Should British Coffee Shops be more European?

There is no doubt that the coffee culture is now an integral part of British life and many believe that it is creating a more European atmosphere in our country. However, Coffee shops in Europe are very different to large chains such as Starbucks and to a certain extent the smaller shops that are trying to compete.

For example, let’s take a look at Spain where good coffee has almost always been very important. If you go into a café bar (shops dedicated solely to coffee are rare) you are not going to find Lattes, Blonde roast, Caffe Misto, Caramel Macchiato and around 30 other items on the menu.

Mainly you will be able to choose one of the following:

  • Café Cortado – espresso with a dash of milk
  • Café con Leche – around 50/50 coffee and milk
  • Café Solo – single espresso
  • Café con Hielo – espresso served with a separate glass of ice
  • Carajillo – espresso containing your choice of spirit normally Anis (a Pernot type spirit) or brandy

Brandy for breakfast
Café bars serve alcohol and tapas (small plates of food). If you go into one early in the morning it is not unusual to see Spaniards drinking coffee with brandy at breakfast! Whether in town or rural villages the café bar is a meeting place, much as coffee shops are in the UK; but there are two major differences.

Spanish café bars are social centres
The first is that it is highly unlikely you will find rows of laptops and people having business meetings in café bars. They are more like social centres where the television is almost always on. Places to meet up with friends and neighbours for a chat or work colleagues to go for their “second breakfast” at 11am.

The second, and possibly the most glaring difference, is that anyone walking into a café bar will say hello to everyone, whether they know them or not. Normally as they come in they will loudly say “hola” so that most will hear it, or they may say it as they pass tables making their way to the bar.

Speak to someone who is alone
In the UK we are much more reserved and somehow this is something that maybe we could change. Many people in British coffee shops go there alone, sit at a table and enjoy their coffee whilst perhaps reading a newspaper. Some are lonely and go to for a coffee where they can at least see other people and hear them. Perhaps we could take a leaf out of the Spaniards’ book.

The next time you go to a coffee shop and see a person sitting alone who looks lonely how about going over and asking if you can join them?  Try to engage them in conversation and if they are receptive maybe you could arrange to meet up for another coffee with them the next day or the day after.  An elderly person might treasure those moments or a young person who can’t find a job might be inspired by you.

Anything is possible when we enter into the true spirit of what Coffee shops in Europe are all about and maybe if you are thinking about opening a coffee shop a Spanish, Italian, Greek or even a Turkish theme could work.