James Hoffmann is a former world barista champion who runs coffee wholesaler Square Mile Coffee Roasters. He has been overseeing contract caterer BaxterStorey's Barista Academy, which launched this week. He spoke to Chris Druce
Caterer: How did you get involved with the Barista Academy?
James Hoffmann: I've worked with supplier First Choice Coffee and it recommended me after learning that BaxterStorey was planning to launch the academy at IPC Media in London. I found a company with size and influence that understood the challenges involved in producing great coffee and still wanted to do it. Here's a caterer that can really take on the high-street operators and set a new bar for high-quality coffee.
What has your involvement been?
The first training session I conducted for BaxterStorey was with its senior managers and board, as they realise this has to filter down from the top. At the moment I'm holding talks for unit managers about coffee appreciation. I've written the content for the barista training,and it is being delivered by the internal training team. The biggest challenge I come up against is with managers who don't want to give up half a day to come along because "it's just coffee". Inevitably at some point during the session you get to enjoy the moment when they suddenly get it.
Allegra's latest coffee bar survey suggests a sector bucking the economic trend. Do you agree?
Branded growth will continue but it seems a lot of the big operators are now doing this through store openings rather than actual coffee sales. The recession will see a lot of the deadwood go from the sector and I expect at least one of the larger groups to go under. The public is really punishing mediocrity at the moment and while branded coffee chains have helped create demand for higher-priced coffee, the quality bar has been set relatively low.
How can restaurants take advantage of the demand for quality coffee?
Restaurants have logistical challenges. The weight of much of the retail boom lies on espresso's shoulders. However, in Italy espresso is drunk at the bar as close to the machine as possible, as it's at its best seconds, not minutes, after being made. Espresso isn't great for restaurants, where there's quite a bit of time between order, making and delivery of coffees by waiting staff. French press [cafetière] is much more suitable for restaurants and you can really surprise diners with a range of flavours. But because it's bulk brew and less glamorous it gets unfairly overlooked.
What trends can we expect to see emerging in the coffee market?
I think during the next two years we're going to see far more independents. The coffee bar chains are no longer expanding as aggressively and landlords are actively seeking out high-quality individuals.