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Coffee Culture

14 February 2011

Making a good capuccino is as much an art as a science. Corporate caterers are training staff as ‘baristas’ to get the best from their investment in coffee beans and expresso machines in the workplace, as Jane Fenwick reports.

COSTA COFFEE FIRST OPENED up in the UK at 9 Newport Street, London 1971, followed by Coffee Republic (1995) and Café Nero (1997) and finally Starbucks in London’s Kings Road (1998). The effect was to change not only our high street coffee offering, but also turn us into coffee rather than tea drinkers and raise the expectations of what a ‘good’ cup of coffee is.
The UK population spends £730m on coffee each year. It is big business. Coffee has its roots in the business world - both Lloyds of London and the New York Stock Exchange started life as coffee houses. Coffee remains good for business, as a natural adjunct to the modern working environment, benefiting concentration and networking.
Franchising famiiar high street brands into workplaces was a natural step for the larger corporates, benefiting business by not only keeping staff on site during work breaks but also indirectly contributing to recruitment and retention of staff.
Contract caterers have also invested heavily in coffee making equipment to provide a wide range of coffee-based drinks in the workplace.
BaxterStorey opened its own Barista Academy in 2009, and to date about 750 Baristas have been trained either on one day courses run by barista training manager, Tim Turk, or on short courses on ‘Coffee Appreciation’ aimed at line managers. This programme is specially designed, and overseen by James Hoffman the first World Barista Chamption.
Coffee is big business for BaxterStorey with seven million cups served across 500 sites each year …. and rising. It serves its own brand of Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and Soil Association certified coffee called Down to Earth which is sold in biodegradable cups. The training courses includes a coffee forage to visit independent coffee houses to see how the market is developing on the high street, as well as honing practical skills. This year six Baxter Storey staff will be entered into the UK heat of this year’s barista ‘Olympics’ under the watchful eye of former champ, Hoffman.
According to Alistair Storey, "The key to delivering excellent coffee every time is the people who make it. By investing in our teams and providing them with world class tuition, we’ll elevate the position and role of barista in our business and grow our own barista team who are passionate about the coffee they serve and are skilled in transforming each bean into a fantastic drink."
Last year, Elior also created a Barista Academy with its coffee supplier partner, United Coffee to train its staff to the internationally recognised qualification, City & Guilds Barista Level 2 VRQ (Vocational Related Qualification).
Similar to a GCSE, the VRQ is centred on coffee but also incorporates the making of tea, chocolate, juices and smoothies. Each course comprises 20 learning hours over three days where the students are taught to make a perfect expresso and Amerciano, to test and set grinders, to clean the equipment and to understand the chemistry of milk.
Coffee making is both an art and a science. There is clearly skill in grinding the coffee just the right amount, heating the milk to just the right temperature and ‘swishing’ the froth to achieve just the right texture . .. and doing this quickly while upselling a range of accompanying cakes and snacks, all delivered with courteous service. The best of Elior’s students are appointed as coffee champions in the company, capable of training others and maintaining the standards, but United Coffee carries out unannounced spot checks to make sure.
Aiming to change the perception of self-serve coffee, Coffee Nation has launched the barista bus mobile drinks unit which offers self service gourmet coffee from a specially-designed and custom-built vehicle. The barista bus is ideal for high footfall events and can be operational within about 10 minutes of arrival. It parked at St Pancras station serving free coffee and hot chocolate to raise the spirits and warm up all the people queueing for Eurostar during the transport delays in the snow chaos of late last year.


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