When thinking of a name for your child, you are drawn to consider a less popular name, thinking either this will help your child stand out from the crowd or people will admire your creativity. And so you start casting about avoiding all the names you’re hearing down the supermarket and you start thinking to yourself, all the names i’m hearing right now are from the Victorian age, loads of Henrietta’s and Catherines and Elizabeths and Walters, so I’m thinking the names from the 1950s like Audrey, and Marilyn would be a better option and then you name your child one of those, only to look over the shoulder of your darling wife as she is reading her favourite blog to discover that the coolest mum’s blogger in Texas also just called her daughter Audrey! Is this embarrassing? You didn’t copy her, it’s just coincidence. It’s a shared resonance. It’s the spirit of the times.
Nowhere does the Zeitgeist maraud about the rafters more than Melbourne. People talk about the big 5 (roasters). I’m pretty sure they mean Seven Seeds, St Ali, Market Lane, Small Batch and Proud Mary’s. After a month long field trip to my country of origin, I’m certain that the Melbourne coffee scene is the best read, most up to date, socially resonating coffee culture on the planet. And the most competitive.
So once you’ve noticed that the Zeitgeist has rattled her chains and those luminaries in Melbourne with the most acute hearing have harkened her call, do we all jump on the bandwagon? Fall into line with innovation and vend in the same style, same chops. Is this kind of action not leading us closer to what Hoffmann blogged about a while back called “the chain with no name.”
Certainly, the noteworthy cafes of Melbourne all do kombucha, banana bread, nitro cold brew, make no mention of cappuccinos (;D) and most notably, have all introduced batch brew served in nice bespoke earthenware cups. The very same earthenware cups that Tim Wendelboe, Workshop and Square Mile have promoted in the lead up to Christmas in the northern hemisphere too. Really I’m just smarting at them having beaten us to it; appalled by my own lack of creativity because Prufrock was entertaining the idea of bringing in a special bespoke cup to help bring more of a sense of occasion to a batch brew coffee. We considered doing a coaster and I notice the wonderful Auction Rooms of North Melbourne have these lovely hand stamped paper coasters. Cuts down on the washing up. Prufrock is simply not in the habit of cultivating the ideas of others.
Here’s a deeper dilemma. Gwilym came back from Starbucks roasters in Seattle saying “I kept looking around, and nothing was wrong with the place” meaning, no holes, no peeling window vinyls, no broken toilet door lock. The perfection here that you also see in places like Pablo and Rusty’s in Sydney make me deeply desire this. And then the Starbucks ordering app for their concept stores is such a good idea that I want one for Prufrock. Can we stoop to plagiarising the ideas of Starbucks?; profound early adopters themselves. Could call it a payback for appropriating the names on cups thing. It is certainly pointless to pretend we can trade punches with corporate coffee so maybe we can chill out on the cafe installation perfection of the Starbucks Roastery. One of our baristas came back from the London concept shop saying ‘there were so many staff on shift it looked like a barista charity.’ The rich culture of sharing in speciality coffee is something to be viewed as a Community Chest. I’m going to try to not let ego come between me and a great innovation, so if Starbucks are finally contributing to the community chest, that’s just fine with me.
I submit that ‘the chain with no name’ can operate with the same kind of goal in mind like the Euro zone. A means of balancing power between the independent and corporate coffee trade. We communicate and cooperate better with the community chest and and so if big business develops ideas worth tapping, aided by trend researchers rummaging around in our chest, then the edge we retain is that the corporates don’t communicate well with each other and are less able to respond to innovation. In Melbourne, the Zeitgeist is adoption more than innovation but still this is the most corporate coffee resistant culture I’ve experienced so this practice seems to make them stronger.
The Zeitgeist in speciality coffee is amplified by the up-to-the-minute reports of the likes of Sprudge and European Coffee Trip and Barista Hustle and StandArt and Perfect daily grind and Jim Seven. Melbourne’s big 5 give these journalists plenty to write about and certainly go out of their way to stay involved in the conversation. Consider the Big 5 might be where they are not just from their innovations but because they are the best listeners. Kombucha and nitro and banana bread are indeed scalable, delicious clean hallmarks of the modern market savvy cafe and are to be embraced for their speed of service, and the profit they can generate. It’s no wonder we see similar offerings in cafes. It is a refining process accelerated by the rapid dissemination of information. The constant adoption of new equipment and better brew methods and the profound emphasis we all appear to place on customer service might see us all become just about perfect. The challenges ahead won’t see us looking for Patrick’s Rolf-Karlsson’s perfect combination but rather perfect management. Good luck.
Ever noticed they don’t make guitars out of MDF? It don’t resonate. It sounds dull. If we can’t open up to outside influence we might just end up being dull, making no sound. In independent cafe culture, we can each be proud and content with our own sympathetic resonance to when the Zeitgeist strikes a chord.