wouldn’t be surprised if honey-processed and natural coffees became even more popular and shouted about (rightly so) – with ‘millennials’ more and more interested in moving away from old-school styles of coffee,” offers James Wogan by way of a prediction for what’s to come next. “Hopefully there’ll be more of a focus on really nailing the making and preparing of drinks, rather than just the aesthetics – difficult on online platforms made to be beautiful!”

Featured image by Jim Lampard at Bristol Nature Channel