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Four start-up stores and how they work.

Until recent times, the business of coffee and tea could hardly have been considered 'new wave.' Industrial and retailing trends were largely the same as those established in the last century. Neither coffee nor tea had reason for boldness; there was little incentive for exploring products or markets.

How completely things have changed: Coffee and tea have both witnessed an explosion in new markets and drinks during the past decade while their respective retail sectors have shifted. In fact, no other day-to-day mass consumption items have seen so much radical change - affecting the fundamentals of their product styles and retail concepts.

The following is not necessarily exhaustive, but does cite the leading developments. In tea, there is the continuing rise in flavored and herbal teas; the advent of ready-to-drink tea; mass appeal of tea-related cold drinks and concentrates; the development of store brand products; a renaissance in garden-teas connoisseurship; and the rise of new-style upscale tea stores. In coffee, there has been the espresso boom in Northern Europe, the U.S., and Far East markets cappuccino having become fresh brewed or instant a world-class drink; the advent of 'coffee menus' with a wide assortment of choices; the arrival of single origins in popular usage; the rise of flavored coffees; the spread of canned coffees; the development of store brand products; the success of new wave espresso bars in the U.S. and Europe; and rapid, widespread acceptance of innovative specialty store concepts.

Like it or not, each of these developments represents genuine opportunity. They have in turn attracted capital venturers who are adding to the surge by infusing their own fresh ideas and approaches. Currently, the changes are most evident perhaps in specialty retailing and service. The following profiles are of individuals who have recently chosen new paths to follow that represent - in context of their particular markets - pioneer concepts in coffee and tea business.

AMSTERDAM

In May of last year, one of Amsterdam's more challenging coffee store/bar experiments came into being. Occupying a veritable hole-in-the wall along the city's thronged and trendy Liedsestraat, The Coffee Company (TCC) quickly positioned itself as an alternative coffee store that is anti coffee-establishment to the core. The coffee concept offered is in itself relaxed, eclectic, and constantly evolving - based on taste rather than any particular orthodoxy.

As an example of its iconoclastic approach, an early and successful promotion by TCC invited customers to bring in their industrial vacuum-packed coffee 'bricks' to exchange for a sample of TCC's product. The packs were then displayed in a pile under the banner, "Do You Want to be Just Another Brick in the Wall?" In another unusual promotion, TCC has offered cigars of certain origin to accompany coffees of the same provenance - Sumatra cigars with Indonesian coffee, for example.

"Our emphasis is on the individual, so we stress attention to preferences," explains Dick de Kock, one of the founding partners in TCC. As proof of this, while the store centers on a standup espresso bar, it also offers filter-brewed coffee for those who want it. Along with a complete espresso bar menu, featuring the house espresso blend, the store sells a regular blend and a very select offering of six origin coffees differentiated into three categories - 'Mild," " Fresh," and "Full Bodied." The store offers two roasts - light and medium - plus a choice in grinds.

"Our approach reflects the fact that TCC has no discernible customer profile," says Rick Bekkema, the other partner in TCC. "People of all ages and classes come in here. The only link is that these are all people who like good things. Also, like everyone, these people value the feeling of being babied in their little pleasures. We try to give them that feeling with coffee."

TCC acquires its green coffee from Alessie & Co., an international trading house also located in Amsterdam - this for good reason, as de Kock has worked there in specialty green coffees for the past nine years. This rare expertise has by itself given TCC an unusual authority and depth in its cup. The roasting, to order and on cup approval, is handled by a Dutch friend of de Kock's.

TCC is squeezed into a 25 sq. meter serving area, so every inch is used to full account. Even the espresso machine is utilized as a coffee performance and promotional space - the machine is a deluxe designer model by Kees Van der Westen. Sales are strictly limited to coffee, with only a couple of pastries on the side plus one shelf of non-electric accessories and another of coffee table coffee books.

"Our plan is to use the store for experiments," says de Kock. "We think of ourselves as coffee revolutionaries, so we are purposefully looking for new ideas and approaches."

After six months of business, The Coffee Company is seeing encouraging traffic - with sales of more than 400 cups per day on Saturdays, the peak day. Some 35% of coffee turnover is in take-home whole bean trade. Currently, the company is looking for a second location.

BARCELONA

Contrary to what some might think, the Spanish do drink tea. In fact, tea has been a growth beverage in Spain for several years. But this is overwhelmingly a teabag market and an emerging ready-to-drink market; it is not by any means a market for fine teas in bulk. The Spanish have no tea tradition to fall back on when it comes to choosing or savoring gourmet teas. Garden teas are seen as a curiosity - alluring, but also somewhat intimidating in their mystery.

Now, since December of last year, a new store in Barcelona is (dare it be said of Spain) taking the bull by the horns when it comes to upscale teas. Sans & Sans is a bold venture: It surely ranks among the most elegant new stores to be seen in Europe in recent months. It also has the largest offering of fine teas to be found in Spain. This 'in your face' declaration about the incredible universe of teas actually comes from a mild mannered Barcelona coffee roaster, making it perhaps all the more unusual.

Salvador Sans, hence the name Sans & Sans, has been a pioneer in specialty coffees in Spain for more than a decade. In the process, he has built his company, Cafes El Magnifico, into one of Spain's leading sources for fine coffee. Several years ago, he also began selling teas in the El Magnifico store, with such swelling success and enthusiasm that the idea of a separate tea-store, where tea could be the only star on stage, became unavoidable.

Sans & Sans is located directly across the street from Cafes El Magnifico, in the city's ancient Gothic quarter. It is a long narrow store-front property. The space has been carefully designed throughout, top to bottom, as an elegant and luxurious setting: royal blue walls and ceiling, rosewood floors set off by a single Persian carpet, an excellent lighting scheme that gives a warm and defused glow to everything.

At left, the long sales counter reaches to the very back of the store - an impressive slab of raw slate. Behind it is a complete bank of tea canisters, all in deep navy blue to stand out against the walls, each posted in a rosewood cubicle like its own little deity. There are 210 of these 2-kilo size, specially-made canisters lining the walls. Facing them is another long bank of very upscale and unique accessories from Japan and China.

Sans & Sans has 170 teas in stock, and less than a third of the total is flavored. The majority is in garden teas. Such stocking is a statement on dedication to quality that is probably unequaled anywhere in the entire Mediterranean basin.

Although Sans & Sans is a real tea store, it is also and more importantly - Spain's number one tea showroom. Tea wholesaling on a national scale is the real business at hand. Salvador Sans is selling teas in volume to carriage trade roasters and out-of-home foodservice companies across Spain in packs of from 1-5 kilo weight.

"We are pursuing the market here just as we did before," explains Sans. "Except that here we have created a particular staging for the tea that gives it complete attention. Our approach has been to build sales at the very top end of the quality spectrum, introducing our clientele to the very best teas. In the beginning, we were educators. Now we can sell because we have built an assured upscale market."

LAVAUR

Due east 40 kilometers from Toulouse is the sleepy little French town of Lavaur. Typical of many towns in Southwestern France, Lavaur is a treasure house of truly marvelous things to eat and drink: duck confit, fois grois, sublime local cheeses, delightful wines from the surrounding hills, the Armagnac brandy. Alas, like virtually every other small town in the region, until recently one could have so much yet not have fresh roasted coffee.

Since last summer, however, this has changed. Lavaur now has a roaster. He is a talented young man by the name of Michel Delli Carpini. Delli Carpini returned to his hometown after a few years as a professional maitre d'hotel in Paris, Luxembourg, and the U.S. specifically to open his very own wine store. The store displays a small wonderland of carefully selected vintages - Alsace, Bordeaux, Champagne, Bourgogne, Rhone, and, most certainly, 'Sud Ouest.'

But also, so that the good people of Lavaur would know that coffee does not come roasted from the tree, Delli Carpini has placed his small shop roaster directly by the front window with the sacks of green coffee beside it on the floor. Although it seems hard to believe from today's cup results - master roasters would not be ashamed of what he's producing - he roasted his first batch of coffee only this past June.

Delli Carpini's store, Le Lieu Dit 'Vin' (The Place Called Wine, which in French also carries the sound pun of "The Place 'Divine'"), is open six days a week, and only on four of these days does he have the time to roast. On these four days, however, roasting is now virtually continuous, such has been his success in it.

For starters, he bases his success on acquiring quality green beans, which he further embellishes by hand sorting before roasting. The roasting time varies slightly according to coffees but is generally 20 minutes. The machine is a no-name, locally built shop model. Delli Carpini is a nervous roaster, constantly checking on color and temperature. He judges each batch for doneness and correctness by chewing on a representative bean or two. The batch is hand sorted again before he divvies it up into 250 gm. paper sacks. As he roasts constantly and sells out directly, he has no inventory and only the freshest of coffees on the shelf. Often he must tell people to come back in a half hour because he's out and a batch is just cooling down - they do so, gladly.

He's selected a very limited coffee assortment: three single origins and two house blends. The origins are Ethiopia, Colombia, and Costa Rica. The blends include a 50-50 mix of the Colombia and Costa Rica, and a 'traditional' blend that is 70% Colombian and 30% Cameroon Robusta. The green coffee is sourced by a Le Havre trading company, Comptoir General de Cafe. Delli Carpini grinds virtually all the coffee he sells in-house, using a professional Santos shop grinder.

What are the results of his initiative? Foremost, he's become a devoted coffee roaster even though the activity has virtually monopolized his time. The payback is that coffee has come to represent from 30% to 50% of his turnover, varying according to season - in the Christmas period for example, wine dominates. Currently; he expects to go through more than 800 kilos per month in green coffee. It is surprising to him that a full 70% of his small but bustling coffee business has been built through non-store trade, meaning for area restaurants, hotels, and bars.

"I keep a simple home espresso machine on a shelf beside the coffee and let people try what interests them," says Delli Carpini. "At first, people here thought I was crazy giving away free coffee like that. But now those same people are buying from me so it was not so crazy."

Delli Carpini has also recently added loose tea to his store offering - 16 types, eight of which are flavored. The teas come from Ets. Olivier in Le Havre. Tea is not deeply rooted in the local tradition, but Delli Carpini has seen sales gain as people realize they have a source in him for products of character and quality. "My training is in wine, so perhaps that helps me appreciate and evaluate the qualities of good coffee and tea," he explains. "The truth is in the cup. And when you've provided a successful cup - whether of wine, coffee, or tea - you've gained a customer."

Delli Carpini regrets not knowing more about coffee, although he's obviously a quick learner. The lack of a long education, however, also keeps him open to new ideas. Recently he's been experimenting with flavoring coffee, for example, which by local standards is as exotic as a fan dancer. So far he's found three flavors acceptable to the Lavaur pallet - vanilla, noisette, and of course Armagnac.

MADRID

In several Spanish speaking countries, 'guagua' is a diminutive term for the country bus, summing up all the dependence and community rapport associated with getting around in rural areas by means of cramped and rickety old buses. Now, La Guagua is also one of Madrid's most successful new espresso bars, with a location to kill for - being directly situated on the capital's Piazza del Espana.

Cafe La Guagua would be a standout anywhere, as it has been lavishly appointed within a total branding concept. Obviously, this is the mother establishment of what could presumably be an extensive chain. It is also unique because it serves only Colombian coffee - an espresso bar devoted to a single origin.

Jose Herrero, the man behind the cafe, explains that he spent more than two years getting the financing together for La Guagua, then another eight months full-time in planning the cafe. His own background was not in coffee but in fast food management. For him, La Guagua was an immediate reply to market demand; he saw nothing in Spain to appeal to young people as coffee drinkers, nothing to lure office and tourist business while also stressing a good cup of espresso. In fact, La Guagua grows out of his analysis that for a number of reasons coffee service quality in Spain is probably the worst in Europe and that the out-of-home market is ripe for takeover by a good cup served in an exciting and appealing environment.

So far, his theory is proving true. La Guagua opened last summer and has enjoyed a stunning success since day one. According to Herrero, the cafe now averages some 1,500 cups per day, or 42,000 espressos per month. Coffee and coffee-related product sales account for better-than 70% of turnover. Even figuring the high start-up costs for this first La Guagua, Herrero says he'll see a return after two years of operations.

And best of all, young people are accounting for a disproportionate share of business, jamming into the cafe nights and throughout the weekend. "This is worth coming to see," says Herrero. "Kids don't have a coffee culture here, so this is revolutionary. Well over 50% of our clientele is under 30!"

The coffee menu centers on standard espresso bar drinks. There are also two class categories - appropriately enough, Excelso and Supremo - offered in classic espresso along with a decaffeinated drink. No torrefacto (the Spanish specialty that caramelizes coffee with sugar) is available at the bar but can be bought for take-home in packages along with the other coffees at a small retail counter streetside to the espresso bar.

Interestingly enough, the most popular item on the menu to date is the Excelso espresso - it represents 30% of coffee sales. Cappuccino is in second place. The menu is rounded off with a few exotic drinks, including liquor flavored coffees, as well as simple sandwiches and pastries.

"The office people come in for breakfast," says Herrero. "Then we have lots of tourists and shoppers for lunch and the afternoon. The evenings belong to the young. Seating turnover by Spanish standards is incredibly fast, averaging seven to eight minutes per customer."

Herrero has placed an emphasis on training to ensure constant service standards. "We have an exhaustive training manual which all employees must know. It not only tells them the basics on how to clean the machines and handle the coffee, but also dictates such details as how many times at minimum to say 'thank you' to each customer and even how to place the sugar pack on the saucer.

"We don't have a service industry mentality in Spain. To get the kind of excellence in coffee here that is found elsewhere in fast food, we need to adopt some of the same tactics."

The coffee is roasted under contract - actually the roaster is a partner in La Guagua. The cafe runs with two three-group Spaziale espresso machines. Cafe La Guagua is on two levels, with seating capacity for 80. The decor is all about coffee, in every detail and at every turn. But it's also all fun, fashionable, and friendly. Better than that, it's always difficult getting a seat.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Title Annotation:coffee and tea business
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Apr 1, 1997
Words:2915
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