5 reasons to support local coffee shops

Sophie Gregan
Jun 27, 2019 · 12 min read

It seems that there are more speciality independent coffee shops popping up each month now, quietly filtering in between the large chain cafes that like to dominate our cities. Instead of thinking, why do we need another one of those ‘indie cafes’? We should really see it as an opportunity for adding some diversity into our home towns and as a promising sign of economic and communal growth. Whether you believe yourself to be a coffee connoisseur or you simply enjoy a quality brew, here are some reasons why you should support local coffee shops.

Stage Espresso and Brewbar — 41 Great George Street, Leeds

Local coffee shops Enrich your community

The mainstream coffee shop giants dominate our city streets. It seems like you see their monotonous store-front sign at least 8 times within a one mile radius before you fortunately stumble upon somewhere a little more unique. Whenever you are walking through town and see an independent coffee shop are you not slightly relieved by the sight of this humble oasis amongst the bombardment of windows advertising the ‘new’ Super Berry Cooler and Grande Pumpkin spiced latte. Whether these shops are quirky and colourful or evoke a more industrial-esque minimalism, it’s refreshing to find yourself sipping down a smooth cappuccino, enjoying a more laid back atmosphere whilst settled in a cushioned-covered armchair, without having repetitive sales tactics shoved in your face.

You can go to a chain coffee shop anywhere, anytime, but that little cafe at the end of the road will truly have you pining after their caramel house blend and home-made lemon drizzle cake during your lunch break. We must acknowledge just how much flavour independent businesses bring to our towns. These places are simply one of a kind and if you truly want to enrich your community, we must preserve its individuality, support our resident entrepreneurs and what they have to offer. Mainstream Coffee shops are solely focused on pushing their brand forward, taking over our towns and cities, but independents are passionate about enriching our communities, where they were created by our fellow residents.

North Star Coffee Roasters — Unit 32, The Boulevard, Leeds Dock, Leeds

They also Boost your local economy

One of the more obvious reasons to support local coffee shops and cafes is that it directly boosts your local economy. Purchasing from an independent company has a far greater impact on them as a business than grabbing a latte to go from a chain competitor. To them, your £4 purchase is just another sale, but for small businesses your support genuinely helps to secure their income, and thus their future by aiding their stability and growth within the industry. Having another thriving small business subsequently enhances the prosperity of the local economy.

Additionally, supporting local often means you’re supporting more than one small venture. Independent businesses, especially those within the service industry like coffee shops and cafes, are far more likely to establish mutually beneficial relationships with other similar local businesses. Thus, it creates a positive and equal dispense of money throughout the community, in a rather domino effect fashion.

Sheaf St. — 3 Sheaf Street, Leeds

Mainstream coffee shops have contracts with big suppliers from far off places, whereas local businesses tend to, well, stay local. Many coffee shops have partnerships with local breweries, bakeries and grocers for their produce. This not only assures you that you’re getting quality, seasonal, fresh ingredients, but the money you give to them, they then invest it back into your local community and economy. Also, it is not only the food and beverage industry that profit and further stimulate the local economy. These small establishments often employ those in the local creative industries, such as branding and advertising agencies, local artists, crafters and designers to help with things like visual merchandising.

It is the perfect opportunity for the community to showcase it’s array of abilities and creativity. Just like that little, rustic cafe on that cobbled street in town: it’s fitted with a locally hand-carved counter top and serves your hot beverage with creamy milk delivered from a family farm each morning. So why help finance the multi-million pound corporations, with their cookie-cutter coffee houses? It is integral to support these specialist independent cafes whose enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff take pride in their role and what their community has to offer collectively.

Sheaf St. — 3 Sheaf Street, Leeds

Quality coffee is guaranteed

Now, we must consider the actual quality and cost of the products; with coffee, Independents always do it better. Do you consider yourself part of the Cortado club or love a Chai latte while you shop? Perhaps you rely on your daily espresso to fuel you through work meetings, are keen on nipping out to sip a filter brewed by your favourite barista or simply enjoy a nice brew every now and then? No matter your experience with coffee you don’t have to be a connoisseur to appreciate a quality coffee and the work that goes into it.

Without the intention of targeting mass appeal, indie coffee shops are all about doing what they love and doing it well, extremely well. In 2019 most serve specialty grade coffee products and pick from one of the many small batch roasters across the UK. To see specialist coffee shops as just another place to get a coffee devalues their work. They aren’t churning out cups of boringly blended coffee with over steamed milk, they have researched, tried and tested everything for themselves to guarantee that their products and services (but we will get onto that point later) are the best that they can be. All their coffee’s can be completely traced back to origin where their rich flavours are carefully created through the hard work of their experienced and well paid coffee farmers, roasters and baristas.

North Star Coffee Roasters — Unit 32, The Boulevard, Leeds Dock, Leeds

Equally, speciality coffees aren’t as complicated as they are made out to be either.

This industry has unfortunately adopted a rather unflattering reputation for being pretentious.These indie coffee shops are now synonymous with ‘experimental’ beverages and snobbish staff, to awkward, over-aestheticised interiors. This has been undoubtedly aided by none other than their own chain competitors.

This is in particular reference to a rather successful fast food company whom recently launched their own ‘cafe-inspired’ menu, which they advertised in a series of satirical, barista-bullying videos. These adverts drew on these stereotypes of speciality coffee shops with profound and ruthless exaggeration. But aside from their particular involvement, the stigma has already been well-ingrained into our culture. This view not only stigmatises Independent coffee shops and breweries, it degrades specialist coffee to an overpriced, novel item. Then, therefore, it seemingly generalises those with an interest in quality coffee. The vast majority of specialist coffee shops and independent venues do not care about deconstructed lattes, yet they’ve become undeservingly associated; they just want to serve and sell proper coffee. Yet Ironically, after fuelling these negative connotations the mainstream shops are still attempting to imitate the independents shops and their products. These chains with their ‘cafe-inspired’ menus are sullying and comparing an industry that creates a manual product using skilled tradesmen with their automatic machine-made coffee that’s, quite frankly, no better that your machine at home.

North Man Coffee — 7 Manor Street, Bridlington

Moreover, despite the knowledge and experience that goes into the production, and the variety of beautiful single origin and blends out there, speciality coffee is a lot more raw and real than your average high street store brew. You can pop into your chain coffee shops and be overwhelmed by all these different drinks variations from vanilla-creme iced lattes to grande mochaccinos. It can all be very confusing and misleading. Is it too much to ask for a simple, well brewed black coffee? Why does it need all these extras? At the end of the day it is probably just the same unaccountable blend of beans mixed with a bunch of questionable additives, clotted with E numbers and excessive calories. At face value, the flamboyant titles may distract most consumers from the high prices, but they certainly can’t fool those who simply appreciate quality specialist coffee for its flavour and sustainable production. Speciality coffee offers more options but with less fuss for the customer, which makes buying a coffee less of an ordeal. You can drink your beverage happily, knowing you’ve paid for something that is as delicious as it is responsibly and lovingly sourced.

Pink Lane Coffee- 1 Pink Lane, Newcastle upon Tyne

Local coffee shops = value for money

Despite the reasons previously mentioned, people can be quite apprehensive when it comes to supporting local coffee shops because of their pricing, to some, seeming considerably high for ‘a little cafe’. But these prices are genuinely justified and are worth every penny.

Popular brands will always charge more for something whenever they can, and the majority of the general public are happy to pay for it because they don’t realise there are better options out there. It’s the idea of the ‘familiarity’ factor, when a brand is recognisable people will feel more comfortable and inclined to buy from them because they are a household name, and cafes are no exception. No one bats an eyelid when it costs nearly a fiver for a medium cappuccino to go, but god forbid a small coffee shop charge someone £3.80 to sit down in their warm, welcoming sofa area and drink a perfectly brewed americano with thick, oat milk. This leads us onto the notion that expensive doesn’t mean quality.

Stage Espresso and Brewbar — 41 Great George Street, Leeds

For some strange reason, there is this generalised idea that these chains charge high prices because their products are the best. But their pseudo-speciality coffee is ultimately the product of mass production. The main concern for these corporations is driving sales, and although consistency in taste is key, quality is not their priority. Within recent years, poor labour conditions have been brought to light in the media, exposing a lot of business of mal-practice. So the majority of companies now operate under ‘fair-trade standards’ to reassure their customers that the coffee they’re drinking isn’t the product of slave labour. However, Fair-trade standards, like minimum wage, are the very minimum a company can do in terms of ethical practices. Faitrade does reassure that farmers are not victims of extortion, and are in fact giving healthy working conditions and paid enough, but consequently, it just promotes the production of mass-produced, mediocre coffee. These workers will be more concerned with product quantity over quality because they know they’ll get a set price.

In layman’s terms, if there were two hypothetical farmers, one produced coffee of the highest grade and the other produced one coffee slightly over the minimum requirement, you’d think the first farmer would be paid more than the latter for supplying more quality coffee? Not if they both operate under fair trade standards. Both would be paid the same. This can discourage farmers from producing smaller higher quality coffee yields, because that extra effort, experimentation and development is pretty pointless. So although they can promise ethical farming, their standards are not good for the campaign of sustainable coffee as a whole. Specialty coffee businesses, on the other hand, operate under higher standards as they value production methods that produce the best of the best, even if these batches are less substantial and more costly for them. The desire for speciality coffee drives an increase in sustainability and quality, as it encourages farmers to grow better quality coffee using better farming practices and preparation techniques The time and effort these farmers put into their production of speciality coffee is much more financially rewarding in the end, thus providing them with a greater standard of living.

Referring back to an earlier point, something that is seemingly expensive doesn’t make it pretentious or over-priced. You’ll sometimes find that small specialist coffee shops have the same prices as higher priced coffee chains . Many people scoff at the prices on the menu board when they enter a local artsy cafe, questioning why they charge the prices of long established, popular chains. Surely they should charge less so it attracts customers? It’s really not that simple. Yes, some large corporations may very well have the same or sometimes cheaper prices, but that’s because they can afford to charge less. And unbeknown to their customers, it’s usually because they’ve compromised the standard of one or several factors along the way. This could be the quality of the coffee itself, the conditions for the farmers they get it from, or their staff rosters which are full of workers reluctantly on zero hour contracts.

It’s the same for many other independent workers and businesses. It’s like asking a local artist to charge half of their asking price because they aren’t ‘big or well-known’. But in reality, they’re probably already charging a lot less than they’re worth for the supplies and their time just to get clients, get themselves known and help put money in the bank, even if it means barely scraping their rent that month. Independent coffee shops want to assure their customers have the best products and experience, whilst also being able to fairly pay everyone involved in the process and keep their business running efficiently.

Arcade Coffee & Food — 9 Byram Street, Huddersfield

Improved customer experience

This takes us into the following a final reason to support independent coffee shops. That the quality of the service, just like the coffee and other products they sell, is much more valuable. Lets begin with the general staff and environment. Referring back to the aforementioned stigma, it seems to have generated this presumption that one who enters an indie cafe would have to interact with an inhospitable barista or a Regular hoping to pontificate about Brazilian coffee agriculture, which is understandably off-putting. The notion that you have to be an aficionado of the coffee cherry to ‘belong’ in these establishments, is, to put it frankly, completely ludicrous.

Much like the wannabe wine expert, who attempts to nonchalantly sniff his taster of the house red at a sub-classy restaurant, in reality, most people have no idea what they are looking for or talking about. But the people behind the counter of these ‘indie cafes’ actually do, and contradictory to preconception, they are always happy to help new customers and eagerly showcase their products. They aren’t under as much pressure to hit the daily target set by corporate like their chain competitors, so the staff are usually more laid-back and patient with customers who come in. They want to create a comfortable, yet helpful experience for customers. They’ll remember that regular’s name and go out their way to check that you’re enjoying that fresh scone you spontaneously bought with your drink at the counter. Though, we must remember, just because they aren’t always flying through orders to get sales, they still need to make money so be good to them too and tip the lovely barista!

Sheaf St. — 3 Sheaf Street, Leeds

With small businesses, the staff are more likely to be experts at their craft and be genuinely enthusiastic about it. Did you know there is an annual Barista Championship in the UK? Talk about dedication to perfect brewing and latte art. Baristas who compete at events like these are always from independent coffee shops and restaurants, where the quality of coffee and service are a top priority. In addition to this, the owners often work at the forefront of everything too, taking orders and chatting to their customers. They have a more direct relationship with their customers and the community as a whole. They will be more attuned to what everyone is interested in, so that the products can be more appropriately geared towards them, whilst retaining their own values and appreciation of quality brews. This coupled with the relaxed and friendly services, it’s a much more personalised service, which really makes you feel like a valued customer.

Kiosk — 41 Fossgate, York

So next time you’re heading down to grab a coffee to go on your lunch break or meeting up with a friend over a flat white, look out for independent local coffee shops. This time you pop your head in, you’ll probably have a new found awareness of the delicious scent of roasted coffee in the air and the smiling face behind the counter, ready to serve you the best coffee you’ve had in months.

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