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By Niamh Walsh on 12th October 2022

As we celebrate the annual UK Coffee week, Niamh Walsh discusses the history of 'coffeehouse' culture in Britain, and Kevin Pilley introduces the first ever Nespresso Eco Pod Advent calendar.

Since the 17th century, coffeehouses have been central to British cafe culture, depositing political importance due to their popularity as places of debate. Known as "penny universities", the crowds that they attracted were synonymous of scholars and students alike, and anyone with a penny could enter and sit in on a lecture or have access to books or print news. Coffeehouses boosted the popularity of print news culture and helped the growth of various financial markets including insurance, stocks, and auctions, as they became arenas for culture and politics.

The history of coffee and, in particular, coffeehouses, first piqued my interest whilst I was studying English lit at uni. Although I was meant to be focusing on Pope, satire & the sublime in 17th & 18th century literature - I couldn't help but be drawn to the idea of the coffeehouse: a cesspit of "gossip, scandal and sedition". Rather than placing emphasis on coffee as a commodity, concern instead surrounded the coffeehouses as historical spaces of evolution and, "agents of historical change". By the 18th century, coffeehouses were central to social life in urban cities, and the devotion Londoners had for their three products: "coffee, company and conversation", became apparent. You're probably wondering what relevance does this have to your daily Starbucks, or (if you're a pretentious coffee snob) Kaffeine? But I promise you, there is an interesting & unexplored connection between the two time periods.

Within the past 20 years, we have undeniably witnessed a renaissance of the coffeehouse, not just in London, but worldwide. The rise of the Seattle-based coffee chain, Starbucks, as well as their multiple competitors that have sprung up over the years, has seen the high streets of urban cities reanimated by brigades of coffee-shops.

The interrelationship between these establishments and the coffeehouses of the 17th and 18th century can be compared symmetrically. These new coffee shops, similar in someways to the traditional coffeehouse, have forged a liminal social space between home and office, where the sense of urban community can be renewed or made apparent. Yet, unlike coffeehouses, in their capitalist ubiquity and uniformity, the chain coffeeshops also seem to reinforce the feelings of emptiness and alienation caused by modern life.

UK Coffee Week partners with independent and local coffee shops around Britain to support the reintegration of coffeehouse culture, whilst also running a nationwide fundraising campaign for Project Waterfall, bringing clean drinking water to coffee growing communities worldwide. Thousands of coffee shops, roasters and individuals across the country take part every year. Running from October 10 to 16 this year, it’s a week dedicated to learning more about the coffee industry and the people who cultivate it, whilst also focusing on raising funds for Project Waterfall, working to end the water crisis faced by coffee-growing communities worldwide. Over £800,000 has been raised since 2011, funding 13 projects and changing more than 45,000 lives in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nicaragua, Tanzania, and Uganda.

A Sustainable Christmas with Coffee

by Kevin Pilley

This week’s National Coffee Week sees the launch of the first Nespresso Eco Pod Coffee Advent calendar. 

The calendar contains best-selling all-organic, ethically-sourced pod coffees as well as the world’s first Sail Ship coffee in a pod and  the world’s first bird-friendly coffee pod for Nespresso machines. Some contain golden eggs with prizes like free coffee subscriptions and coffee-making machines. If ordered now, the plastic-free calendars will be delivered during the first week of November. 

“We set out to help pod machine owners make an easy swap away from plastic and aluminium pods without sacrificing taste. From the premium we pay our growers to the way our coffees are grown and the charities we support, we are putting purpose not profits at the centre of our coffee business”

The first entirely aluminium and plastic-free coffee pod Advent calendar of its kind is crafted from sustainable sourced board and printed using vegetable inks, making it 100% kerbside recyclable and home compostable.  All coffees are organic certified, maximising biodiversity and minimising fertiliser-associated emissions in the field. Organic, shade grown coffee reduces CO2 emissions by 15kg CO2e p/KG of coffee grown versus non-organic grown coffee. The calendars are packed by the Devon Disability Collective, a Social Enterprise that provides quality employment & training for people with disabilities & those furthest from the labour market. 

“We’re actively embracing green technology”, says Lex Thornely, who founded Blue Goose Coffee with Nick Ratsey. 

The Wiltshire-based company is named after one the world’s rarest breeds of bird, the Absyssinian Blue-Winged Goose. 100% of the money raised during UK Coffee Week will support Project Waterfall’s work to bring clean drinking water, sanitation and education to coffee growing communities. In 2021, funds raised during the campaign supported  its project in the Jabi Tehnan district of Ethiopia which will change over 10,000 lives.  Events include the Shoreditch Boxpark Coffee Bus, serving Alpro’s Barista range of plant-based drinks all day Thursday & Friday. You can also make your own coffee cup and filter at a Muddy Fingers Pottery evening at the Hive Coffee Company, attend the Caravan Coffee School and participate in some public cupping at Crankhouse Coffee.

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