Joanna Blythman (food writer, investigative journalist and broadcaster) doesn’t like Tesco much

Coffee appears to be recession-proof. It falls into the marketing category of a “small affordable luxury”. In business terms, coffee shops are highly profitable. Even people who think they can’t afford free-range chicken can easily be persuaded to spend £2-3 of their hard-earned cash on a cup of coffee that would cost them pennies to make at home.

Well, pennies after they’d bought the coffee machine, anyway. Even the cheapest model is upwards of fifty nicker…

Why? Coffee shops have an almost effortless image of cool.

Do they? I suspect that’s not been the case since ‘Friends’ finished it’s run!

But how cool can a coffee shop be when it is part of a chain, a chain up to 49% owned by Tesco?

How cool are Adidas trainers? Apple computers? Oddly enough, being the product of a large business doesn’t seem to affect the coolness quotient one iota.

That’s right, the supermarket mammoth is investing heavily in a new chain of “artisan” coffee shops, the first opening in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, this month.

If you stumble over the word “artisan” when it appears in the same sentence as Tesco….

Well, I’m unlikely to, actually. Not for the reasons you might think, I have no prejudice against Tesco’s. I simply realise the term ‘artisan’ for what it is – a meaningless PR term.

… it may not surprise you to learn that Tesco is showing uncharacteristic reserve over its stake in the enterprise. In fact the chain, quaintly named Harris and Hoole (after coffee-loving characters in Samuel Pepys’s diary), won’t display any information to inform customers of Tesco’s involvement.

Who’s going to even bother to look anyway? I’m not in the habit of delving into Companies House records before I buy a coffee. I suspect I’m not unusual in that regard.

Why is Tesco being so bashful?

Must be a nefarious reason, eh, Joanna?

For starters, communities that already feel oversubscribed with Tesco Expresses and Metros most certainly won’t be chuffed to see Tesco taking yet another bite out of high-street commerce.

Well, maybe so, maybe no. Maybe they don’t really care that much. Obviously, you do.

And coffee chains in general are rapidly becoming a downtown planning menace to match the creeping supermarket threat.

Really? More so than empty vacant shops? Or dilapidated charity outlets? Or those ghastly ‘pile ‘em in & sell ‘em cheap’ shops that spring up like weeds on short leases only?

Personally, I’d rather see a Starbucks, even if I didn’t like coffee. At least their outlets are always clean.

First it was Starbucks popping up like the proverbial bad penny on every corner. Then it was an army of Costas. The coffee chain assault on our town centres is now so pronounced that both Bristol and Totnes have seen high-profile campaigns – ultimately unsuccessful – to stop Costa opening.

The fact that they were unsuccessful might be expected to tell you something about how much people really care, but I suspect you’ll just mutter about the power of corporations to crush the little guy…

Joanna relishes the news of Tesco’s poor sales figures this year, blaming it on a thing that must just be obvious to her and all her friends:

… the Tesco shopping experience is widely acknowledged to be drab and uninspiring

It’s just a supermarket. No worse than any other the others.

Tesco is even considering axing its “Every little helps” slogan, which increasingly jars, and is susceptible to parody, as in “Every little hurts”.

Parody being what it is, is it even possible to pick a slogan that isn’t susceptible?

Of course, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that Harris and Hoole will have the theoretical capacity to serve a “d*** fine cup of coffee” – the chain will be run by Andrew and Laura Tolley, the Australian siblings behind the aspiring London coffee shops Taylor Street – but this is not a likely scenario. Fine Arabica coffee, however knowledgeably and ethically sourced, has a habit of shedding its winning qualities when made into an amaretto milkshake by casual staff earning little more than the minimum wage.

Oh, my..!

Truly great coffee shops – think Tazza D’Oro in Rome or Caffè Pirona in Trieste….

Neither much use when you want a hot cup of java and you’re stuck in Bluewater or on Regent Street…

… are one-off indie operations, often family-run. They reflect all the quirks and preferences of the diverse group of people who run them. This authenticity is what gives the best independent coffee shops such timeless appeal, and makes them genuine assets to their area. Never confuse this venerable business model with faux chain coffee shops, stamped out with a corporate template.


15 comments for “Projection…

  1. ivan
    August 16, 2012 at 10:21 am

    Where does the Guardian find these loons?

    It’s a coffee shop and if they produce reasonably priced drinkable coffee why the fuss, or has it more to do with flashing an iPad while sitting at a table and being ‘cool’?

  2. August 16, 2012 at 10:33 am

    You can make perfectly good coffee with one of those cheap plunger things.

  3. August 16, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Tesco is going to sell coffee. To the barricades, brothers and sisters! Alternatively we could just not give a fuck – or pop in to buy a coffee, which would be nice, but those of us who have prostate problems and migraine sufferers can’t, unfortunately.

    • Henry Crun
      August 16, 2012 at 5:23 pm

      Costa do a nice line in milkshakes…

      • August 19, 2012 at 6:10 am

        Yes! And in Starbucks, you can pick up the ‘Monin’ syrups to make your own at home.

  4. August 16, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    “Really? More so than empty vacant shops? Or dilapidated charity outlets?”

    Exactly – I’d prefer a coffee shop and I don’t care who owns it if the coffee is good and the place is clean.

  5. The Nameless Libertarian
    August 16, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    At a time when our economy is tanking, our increasingly draconian government is setting new records for incompetence and the Eurozone is tanking fast with clear economic implications for this country and the rest of Europe, The Guardian is there to remind us that the real problem facing us all is Tesco opening coffee shops.

    Blythman’s article displays a lack of perspective and priorities that is so pronounced that it basically must be a disability.

  6. Henry Crun
    August 16, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Doesn’t Joanna know that coffee shops are just McDonalds for the middle class.

  7. Voice of Reason
    August 17, 2012 at 3:48 am

    We can get a drip maker for about $10 here, and coffee is around $4.50 a pound. That’s why I buy it for our whole department. It’s cheaper than me going to the coffee shop every day.

  8. August 17, 2012 at 5:26 am

    Hey, I LIKE Costa. They seem to exclusively employ attractive, young eastern European ladies.

    Starbucks coffee is awful so I don’t go there regardless of the prettiness of the staff. That’s the market speaking 🙂

    • August 17, 2012 at 10:11 am

      Quite agree – they have the best wimmin.

  9. David
    August 17, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    I am genuinely puzzled that a blog such as this, which I thought fought for the ‘little man’ against life’s bullies and behemoths, doesn’t seem to care much for small, independent traders struggling to make a living against the likes of the huge multinationals, who are backed by big-beast governments – the same PTB you love to hate. Perhaps I’ve totally misunderstood the nature of the blog.

    • August 17, 2012 at 7:00 pm

      Because, perhaps, Tesco investing in a coffee chain is doing nothing wrong?

      This blog is primarily discussing liberty – that liberty includes the likes of Tesco doing just that. There is another thread where we have picked up on the dangers inherent in corporatism. However, as I say, nothing wrong in what Tesco are doing, unless you feel that there should be something imposed to stop large organisations investing in this way in order to protect the small trader. That would be protectionism and is most certainly diametrically opposed to the ethos of this blog.

      • August 18, 2012 at 7:07 am

        Tesco investing in a coffee chain is doing nothing wrong?

        At first I thought you were arguing the opposite – that it was wrong. Phew, you weren’t.

    • August 19, 2012 at 6:08 am

      If the ‘little man’ wants to strike a blow against ‘life’s bullies and behemoths’, then surely all he has to do is…not buy coffee there?

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