THE RISE OF THE COFFEEHOUSE HIGHBROW

By Shona Darroch, BA Media & Cultural Studies

London’s specialty coffee scene may have once been small but today it is rapidly increasing - as is the ‘coffee snob.’ This character is now a predominant one in society but what does this term actually mean and what can it tell us about contemporary coffee culture? 

 

It is evident that we are a country in love with coffee, or so it appears. Chains such as Starbucks, Costa and Caffé Nero have more stores than ever before with one on every corner. However, it is not Starbucks or the like that interest us in this case, as urban dictionary so fittingly claim, a coffee snob is deemed ‘an individual who cares about what coffee or coffee mix they put in their mouth.  

 

A coffee snob is not ok with Costa, Starbucks, Dunkin Doughnuts or McDonalds.’ This love for coffee should be measured by those who consider it as more than a plain commodity. The independent establishments have begun to infiltrate the highstreets, providing new spaces for ‘coffee snobs’ to gather for their daily dose of the ‘specialty’ goodness.  

 

Grown, Roasted & Brewed 

But what is specialty coffee, you ask? In comparison to mainstream coffee and its intentional duplication, specialty coffee rather functions to celebrate the beans’ natural variabilities. These variabilities produce tastes that are not recognisable in low quality coffee, for example sweetness, fruitiness and brightness.  

 

These artisan companies concentrate on the entire coffee process and often purchase produce from small single farms. With this, there is an intention to improve the industry altogether,becoming visible directly from the co-operation with farmers tobetter their ways of living. To the average consumer it is habitually the price that functions as the main distinguishing factor from mainstream coffee.  

 

However, it is worth noting that these higher prices serve for the greater good by efficiently empowering those in the production chain. Many independent coffee shops also encompass a variety of brewing methods, the most popular including the aeropress, the chemex and the syphon. These are available to enhance certain flavours and aid in crafting a quality cup of coffee – a cup of what it should always taste like.  

 

So, it should be presumed that ‘coffee snobs’ are after quality, “proper coffee” with “proper flavours”, right? They want to know about the coffee they aredrinking and its origin, a desire and trend that arguably appears in consumerism today. However, after chatting to caffeine consumers from across London, a number of other reasons were revealed as to why these specialty coffeehouses are so highly preferred. 

 

A Modern Lifestyle  

Marble tables, white tiled walls, hanging lightbulbs and neon signs are all interior aesthetic choices commonplace in new generation coffee shops. This alternative experience is now one that lies at the forefront of coffee culture, overthrowing the much outdated and uniform style found in establishments such as Costa (sorry again Costa).  

 

One particular consumer in ‘London Grind’ claimed “I do come here because I love the vibes, the trendy interior is great and it makes a cool place to come to catch up with your friends.”  

 

Similar to the first coffeehouses dating way back to the 18th century, it can be interpreted that specialty coffee shops are clearly not a mere place of consumption but the desired and chosen social venue - an alternative to homeand work. Students, freelance workers and creatives (all with MacBook Pros) form the typical consumers inherent in these spaces and reflect the stylish lifestyle that follows the trendy ‘vibe’ of the spaces.  

 

One does not have to spend long in a 21st century coffee shop to witness the obsession between social media and coffee culture. A flat white’s exceptional latte art beckons to be placed down on that vintage wooden table and captured for Instagram.  

 

Coffee incessantly permeates social media feeds today and is now even seen as an accessory accompanying the fashion bloggers ‘#ootd.’ The leisurely lifestyle that follows this specialty coffee scene is clearly much admired, and shamefully the label of a ‘coffee snob’ has become a signifier of one’s trendy identity.  

 

A new problem that is arising in this culture is not whether these proclaimed enthusiasts know the difference between a latte and a macchiato but, if they can recognize the differences between the syphon and the chemex method. 

 

A not so special, specialty term 

It seems the ‘coffee snob’ is a more complex matter than you thought. This freely used, self-proclaimed title is evidently one that classifies individuals who favour coffee from quality establishments. It proves tobe an exciting time for the growth of the specialty coffee scene however, the extent of one’s coffee knowledge issomething that is to be doubted.  

 

Coffee culture problematically appears to be concentrated more and more upon the lifestyle and experience fabricated rather than the stuff that lies in the cup; perhaps an outcome of today’s visually obsessed society. If people choose to visit specialty coffee shops based upon the desire to appear more stylish in these ‘cool’ places, we are then left with an awkward question – are the majority of coffee snobs actually coffee enthusiasts or merely just… snobs?