Coffee shops: a bubble is brewing

We all have coffe shops. The Italians think they own the coffee shop game, but that is mostly a mindgame of their own. Maybe they started some of it – the thick heavy bit.

Coffee drinking started maybe in the Ethiopian region of Kaffa, there were coffee houses in the Middle East about 500 years ago, they became places of congregation where one could talk, play games, listen to music. In 1674 Venice had coffe shops, in 1715 London had thousands of coffeshops. Finland is the biggest coffee user pr. inhabitant, and daily use of coffe is part of our culture now.

About 100 million people are involved in the coffee business. The coffee trade is the second biggest in the world after oil, 4 big companies dominate the coffee industry, but small businesses have found ways to do their own thing too.

Even Asia with its own strong tea drinking tradition is catching on. So far they are importing other people`s habits. Will we have a China or India based coffee house soon?

The Australians drink their coffee early – often before going to work. The rest is a mixed bunch, but coffee drinking is a daytime activity, we don`t drink much coffee at night – waky wake.

The coffee shops are now multiplying, both the big chains and the little independent ones. There are shops of many quality grades, specialty roasters of many kinds, baristas of all levels of competence. They all have increasing quality ambitions: growing, buying, blending, roasting, brewing, and new add-ons. The employees of coffee shops have a hard time keeping up, matching requirements. And the customers have joined in the quality chase as well – they even want to top the makers – the coffee geeks are all over – often overconfident and impolite they often demand the impossible when buying coffee.

The coffee shop game have become a thing of its own – a ritual of knowledge, pretense, quality, social standing – it is becoming a bubble.

First of all there is the teminology: not only black with or without milk, latte etc. , but stumpy flat white, short black, with microfoam, skinny latte, as well as the company made ones. And a godshot made in heaven too. The milk too: fluffy, frothy, dense, airy, creamy. the grinding can be done in many ways too: Use a grinder with a ball mechanism, or it must be burr-ground.

The barista must decorate the coffee drink too: milk art, latte art, flourishes of many kinds, some add-ons.

The temperature of the water must be right – not to much, not too little – milk too. The processing time – the seconds – are important, the pressure, the color, the depth of immersion, the feel and look, the home of the cows that give you milk, complexity, depth of taste, length of taste, the aftertaste: An exaggerated ideal is being built – there is pretense in the air.

The list is long and it is often difficult to to find the people who has the knowledge and ability to do all this – there is a gap.

The chains – why must there always be chains – make this a sad business of unfulfilled corporate strategy, failed business models, misunderstood global ambition – why shall I sit in Shanghai and drink coffe with American names and the US way? It all ends up in confusion and disappontment – you will not be satisfied very often – if at all.

The prices are given, they don`t follow quality – they don’t vary much.

So what do you do, what are you looking for: reasonable coffee, internet, good sitting space, sofas, few/many people – the old social setting is maybe most important? Going 300 years back with internet added?

Buying coffee has become a bore – if you do not know the terms you are an outkast, there is talk about the waves of coffeehouses – the 3rd or 4th wave maybe.

This is not so – we are part of a tradition that is several hundred years old. Leave pretense out of it, let us have coffee like we always have – a quiet while over a fairly made coffee, a good talk. Good quality is fine too, but it need not be heavenly.

Let us burst the bubble.

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