It’s caffeine craziness out there – Costa have been ousted from the Devon town of Totnes (hoo-f-ing-ray), Tesco have got their sweaty mitts onto an ‘independent’ coffee chain and Starbucks have been accused of tax evasion. And if that isn’t enough, the life-saving versus life-threatening implications of drinking coffee are fired across the media landscape like Daniel Craig’s bullets on a post-death MI5 assessment. There are two solutions: sit down and have a nice cup of tea or get informed. Excuse me while I do both.
So Totnes – home of its own currency – the Totnes pound, the Transitions Town movement, famed for sustainable living and lively local politics has succeeded where anti-Tesco riots in Stokes Croft, Bristol failed. Despite gaining planning permission, the Costa big boys, with twice as many outlets as Starbuck’s in the UK, have stepped down after the town’s six-month No To Costa campaign.
Chris Rogers, new managing director at Costa said that, “Totnes is a town with a long and proud history of independent retailers. It has one of the lowest percentages of branded stores of any town of its size in the UK, very few empty shop fronts, as well as a very high proportion of places selling coffee.” A nifty PR move? Possibly if you consider that even the retail behemoth – Tesco’s – has recognised that premium and ‘independent’ is where coffee is headed.
One of the UK’s biggest supermarket has recently paired up with siblings Andrew and Laura Tolley of Taylor St to open Harris and Hoole, an ‘artisan’ coffee chain, on the premise of “bringing premium coffee to a wider audience.” Tesco’s minority stake (49%) in the business is invisible to customers and as the supermarket explains, “In the case of Taylor Street, we are investing in the entrepreneurial founders of a new venture and taking a non-controlling stake. The Tolley family will decide the business strategy.”
Whatever Tesco’s or the Tolleys think, I would like to know if I were buying coffee from Tesco’s, regardless of the 1% difference in the majority/ minority stake and well-intentioned aspirations of artisan and premium. I wonder if there will be ‘fair trade’ coffee on offer? A BOGOF skinny-soy-frappe- latte anyone? Do you have your Club card with you madam?
And finally – tax evasion. Or more importantly, tax collection and what it means for the real independents out there. Starbucks, according to an investigation by Reuters, has not paid any tax for the past three years. Despite executives declaring that the UK business was “profitable” and “successful”, it has reported losses in each of the last five years, which means not having to pay corporation tax. It’s a legal loophole but one which would make any independent coffee owner down cups and ask the granules to tell them what the hell was going on: a non-tax paying multi-national pitted against a tax-paying local independent? Is there no god or is hell a high street full of supermarket-subsidised ‘independents’?
Hugo Hercod, UK Barista Champion 2008 and owner of Relish café in Wadebridge states: “Making great coffee is expensive, my margins are much smaller and profits almost non-existent. Thankfully my value to the local community is infinitely higher than any high street chain. We buy our coffee from Origin, a great Cornish roaster. Our milk comes from a local dairy. We all pay all our taxes. That all adds up to great value for Cornwall.”
What we need injected into our high streets is a Totnes triple-shot, taxes included. Down tea bags and get to your nearest decent independent coffee house to give them some caffeine loving. Oh and watch out for the new coffee lingo. Cappuccino is set to become ‘frothy coffee’ and an Americano just an ordinary ‘coffee’. Fancy that. Oh again. Yesterday I learnt about the ‘God coffee’. Watch this space to find out more about the best coffee you can possibly make. But you won’t know why or how.
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