Where are we heading? Where is the future for speciality coffee?

If you’re really into coffee then back in June you will have seen your Instagram feed suddenly fill with photos of Agnieszka Rojewska, the newly crowned World Barista Champion. Amazingly she becomes the first female to take this accolade, but that’s another blog post for another time.

What I really want to talk about was her opening statement that’s got my brain whirring ever since. “Where are we heading? Where is the future for speciality coffee?” Now this is a pretty broad subject; you could look at many aspects of the industry and come out with many different results, but the one that matters the most to us currently is within a coffee shop environment. To that end, I’m more interested in ‘Where is the future for speciality coffee in shops?’ and ‘What is the relationship between speciality coffee and our customers?’

It’s something that has plagued my existence for some time. Even before Agnieszka pitched the topic back to the forefront of my mind, I have had long drawn out thoughts whilst driving up and down the A9 between roasts. It has struck me that the relevancy of what I have found important over the past five or so years in coffee has always been changing, and the way in which our business adapts to match this can somewhat be stubborn, or usually just delayed. 

What struck me most when watching the winning WBC performance was how progressive and technical it was on the back end, but how comfortable and simple it was presented to the judges. This balance is something we always try to hit, and it can be quite a challenge. Most interestingly her approach to espresso was almost identical to the way in which we have been making coffee at our Frederick St branch for about a year now. Utilising the EK43 grinder, but predosing and freezing the shots to encourage a more condensed particle distribution and hopefully more even extraction, balance and sweetness.  

We feel we have achieved this, but in achieving this small goal for ourselves have we been overlooking a much larger goal for the customer? Does this intensive elaboration of preparing coffee ensure a comfortable service environment for our customers? I’m not entirely sure it does. The more I considered it, the more I understood the beauty of the delivery in Agnieszka’s routine. When the key motivation is taste, yet the experience is interrupted by the theatrics, does this interfere? In our case the noise of the EK43 being on the front bar, and very slight delay in serving customers perhaps made the experience worse regardless of taste. 

Returning to our motive to be less lethargic with implementing new ideas when we notice tired ones, we have tried to continue to push our current belief forward with less delay and stubbornness. As such we’ve omitted frozen shots for a brief, busy period in the summer, to try and turn our focus back to getting right what we feel is now more relevant; the complete customer experience.

 Photo: Gavin Smart

Photo: Gavin Smart

We have always wanted our approach to service to be welcoming and engaging, something that I think we have been fortunate enough to smash thanks to tireless work from our skilled staff. However while we assumed our frozen shot adventure would be engaging, it may have shifted focus from other essential service aspect; speed and familiarity. 

At the end of the day, we feel excited and happy to be apart of an industry that hasn’t, and likely won’t ever stop evolving. There is such a drive to push boundaries in tech and service, and finding the balance between the two is paramount. One thing I am certain of; without attempting to find the future for specialty coffee, we won’t ever arrive at it. For now we feel we have found some better understanding of our approach, and have a renewed drive that we can continue to head in a direction that works for customers and our coffee as a whole.

— Robi Lambie

COFFEERobi Lambie