Mainstream and coffee
This post is also available in: Greek
The thing with mainstream is curse and blessing at the same time for every quality loving restaurateur. Most of the time it starts on a small scale. With an idea and the pure will to make it happen. If it’s working out it doesn’t take long until imitators are joining the market. The idea becomes a growing and profitable business until it is so popular that big companies are walking in to cut off their piece of the cake. Or to gulp it down entirely.
Talking about specialty coffee in Europe we now reached this point. Meanwhile every bigger city has its own small roastery which cares about high quality beans. And the big boys want to join the game.
While big coffee house chains are a little bit more reactive and trying to provide single origins as well as straight forward coffee drinks like coldbrew to please their coffee loving costumers, coffee producers need a little longer to change their product range. But now, where there are first trails in the jungle of coffee enjoyment channeled by many passionate baristi and roasters the first global player entered the specialty coffee business. The German coffee company Tchibo launched its first light roast by the name “Blonde Roast”. Which is a light roast coffee with which they are trying to enter the fast-growing market of coffee connoisseurs. Or at least those who want to become one.
Can mainstream actually work?
But will big companies be able to keep up with the craftmanship of small roasteries and if not will they have to anyway? If you look at the packaging of their new coffee you can tell that they want to keep up with the high quality image and sustainability idea of specialty beans. They also provide all the basic information you need to know to get a picture of what’s in your hands. Almost. You can’t find a date of roasting which makes it impossible to judge its freshness. As you should consume your coffee within a maximum of 8-12 weeks after roasting this crucial information is missing. If you think about the long shelf life the coffee might has to face in the supermarkets the decision not to give this information away is comprehensibly.
However, all the beans I could check so far have been in good condition. The quality was all right with little to none of damaged, uneven roasted or even pest infested beans.
Also the taste of their “blonde roast”, a mix of Columbian and East-African beans, was better than expected. The overall impression was a little flat and uninspiring. What could also be justified by the age of the coffee (which I couldn’t verify).You could tell that there is a little fruitiness going on but only in little approaches. As well as bitter notes. At the end there were tones of tabaco and sugarcane which are signs of a little too heavy roast. It wasn’t a revelation but for somebody who is trying to start experimenting with different aromas than super-burned coffee this might be a good starting point. Somebody who already knows something about coffee and light roast won’t be amazed by it. But to be fair…a connoisseur normally isn’t the target audience of big companies anyway. Mainstream rarely has that kind of target audience.
As it is sold for 4,69 € per 250 gram it’s also quite affordable talking about specialty coffee so you don’t have to take a big risk to try something new. A product which will find its market.
However, if you would like to order coffee via the Tchibo website, you will immediately come across a problem that major producers will have to deal with in the future: ”Currently not available at the time”. Specialty coffee is a seasonal and very limited product. Some of the top qualities are only available in a couple of bags. This development is further aggravated by climate change, which deprives more and more cultivation areas of the demanding plant of suitability. This is a problem for corporations that tend to focus more on price and mass. And in the event that several large corporations like Tchibo should develop a significant interest in high-quality coffees, the future availability will also be a problem for smaller roasters. Many of the importers of top coffee are offshoots of the big importers, which in turn supply the corporations. Thus, one can assume that they simply buy up the market for high-quality coffees if necessary and thus be able to quickly turn off the tap for those who are a little further down the food chain. Added to this is the risk of price dumping, which will usually be at the expense of the mostly underpaid coffee producers.
That large corporations will take the same uncompromised and dedicated care refining the raw beans the same way a small specialty roasterwould take, may be strongly doubted. In combination, this would mean that well-processed top-quality coffee would not only become even rarer, but probably also significantly more expensive.
As the past has already shown, it can also have positive effects when the big boys want to play at once and when mainstream can be used differently. Starbucks is a thriving example of this. Lightly roasted coffee still needs a lot of educational work, as it differs significantly from what has been learned about coffee during the last decades. This enlightenment is operated much more effectively by large corporations, as in small specialty cafes. If the balancing act between both sides succeeds, both can benefit from it.
Let’s hope that the companies do not become too greedy, so that there will continue to be a wide range of different coffee qualities and finally everyone gets a suitable piece of the cake.