The year will be drawn to a close with the network of my favourite coffee writers putting powerful emphasis on the problems we face. Klaus Thomsen has given us a deeply personal plea to interact and empathise with farmers and their next of kin. The bubble is about to burst and we are to become the victims of our own success says Hoffmann, meanwhile Maxwell CD has announced his strategy to pare down to pods. Matt Perger does a hatchet job on barista training giving way to super-automation and to this Prufrock says touché. But it also says keep calm. Some hope for the new year lies ahead. Starting with this. Prufrock’s general manager and newly crowned UK Roasting Champion, Matthew Robley-Siemonsma gave me this pearl of wisdom for Christmas: It is unprofessional to be openly negative in the workplace. And in spite of a host of challenges ahead, I’m happy to state here that there is something deeply serendipitous about the coffee pod phenomenon to help you keep your chins up in 2016.
Gwilym has alway said of Nespresso that they are redefining espresso. They get away with charging from a baseline of £56 per kg. The cheapest 5g pod is 28p and the average TDS is between 3-4% whilst the SCAE define espresso as 9-11% TDS. Knowing these figures, would it surprise you that they had sold 27 billion pods by 2011 after which they stopped reporting sales figures so far to people believing themselves to be brewing espresso. The growth of this industry suggests they’re not being duped, they like it. In Britain it was 186million pods in 2013 and the number is rising. In this lies opportunity and deliverance and a shake up for coffee recipe design.
There is a James Hoffmann sized caveat on entering the pods market. Swallowing the pill that the non-recyclable (except allegedly in Switzerland or at Nespresso stores or when you order more pods) packaging actually weighs as much as 50% of the dose of coffee. And that’s just the Belarom Brand with the plastic wrapper. Throw in one of those ritzy ammunition trays Nespresso come in and it’s more like equal. I’m trying to think of any other product on the planet where this occurs outside of enriched uranium. This is perfectly, inexcusably absurd.
The 5.5g dosage and the redefinition of espresso is the area to focus on when swallowing this pill because it has purchased us some competitive elbow room. Hoffmann poignantly suggests the Speciality market might become the victim of our own success as landlord’s greed in an increasingly saturated market keep us chasing our tails. We can turn the pods market on its head. The Prufrock coffee bill for Leather Lane in 2015 was £43, 000k and if we brewed at regulation pod strength instead of third wave, we’d be looking at a considerable lump which would help cover the upcoming rent review.
Trouble is there is usually anxiety in cafe owners regarding a loss of flavour intensity if they down dose. I’ve gone out of my way to blog about this, and stopped just short of being hauled in by Scotland Yard for creating a price fixing cartel: we could dose less, extract a little more efficiently, run split shots, save time and money, spend more etc. Whichever way you go on brew strength, the simple message is that it is a false floor with espresso strength. We can use less to subsidise higher premiums for green coffee. We could operate on a 66% drop in global greens production if we adopted the typical Pod brew strength targets.
What you get if you take the ideas of the last four months on the airwaves and put them together is a lactic processed Castillo, 5.5g single shot at 24% extraction and 3% TDS on a voice operated black box brewer with loads of crema. Some people might step off the boat at this point. I remember asking Hoffmann if Square Mile would ever purchase GM coffee and he said if it comes to that, he might just head off and do something else. I understand his point but for me, a hydroponic GM super bean in a superautomatic micro-espresso becomes more and more appealing. I don’t mind about the price or how big it is, we measure the success of coffee by single sips, not by caraf. World competitions are won via judges that have taken only two sips of a champion’s espresso. So with filter brews with 1.5-2g of dissolved coffee solid being more than enough to fill a mug, our celebration of clean water as a significant part of the beverage and all that veritably weightless gas as a key part of coffee’s USP, we can still confidently convey our message with less coffee.
It could be that the only reason the third wave coffee shop thing happened is because of the decline of the public library and the TV show Friends. And it’s possible pods only took off because George Clooney endorsed them. (And so incidentally did 700 Michelin star restaurants across the world…really?…Boff!) As we begin to explore the wasteland of 3-4% in the new year, let us find a sustainable way of doing it. Let us give thanks to those luminaries like Klaus Thomsen and James Hoffmann for bringing home the message that we need to engage with farmers and future farmers and we need to plan for a time when coffee is more scarce and more expensive. Then as you’re making your New Year’s resolutions or if you’re feeling there’s a lull in your coffee life…just spare a thought for how lucky we are that Starbucks got everyone into burning their coffee, then all those crazy triple ristretto cats started using crazy big quantities of burnt coffee to get some acidity back…and then…lots of smart cats learnt to roast properly…and extract properly…and then while all this was happening…in a galaxy far far away… a bigger world than ours acquired a taste for a brew strength three times lower than what we call espresso. Lucky huh?
The big strong king is dead, long live the small, weak, smarter and better dressed king.