Will Brexit mean the end of coffee?

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Image at Atrium Coffee, Cirencester

Words by Callum McLean.

No. The exact New World Order that Brexit has fashioned for itself is purely hypothetical, however an entirely globalised industry such as the one I find myself in is rapidly changing.

Although coffee is not grown within the EU the merchants that supply the roasters are often trading from EU states and the uncertainty is meaning that many are investing in networks that allow direct trade, however this huge amount of time and resources and the costs end up being passed onto cafes and customers. Another issue is that all coffee is sold in $USD which makes buying UK roasted coffee more expensive as the £GBP diminishes. 

Further disruption will come as most coffee equipment is imported from Europe. Italian coffee machines are the best in the world. Other worldwide equipment suppliers have manufacturing and distribution across the EU in order to make the process more efficient and cost effective for EU member states, however our departure from the single market means that tariff will be enforced.

Of course, culturally, our industry is very outlooking, internationalist and inclusive. Espresso was invented in Italy, commercialised in the US and then perfected by the collective efforts from across the world. Japan invented the V60, Germany the Chemex and of course the French invented smoking sulkily with a black coffee. 

Coffee inspires novels, plays, music, political movements and it’s this anthropological endeavour that keeps me getting out of bed at 6:30am every day to serve coffee to people.  I work in a coffee shop based in Barn Theatre, Cirencester called Atrium Coffee and with that I fuel creativity daily as well as chefs, a patent attorney, estate agents, musicians, sportsmen and cyclists to name a few. Anthropologically and coffee shops may well be the 21st century melting pot of ideas, creativity, education and discussion with the destruction of the local pub by conglomerates and lack of government policy. Thanks to Starbucks, coffee shops aren’t taxed at all.*

*Joke: Independently run, small scale coffee shops are taxed beyond belief with VAT rules crippling most and ensuring they must close unless they downsize. Either that or Russian or Arab property magnates destroy them with ludicrous business rates and rent agreements.

On the other hand of this argument is the idea of a cultural and political bubble encasing the customers who do partake in the enjoyment of coffee. One, you must work so you allow yourself the time to make the daily pilgrimage to your local place. Second, you must have the disposable income to allow yourself for a £10 plate of brown avocado on tepid bread. This automatically eliminates people with suppressed wages, poor work life balance or with social issues such as carers and single mothers. This means that the population of a coffee shop is always out of kilter with the general public. So, for us our in our distressed wood and copper tower, Brexit seems ridiculous. Globalisation, consumer capitalism and a service-based economy works, right? Industrial heart lands such as the North East and the Valleys have been crippled by the 21st century and been utterly decimated by all that the coffee industry has benefited from.

So no, Brexit will not end coffee. Mr Juan Saldarriaga, from the La Claudina farm, will still be growing the plant, we will all still buy and consume it at the same unhealthy rate as we always have. We might have to start paying more for it, recalibrate how we buy it and how we produce it. We will always be this creative melting pot in a political bubble slightly detached from reality but isn’t that what we want it to be? A sense of escapism from work, life, family and politics. That’s why we do this, every day at 8AM. Brexit can’t change that. We don’t really care, right? Flat White anyone?

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