Hamish Anderson: Take a leaf out of coffee's book

The world of wine could learn an awful lot from the coffee industry

Last month I flew to Copenhagen to give a talk entitled ‘Terroir v Blending’. The attendees were not there to learn about wine though. I was at the Nordic Barista Cup, a three day celebration of all things coffee, attended by 200 international coffee nuts.

My talk related to wine, but had resonance for the coffee world, where the idea of site-specific (or single origin, in coffee-speak) has been gaining credibility in a world where the blend has always held sway. The similarities between the coffee and wine worlds extend beyond the semantics of terroir. In Scandinavia and Australasia, a fully-fledged coffee revolution has already taken place, due to demand from clued-up consumers.

Things have also changed in the UK. With the growth of small roasteries and operators, along with mobile vans selling beans and serving coffee of the highest quality, coffee is experiencing a surge in interest and broadening of appeal very much like wine 20 years ago.

I kept finding myself deep in conversation about the state of the wine market in the UK and being asked my views on how coffee could replicate wine’s success. It was instructive to see how ‘successful’ coffee viewed wine to be. With wine, we bemoan the polarisation of the trade between niche quality and bulk volume. But coffee has a more positive outlook, viewing the bulk volume end of the market as an opportunity ripe for conversion, rather than a tiresome handicap.

Wine, of course, quickly went from being consumed by a relatively small section of society to a mass-market product. Coffee has been widely drunk for far longer than wine and is thus comfortable with the different layers of the market. The trend today is a shift to quality, twinned with the knowledge that instant will always be in demand.

The wine world is depressed and ashamed of the lower end of the market, unsure whether to reach out or to ostracise. Depression has led to complacency – a sharp contrast to the enthusiasm in Copenhagen. The structure of the show itself could teach the wine trade a thing or two. People had paid for the privilege of being there – a not insignificant €500 for three days – and wanted to get the most out of it.

However, it was the joie de vivre and pervading air of hip that stood out. One of the organisers greeted me in shorts and flip flops. And my favourite touch of the day? Spittoons at all the coffee masterclasses, but not at my wine tasting! It was serious, intense and fun, and I’d say that wine has as much to assimilate from coffee as coffee does from wine.

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – September/October 2012

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