Thursday, September 16News For London

How independent cafes grow fast

Coffee culture is full of beans in London. Small independent cafes are developing well despite facing fierce competition from big chains such as Costa, Nero’s and Starbucks.

Young British get used to grabbing a cup of coffee on the go or spending some time in cafes to socialise and work. The British Coffee Association reveals that people drink approximately 55 million cups of coffee per day in the UK.

There were fewer than 10,000 coffee shops in the UK 10 years ago, but by the end of last year there were more than 22,000 cafes. Big chains like Costa and Starbucks have doubled in number, but small independent cafes are also emerging from the industry and growing fast, according to coffee market researchers Allegra.


Number of coffee shops in the UK from 08/1999 to 12/2016. (Image: BBC, 2017)

Costa takes a leading position in the UK coffee market, with more than 2,300 stores throughout the country, but its sales growth has almost ground to a halt, in the light of the latest report released on October 24 by parent company Whitbread PLC.

However, independent coffee houses, such as TAP Coffee which has recently opened its fourth branch in Russell Square, work hard to capture customers. They do it in three main ways.

TAP Coffee branch in Russell Square. (Photo: Star Tang)

Unique Decoration Style

To develop a cosy atmosphere, all the branches are decorated by the owner, Richard.

TAP Coffee branch in Russell Square. (Photo: Star Tang)

“All the tables and chairs are made by him, and every painting on the wall is chosen by him as well,” said Marta, a barista at the TAP Coffee branch in Russell Square.

TAP Coffee branch on 193 Wardour St, Soho. (Photo: Star Tang)

On signboards at the other three branches, there are model bicycles above the cafe’s window, reflecting Richard’s interest in bicycling. The manager of the TAP Coffee branch on 193 Wardour St said: “He believes there is a relationship between coffee and the bicycle.”

TAP Coffee branch on 193 Wardour St, Soho. (Photo: Star Tang)

He also added that playing cards were well used to label the blend because Richard likes playing poker. Richard has integrated his personal interest into the cafe, making TAP unique and intriguing.

Manager of the TAP Coffee branch on 193 Wardour St, Soho. (Photo: Star Tang)

Quality of Coffee

Every morning when baristas go to the cafe, they will make an adjustment in the light of temperature, humidity, and different coffee beans. All the data on the blackboard will be updated every day, to ensure the perfect flavour of milk blend and espresso.

TAP Coffee Blackboard. (Photo: Star Tang)

TAP’s filter coffee is a great attraction for coffee drinkers. Marta said: “one cup of filter coffee took about four to five minutes, much longer than other types.” They would roast coffee beans in order to keep the original fruit flavour. Whitbread Chief Executive Officer, Alison Brittain told the Guardian that British coffee devotees had more sophisticated preferences for coffee and did not mind spending more for innovative drinks of high quality. TAP’s rich coffee tastes may cater to consumers’ demands.

TAP Filter Coffee. (Photo: Star Tang)

Influence of Social Media

TAP Coffee has its own website and a splendid video shot by TAP is shared on the website as the best introduction of TAP coffee from ship to shelf.

Pictures of coffee and customers will also be posted onto TAP’s Twitter and Instagram accounts, which get about 9300 and 12k followers respectively. Most of the customers’ tweets about TAP’s coffee or music will be retweeted by TAP.


Independent Cafes Threaten Giant Chains?

Costa is the largest coffee chain in the UK, but its like-for-like sales rose just 0.1% in the three months to the end of August, 2017. Apart from changes in consumers’ coffee tastes, the attraction of independent coffee may well be a factor.

Costa’s like-for-like sales growth. (Image: The Guardian, 2017)

Facing the rise of independent businesses, “Costa welcomes all the challenges,” said Konstanty, manager of Costa on Eastcastle Street.

She added: “Costa is not like Starbucks or Pret A Manger but focuses more on the quality of the coffee.” Konstanty believes that compared to small independent cafes, Costa is a more reliable brand, which is Costa’s biggest advantage.

TAP Coffee’s unique decoration, coffee quality as well as the good use of social media have helped it to develop very fast. Only coffee drinkers will determine whether it’s the freshness of independent cafes, or the branding of big chains which will win the game. But no matter how big or small the coffee shop is, if it wants to get a foothold, it must put its foot on the path of innovation to cater to the more and more demanding tastes of coffee lovers rather than resting on its laurels.