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Unprecedented: Coffee in a the time of Covid

By Iain Evans, Publisher of Coffee magazine and Hostex Ambassador

It has been a scary and unprecedented time in the coffee industry. Communities around the world have been in lockdown in an attempt to halt the Covid-19 pandemic through the past two years. Never before had the human consciousness been so collectively concentrated on a single force, and experienced such disruptions to our everyday lives. Business owners were forced to sit at home and attempt to calculate the cost of this unseen enemy, this virus. Two years later we are attempting to return to ‘business-as-usual’ and yet there are many who will either never return or have been forced to completely re-invent their coffee offering.

As a coffee community, coffee professionals and coffee consumers alike, what does this look like in 2022?

The value of social spaces 

Initially, we fully agreed with lockdown plans. It has, however, been devastating for our economy and especially for businesses in the hospitality, food and beverage segments. So where is the good news? Coffee shops, coffee roasteries and restaurants, those who have survived this and come out on the other end – we believe these social spaces are more valued than ever. The old adage that “You don’t know what you’ve got, ‘til it’s gone” applies here. The public at large have new-found respect and appreciation for the things they previously took for granted.

“Every single individual’s life was our first priority,” says Phumlani Sibeko, head roaster at Manaka Coffee. “We just needed to stay positive because life is more important at that moment. But after this disaster, we’ve kept moving and continued producing great coffee for our customers.”

A chance to define the new normal

The coffee community, in southern Africa and around the world, has for the past few years discussed two opposite ends of the coffee value stream that need radical attention: The coffee farmer and the barista. We have seen devastating effects of the low price of C-price coffee and the movements within our community to ensure that farmers are paid a fair price for their coffee, and we have seen projects like the Barista Wage Calculator initiated to ensure that baristas earn a fair living wage. What does this have to do with a post-Covid future? Bearing in mind what we have said about people, the coffee-drinking customers in every coffee shop in the world, having had this wonderful daily experience taken away from them, hopefully means that they will value and respect the coffee (and the coffee farmer) and the barista more. And it is the responsibility of the coffee community to take this opportunity – right now, before people slip back into their old habits, to be brave enough to increase their prices for an amazing coffee experience and to make the decision to source the coffees that pay farmers and producers a fair chance. Customers coming out of lockdown and isolation will most likely be happy to pay a little extra for better coffee and better service, so take this chance!

Online and virtual opportunities

There has never been a better time to take sections of your business online. This virus caused a paradigm shift in the way we experience the world. Education and trade carried on through new online platforms.

The same can be done in coffee as consumers should be willing to pay for these advances. As entrepreneurs, if you have any online skills whatsoever, from technical stuff like building websites or online shopping portals, to developing apps for payments and transactions, if you’ve ever done online shopping or started a social media page – now is the time to help your local coffee supplier and take your skills to business owners! So many businesses are being forced to take the digital revolution seriously. This isn’t just academic – practical skills like home roasting coffee, barista training and beverage creation are in high demand, and you can help your local coffee business move firmly into the future by embracing some of the new technology and partnering with a local coffee business! We’re grateful that they spend their time carefully roasting the coffee we love, leaving space for people like you to help them do the things they most likely can’t do or don’t know how to do. Java versus Java script anyone?

Hygiene

A good thing that has come out of the pandemic is the emphasis on collective hygiene. It’s never been cooler to wash your hands! But seriously, if we think about the post-outbreak world, we will most likely have a new-found respect for washing hands, sanitizing surfaces, sneezing and coughing more conscientiously and, of course, the Cyril elbow greeting! Hygiene is a non-negotiable, especially in a foodservice environment, but Covid-19 behaviour has helped us to be more mindful of this.

Acceptance

Things have forever changed. The exciting thing is that people are forced to try different things, and one of these will be new rituals and habits. After being stuck at home, thousands of people are willing to try something new – it’s time to get creative. Learning a new coffee skill, investigating a new brew method, treating themselves with that piece of equipment they’ve been eyeing and tasting new coffees while they’re at it! Humans are remarkable at one thing, and that is adapting to change. In South Africa, we’re particularly accepting of changing circumstances; we get things done despite numerous obstacles on a daily basis. We roll with each new challenge and usually with a sense of humour and some hilarious memes!

The future is more collaborative

“Coffee is community” say David Walstra of Thirdspace in Fourways. “As cafés, roasteries and coffee business, we’ve been able to build more community post-Covid-19. By focusing on the positives and finding out how we can come back stronger together, as a family, as a community and as businesses, supporting each other, we not only survived this pandemic but have found new ways to thrive after it.” The opportunities have been twofold: creating ways to do more business by collaborating and using new methods to get coffee to our customers. Delivery services, WhatsApp ordering, community tools like the Coffee Monster app, will all form part of this new collective way of doing business.

Discipline

We’ve discussed a lot in this article; the power of technology, the power of collaborating and the power of new ways of doing business, but it seems overwhelming when most of us just want to get back to doing what we’re good at doing. This is not a bad thing. Being disciplined about what your core function is, is very important. So don’t get distracted by trying to do it all post-pandemic. The opportunity for business owners is to build it back up in a new way – ideally where you get to spend your time doing the thing your business needs you to do, and getting others to help and assist you in new ways of trading. The other scary reality is that some coffee businesses and careers have not survived this. It is a sobering thought, yet we know even though it seems dire, talented coffee people will find new challenges to conquer.

Always be kind. Always be mindful. Protect the vulnerable.

Finally, and maybe most importantly in this very trying time, is always to be kind and mindful of others.

This continues to be very difficult for everyone. The mental health of many has suffered too. We cannot say, or judge, how people will cope with this pandemic in the long term. We can only assume that everyone is experiencing their own varying level of anxiety during this time. More than ever, treat others how you would wish to be treated when experiencing a meltdown or an existential crisis, we’re all in this together and it’s going to be tough. Conducting ourselves in an ethical and respectful way after a time of crisis is utmost. We need to protect the humans around us with everything we have because, as we build a new coffee reality, the communities, the industries and the businesses that we work in and for, will always remember how we behaved under pressure, and that will stay with you forever. Be safe, be kind and be mindful, and we will emerge stronger and better in our new reality, in coffee and in life!

To find out more about Hostex, visit www.hostex.co.za

Don’t miss this great opportunity to catch up with Iain and his fellow coffee aficionados at the SCASA Coffee village at Hostex.

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