What’s changed in the world of coffee?

largeIf you’d walked into a coffee bar in the 1950s, what could you expect? Well, coffee bars as we know them today only started in 1952, when an Italian named Pino Riservato, who owned the British concession for the then brand-new Gaggia espresso machine, opened a bar called The Moka in Soho. The Moka was only supposed to be a short term venture, designed to show potential customers what the espresso machine could do in a commercial environment. However, it caught the mood of a generation, and by 1960 there were an estimated 500 coffee bars in the Greater London area alone, with the phenomenon spreading all over the country.

The majority of the bars were independent, and as they didn’t need an alcohol licence, they were able to stay open late serving food and coffee. They became a socially acceptable place for young people to gather, and often had jukeboxes. Many were run by amateurs with no catering experience, as the post-war economic crisis meant rents were low and outlay minimal, with the espresso machine being one of the most expensive investments at £150 – £400.

The coffee itself was of good quality, but monotonous by modern standards, as customers had the choice of espressos or Americanos. All the coffee bars also served food to some extent, as they relied on this to make a profit.

Fast forward to today, and what’s changed? Although coffee shops and bars are as popular as they ever were, they now serve a different need. The majority of UK bars are part of a chain rather than independent, but the variety of coffee drinks available has soared, from one to two to dozens. Now that both businesses and consumers can buy coffee beans online, the choice and quality of what’s available has never been greater.

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