Is the $5 flat white killing cafes?
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One of my all time favorite cafes, Lamason Brew Bar in Wellington, has shut its doors for the final time.
Lamason was the first place I tried a syphon brew. It was the first place to introduce me to hot sauce on scones. It was my local for four wonderful years. I made friends there. I awkwardly spoke to colleagues I didn’t like there. Lamason was the first place where I felt something for the baristas. They weren’t baristas. They were mates.
I’m very sad they’re gone.
And they join a growing list of cafes in Wellington that are closing - Milk Crate, Lido, Goodness.
In these cases, it’s easy to look for blame, and the price of coffee is one that comes into sights.
The $5 flat white is killing cafes.
Because it’s too cheap.
Because you’re too cheap.
“There’s a lot in that cup”
In an article last year, New Zealand Specialty Coffee Association Chair, Roz Catteral said “Coffee is a deceivingly simple product – beans, water, and maybe some milk. However, add on the rising cost of freight, education on how to make the coffee, wages, equipment, power, rent, milk, the vessel you drink from, and beans themselves, and it starts to paint a different picture.“
She went on to say that roasters and cafes across New Zealand are absorbing significant increases in costs, which means the true value of your coffee isn’t being represented in what you’re paying “Our members are taking one for the team of five million by trying to keep the price of a long black or flat white relatively low. But we need to appreciate what we’re actually putting into your cup of coffee, and there’s a lot in that cup.”
Radio NZ noted in March 2022 that “The cost of coffee has gone through the roof and is being described as "insane" by a Wellington roastery and cafe business.
“International prices are at a three-decade high, caused by a perfect storm of bad weather hurting harvests, skyrocketing freight charges and the rising cost of living.”
Emma McDougall, also of the New Zealand Specialty Coffee Association, said in an article from the NZ Herald in March 2022 “[Coffee is] a luxury we've got to be willing to pay for if the industry is to survive - and there's no better time than now to be paying more for our coffee.”
“Coffee is a luxury”
Emma McDougall’s comment is bang on.
Coffee is a a luxury.
Many coffee drinkers probably don’t think of it like that. They probably look at a necessity, a commodity, a bare minimum injection of energy they need to get through the day.
This attitude needs to change if we want a vibrant and innovative industry here in New Zealand.
If we want to experience all the things coffee can be, consumers need to start showing some respect to the industry and people in it, and start paying for the privilege.
I can build a shelf, I can’t build a house
I do a lot of subpar DIY at home, to save money. But if I want something done right, I call a professional.
I can do math but I can’t do my taxes - I’m not an accountant.
I can get off a parking ticket, but I can’t represent myself in court - I’m not a lawyer.
I can make good coffee, but I can’t make excellent coffee - I’m not a barista.
I can make a coffee tree grow, but I can’t create disease resistant plants, with coffee berries that are processed in a way that adds amazing tastes and textures - I’m not a farmer.
You pay skilled people, who have studied, trained and practiced their craft to do things right. Coffee is no different.
Our attitudes need to change - fast
We need to view coffee for what it is - the embodiment of study, training, skill and practice, in a cup. Instead of looking at coffee as a 20 second shot with some warm milk, look at it as an artfully and skillfully created experience.
Only then we can move away from looking at a $5 flat white as expensive, instead of looking at it as a bargain.
And if we don’t do that, more cafes like Lamason will close. More places that mean so much to so many will be lost. More people will lose their jobs. More empty shops will appear on our main streets.
The closure of Lamason and others like them isn’t really a result of COVID, of working from home, or of government policies. It’s a result of consumer selfishness and the position that puts business owners in.
The team of five million needs to take one for our favourite cafes. While we can.