The London School of Coffee has enlarged and improved its facilities in Kingston-upon-Thames to create ‘a state-of-the-art training facility with the feel of being in a café bar'.
The new training area is around 500 sq ft with a coffee bar at one end, three other barista stations, and the usual brewing, roasting and cupping equipment.
The LSC's founder Stephen Hurst tells us that the new VRQ Level 2 City and Guilds course for baristas is now proving popular, and that the concept of a recognised barista qualification has clearly appealed to the catering trade in general and is helping a growing realisation among hospitality operators that a true top quality in coffee actually exists.
Something which has surprised the LSC trainers is that, although they expected their market to be in the specialist coffee sector, students have come from the wider catering trade. There has been a flow of recruits from hotel and restaurant operators who realise that they really must understand coffee to make the most of the modern beverage trade, and multinational operators.
"The catering trade has yet to realise the real scope for speciality coffee training and education," says Hurst. "Too many UK caterers and beverage operators see no point whatsoever in buying anything other than basic commodity-grade coffee beans, believing that there is no difference between commodity and speciality grade anyway - so why pay more?
"They either lack the basic skills to tell the difference, or they recognize the difference in quality but say, 'I don't need to buy the premium grades - my customers can't tell the difference'!
"I have no problem at all with these caterers looking at their options, deciding that poor quality rubbish can make them a lot of money, and buying accordingly. I also have no problem finding poor-quality coffee sold in a basic, ordinary place.
"The bigger problem is that even some of the people who sell coffee have no inclination that there is a top quality in coffee, which is why we find poor coffee even in the very top places, even from the very best hospitality operators who want the very best of everything and are willing to pay for it. Their suppliers simply are not qualified to offer them the best coffees."
As a result, the target for the London School of Coffee is to create awareness of coffee quality throughout the hospitality trade supply chain.
"You can usually find a good quality house wine anywhereâ¦ but try finding a house coffee! There are prestige restaurants, hotels, airlines and offices who should consciously be buying the very best coffeeâ¦ but, because of a lack of knowledge in the supply chain, they are buying just a consumable generic.
"We have to stop coffee being treated like salt and pepper!"
London School of Coffee: 0208 439 7981
By Ian Boughton