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Its the water inside the M25 that makes coffee taste better

I feel its time to rant a little on the blog, and I also feel its time for a little commentary on the industry I live and work in.

OK so maybe rant is a bit strong, but throw out opinion and thought.

A recent blog post (shout out to Alex Redgate http://awlred.wordpress.com/) questions the community outside of the London scene or lack of it, and its kind of made we want to post about the “London Scene”. This is in no way a dig at Alex, hes a top man, and we love him here.

There has been a hum of “isn’t the London scene wonderful” and I must admit I agree, to a point. Its great to see our capitol city picking itself up introducing competition and diversity from what was a one horse city. But the swipes at lack of community outside of London disappoints me. It disappoints me as I hear it a lot from people that have no idea whats happening in our city’s around the country.

I personally think there is plenty of community outside of London, I also know there are many many amazing outlets outside of London. but like everything from down south they believe they do it best because of the transport links and of course the much larger audience. But lets not forget a few short years ago, there was Monmouth, there was flat white selling Monmouth and there was Fernandez and Wells selling Monmouth and that was it. Coffee tour was over in a flash in one of the most cosmopolitan city’s in the world. At this time the hub of the UK was on the Halifax, Huddersfield area, one that that was way ahead of London (just look at the northern heats compared to the canceled London UKBC).

If you Go to Scarborough, or Leeds, or Liverpool, or even Manchester now (for years a black hole of coffee culture) or Derby, Burton, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, York (and there are many more) there is at least one place to go to get a great coffee experience. But you have to look for them and often these people are just tring to run there business and don’t have time (or inclination) to create a scene.

I get tired of the “only good place is London blah, blah” its as boring as the other international destinations I’ve heard the same of (Vancouver, Copenhagen, Portland etc). This is not the fault of people doing great things in these city’s, to the contrary its because of them they have these powerful emerging coffee shops and roasters. Its also that a press is very city centered, take a look at the independents 50 best coffee shops, they seem to agree that most of the best are in London.

I tip my hat to everyone that makes these places stand out on the coffee maps of the world, but they quite often either spread the word effectively or empower there customers to do so and build a strong tribe that spread the word for them. Armed with a press that listens (and is normally a tube ride away) and these powerful advocates you can see why it happens.

But I know I haven’t been to 1% of the coffee shops in London village, let alone the many outside, so I cant write off every coffee shop, on what is or isn’t being done in them. So often we judge a coffee shop by the coffee roaster they use, or the machine and grinder they make it on or the decor they have fitted out their store with. The barista doesn’t seem matter so much how much care attention and pride they put into their shots. I bet you in every town there is someone who wants to make better coffee, I bet you in every chain store there is some one with the passion for better coffee that just doesn’t know it exists.

Don’t moan or grown that there isn’t a “scene” in your town but get off your backside and make that scene happen, organise something go into the coffee shops in your local town and speak to the baristas and see if they would be interested. Post blogs that inspire people in your local area I don’t know anything to drum up support.

Of course you could just move to London.

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20 Comments

  1. Perhaps I made a slightly rose-tinted impression of the London Scene, and in doing so, discreditted other scenes, that may be as vibrant and buzzing that I am simply unaware of.

    I know there are good shops outside that magical ringroad of tarmac and hell that is the M25. Trying to chase up a few people I know that have fallen into smaller chains that I may be able to pull together.

    The London scene is probably built on other things to, being the high concentration of Antipodean Ex-pats they probably have similer circles that brought them together, or atleast create talking points between shops to help build the community to what it has become.

    I think you may have sparked a thought to brew to a new blog post later in the week Steve…

  2. If you go to x y and z “there is at least one place to go to get a great coffee experience”

    One place does not a scene make.

    There may be some great coffee bars dispersed around the country, but it is the abundance in London of coffee bars and coffee-heads that affords the development of a community, that makes a scene.

  3. But you will always get a concentration David in a city and particular a capital city.

    Are people not allowed outside their town or city limits to talk to others. If you look at London’s size its not as if they are neighbors. I agree there is not enough competition not enough at all, but it doesn’t end in one city.

    In some towns there are three four five? I don’t know as I don’t have the experience of traveling around them. for instance say Dudley (dont know why Dudley it popped into my head), I’ve never been for coffee. But maybe there is someone their with real passion for coffee, a real desire to do great things, an unfound barista. Unlikely yes but possible and that’s my point.

    I think Alex makes a good point about the antipodean community influence, but I think its more to do with someone has gone and made it happen (James and Anette) the antipodean’s were there long before and nothing happened. Its a driving force of two people and some amazing customers of theirs that has driven it on. I’m sure that could happen else where with the right people (or on a smaller scale).

    Look forward to the new blog Alex

  4. It’s great to see pockets of resistance springing up around the country (eg Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Lincoln, Cornwall and now Manchester too)

    So there is hope of an emerging scene.

    The sheer volume of UKBC entrants from outside the M25 is testament to this.

    Demand should not just be consumer led so it us up to each and every one if us to foster a culture of change and advance the coffee quality.

  5. I think often the less well known scenes and for want of a better word the underground scenes often but not always produce people who are more passionate due to the extra effort required to arrange, liase, organise etc..

    I personally believe there are very strong scenes in a number of “off the map” towns and cities around the uk but as mentioned they don’t currently get recognised or involved in activities purely because often they are harder to find..

    But with passionate people like steve ploughing a furrow it makes it much easier for many of us outside the Capital to get involved and be aware of the bigger picture.

    Thanks steve

  6. A scene is very different to a community – and I hope London is seeing a blossoming of both.

    To better explain – a coffee scene has an impact on the consumer, they see an increase in places to drink better coffee and people start noticing a trend. This is a good thing.

    To me a community isn’t as evident to the consumer (though I think it is to people in London, through the growing network of cafes recommending each other). I think there are passionate people, coffee people I mean, everywhere. What is required, more than anything else, is opportunity. A place, a time or an event to come together and have fun. We’ve tried to provide those opportunities – tastings, competitions, silly stuff and slightly serious stuff. A big part of Anette and my coffee experience has been benefitting and enjoying being part of an international community, and we missed that in London.

    What is important to us is that it doesn’t become competitive. Not between cafes, and not between cities. We don’t think that London is better than anywhere else, or that London has a better scene or whatever. It isn’t a competition – when it becomes competitive we all lose out.

  7. If you live somewhere where you can find great coffee, or better still a choice of great coffee then think yourself lucky. Once a choice of great coffee bacomes a ‘scene’ then take that fast train straight out of town. ‘Scene’ = niggles, one-upmanmship, cool kids clubs and bitching. There’s an argument that these things promote the furthering of coffee quality but I’m not so sure. I’d like to quietly enjoy my coffee without someone telling me I should be having it made by so and so in such and such a place.

    Those outside of London have it good.

  8. “I’d like to quietly enjoy my coffee without someone telling me I should be having it made by so and so in such and such a place.”

    Is that really happening though?

  9. Ok, I’m not talking about being directly pestered whilst sitting in a cafe, more about the hype around the latest formulaic London style place which tends to leave me feeling a bit meh. I imagine a scenario where somebody climbed out of a cultural vacuum armed with some ninja coffee skills and created something truly unique because they had not been affected by The London Coffee Scene ™.

    I don’t doubt that everywhere worthy of mention in London’s famous London is driven by passion, but it’s all getting a little insular.

  10. I get your point, but I don’t think that we can really define coffee in London and if you put it into a box and define it a certain way then it is more likely to become inclusive and less likely to become exclusive.

    How many great cafes are there in London? Still not many – not enough to genuinely define a trend. New and interesting businesses continue to open and more will (I think) when people realise that there is a successful business to be had in doing something personal, characterful as well as passionate. London is more diverse now than it was a few years ago when it was a sea of chains with very few genuine highlights like Monmouth.

    We both want more interesting, innovative and special places to open and I don’t think either of us would mind whose coffee they use or what machine they buy as long as they add something new and interesting for the customer (more than the industry).

    I think accusations of it being insular are a little unfair at this stage – did the south east regional not feel a bit more inclusive than the same heat a year before?

  11. Well said sir! There will soon be an new destination for all your coffee lovers in the north to visit.

    Nice to see my home town getting a mention too. If your after great coffee in Halifax mind, best come visit my kitchen for the moment!

  12. Wise words, Steve.
    Let’s here it for the ‘burbs, the provinces, the other UK cities north of the Watford Gap, south of the M4 corridor, beyond the Thames Estuary, along the coast and generally beyond the M25.
    And I guess if it weren’t for the UKBC many would remain off the broader map.
    Well done for sticking up for them all!

  13. “Don’t moan or grown that there isn’t a “scene” in your town but get off your backside and make that scene happen”.

    Never wiser words said or written.

    I can relate to this, not with coffee, but digital / technology. Living in the far flung reaches of East Yorkshire, Hull to be precise, there was no tech community, no events and no buzz.

    15 months later Hull Digital has 230 members, monthly MeetUps, other events from the likes of HumberMud happening, and I launched and delivered a conference for 200 people (www.hdlive09.co.uk) and thanks to Steve for supporting it!

    I love London, but it is not the be all and end all for anything, whether coffee or tech.

  14. Even Oxford is starting to perk up, with a couple of decent places appearing over the past year or so. I think there are little seeds of scenes here and there that have yet to fully germinate and be visible to the more established and visible groups.

    Nice article Steve.

  15. Manchester?

    (not groaning, would just love to know!)

  16. Grindsmith in the northern Quarter, siphon brewing Sq mile I believe

  17. I think Grindsmith are using a variety of roasters, not just us.

  18. sounds good – will aim go there at the weekend!

    thanks for the pointer

  19. […] Outside London This post follows on from my last post and Steve (HasBean) Leighton’s post regarding the apparent dirth of coffee communities outside of that great ringroad of untold misery […]

  20. I agree London is a great place for coffee, but I wouldnt want to drink the water as it is horrid. Making tea in London is a horrid experience with all that scum you get with boiled water. Just looking inside any kettle in London and all the limescale makes me quite ill, my kettle up here in Manchester is a few years old and is gleaming!

    As for the quality of life in London, I wont start 🙂

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