Brexit aside, thousands packed the Old Truman Brewery building in central London to see the latest trends in coffee innovation from Nitro Cold Brew Tea to the Barista Cup – a device to put the power of your local coffee shop in your own hands.
However, it was Brexit that was on the tongue of many coffee barons and baristas.
Brexit is interpreted by many as a revolt against the globalized economy that swept the world after the 1991 collapse of communism.
The Old Truman Brewery building, where the coffee festival is held, in many ways is a landmark to the early modern era of globalization (sometimes referred to as the era proto-globalization) from 1600-1800. French Huguenot immigrants, fleeing prosecution in France introduced hops into English brewing techniques in the 17th century leading to increased beer consumption. Beer brewing began at the site as early as 1666. Fifteen years earlier The Turk’s Head, England’s first coffee house, opened a short-walk away. Coffee remains one of the most globalized commodities in the world today.
As polls and the stalemate over the past month in parliament show, Britons are still largely divided on Brexit – as is the world’s leadership.
“I am not worried about Brexit; nothing will change anything for the coffee industry here in the U.K.,” said Lordanis Losifids, a coffee business development manager. “Even if things are bad you know after the financial crisis in Greece, coffee consumption increased. So it would be an unfortunate thing to happen but, in Greece, it was good for coffee shops.”
“Brexit maybe good for the coffee business,” added Losifids, whose family runs one of Greece’s most successful coffee chains. He remembers after the 2009 Greek Debt crisis, Dimello and others worried that the coffee industry would be impacted. While Greek consumers cut back on other luxuries like meals out and alcoholic consumption – coffee remained steady.
His views, at least amongst coffee leaders in the United Kingdom, maybe in the minority.
A study recently released by the consultancy Allegra found that forty-nine per cent of coffee industry leaders surveyed said Brexit would hurt the industry, and would hurt their coffee business. However, 45% were neutral, with a further 5% saying Brexit would be positive.
“I am against it, and I attended one of the marches and marched against it,” said Stephen Goodchild who is working on business development for the luxury water company Vichy Catalan, another vendor at the festival. ”I don’t think anything will change after Brexit for the beverage industry.”
Labor costs appear to be the main concern of many coffee shops in the United Kingdom; after Brexit, the pool of continental Europeans willing to travel to London to work as baristas may evaporate. While the future of Brexit remains unclear, at the beginning of March the British government approved new cost increases for visa applications to the United Kingdom.
The number of coffee shops in the UK has been increasing each year for the past 20 years. Four coffee shops open in Britain on average every day. The country will see the opening of 6,517 new coffee shops by 2023 which will result in the United Kingdom being home to 32,000 coffee shops, though how these new establishments will be staffed is unclear.
Start-up companies in China and the United States are already experimenting with robot barristas to replace human workers.
Whether replacing muscle with machines or developing new niche markets ( turmeric latte anyone?), innovation has long been key to the continued growth of the coffee industry.
Back at the booth of Dimello Coffee, Losifids relates how his father overcame a similar challenge.
“Twenty years ago we started to realize that fewer people were drinking coffee in the summer, so we experimented, and my father developed the Freddo,” he says. The Freddo — a double shot of espresso coffee swirled in a mixer with a few ice cubes and poured over ice, often foamy cream is added. The drink, along with the Frappe, another cold coffee concoction using instant coffee, became globally popularized after receiving exposure at that most globalized of sports events – the Summer Olympic games held in Athens in 2004.