Strike while it's hot: tea and coffee should not be ignored in pubs

By Andrew Don

- Last updated on GMT

Popular drink: Brits drink 165m cups of tea a day (credit: danvojtech/istock/
Popular drink: Brits drink 165m cups of tea a day (credit: danvojtech/istock/

Related tags Coffee Ucc coffee uk

With a need for diversity when it comes to your offer, tea and coffee must not be ignored because not everyone wants an alcohol beverage or a roast dinner – especially first thing in the morning.

Tea and coffee are ingrained in our psyches. The Inkspots sang about them in Java Jive, while Doris Day saPng Tea for Two in the film of the same name.

So important are hot drinks to UK consumers,  The Times​ reported earlier this year, that top-end restaurants, such as Club Gascon, a Michelin-starred City of London venue, are pairing different premium teas with specific dishes.

Yet it has taken a long time for pubs to cash in on tea and coffee. Many, when they did, served something akin to dishwater – a miscalculation when almost half of consumers would be put off returning to a pub that serves poor-quality coffee, an Allegra World Coffee Portal survey of 750 people shows.

Phil Smith, head of category & insight, at coffee beans-to-equipment company UCC Coffee UK & Ireland, which commissioned the survey, says: “Lots of pub operators are doing coffee well but there’s still significant room for improvement across the market.”

Coffee commitment

High-quality coffee is key if pubs and bars are to diversify, grow, retain their customers and be distinctive, he says.

Allegra’s Project Café UK 2017 report identifies a greater commitment to coffee by pubs. The likes of Greene King drove non-specialist outlet growth by 6% last year to reach 9,403 outlets, it says. Pubs hold the largest share – 38% of non-specialists – in this market and 3,581 of them had a strong coffee offer last year.

Star Pubs & Bars

Star Pubs & Bars negotiated a comprehensive coffee support deal for its licensees with roaster Matthew Algie, earlier this year.

Star’s managing director Lawson Mountstevens says coffee is one of the highest gross-profit income streams for pubs.

Mark MacDonald, the group’s national supplier manager, says a good coffee offer is the bedrock of any breakfast offer and, when twinned with Wi-Fi, it also attracts trade from those needing somewhere to work and hold business meetings.

But operators always need to evaluate wage and utility costs against the income generated by opening earlier, he says.

“The core range we recommend every pub should have is a good espresso, Americano, latte and cappuccino. Where there is demand, we suggest pubs have a secondary filter option in addition to a more premium bean to cup of barista machine solution, particularly handy during a breakfast rush” he says

Greene King is segment leader with an estimated 1,139 of its pubs offering “a coffee experience”, Allegra notes. JD Wetherspoon, admired for “high-quality coffee at incredibly low prices”, has 926 pubs with such an offer.

Tea, however, should not be an afterthought. It is a more traditional part of British culture and Brits drink more cups of tea a day than they do coffee – 165m cups compared with 70m cups of coffee on average, says Bill Gorman, chairman of the UK Tea & Infusions Association.

“We are still a tea-drinking nation despite coffee shops on the corner of every high street,” Gorman says.

Tea has overtaken coffee in variety in the past five years yet just 15% of tea consumption is out of home compared with 24% of coffee, says Gorman.

“There is a demand for tea out-of-home, but consumers are put off because of the poor preparation and service. People trying to make a decent cup of tea from water out of a coffee machine fail. It’s not hot enough.

“Every consumer is a tea expert. They know how they like it in terms of pour – milk in first or second – and the foodservice sector does not offer that to the customer. Consumers don’t trust the outlets,” Gorman says.

Helen Applewhite, marketing manager at catering equipment company Lincat, says many people do not realise hot drinks need different water temperatures. Some green and white teas, for example, should be made with water that has been heated to just 70°C, she points out.

Mitchells & Butlers

Mitchells & Butlers offers breakfast at many of its pub brands and it also offers hot chocolate with marshmallows or cream alongside a range of teas, coffees and syrups at some sites.

Director of food trading David Gallacher has noticed more guests are using its pubs for morning coffee, as well as at other times.

Ember Inns offers a range of tea including peppermint, green tea and fruit infusions, in addition to a range of coffees that include floater coffee and iced lattes.

Sizzling Pubs, Harvester, Toby Carvery, Crown Carveries and Stonehouse Pizza & Carvery restaurants all offer unlimited tea and filter coffee with their breakfasts.

“A few of our restaurant brands have chosen to work specifically with premium hot beverage brands, for example, Harvester, Toby and Stonehouse Pizza & Carvery serve Lavazza Coffee, while Ember Inns serves a range of Twinings tea,” says Gallache

Lincat stresses it is worth making the effort to get temperatures just right. “The difference in flavour and fragrance of green tea made with the correct temperature of water is rather like the difference between serving red wine at room temperature or chilled,” says Applewhite.

Tetley out-of-home senior brand manager Marshall Kingston says it is no secret that out-of-home breakfast and brunch sales are booming.

The number of breakfast occasions has grown 8.5% to 1.14bn year on year and is showing no sign of decline, he says, citing NPD Crest Research.

Breakfast and mid-morning is the most important part of the day for hot beverage consumption – tea especially, he says.

Tetley has its own Breakfast Guide, which offers insight into the breakfast market, advice from leading sector professionals and menu ideas to ensure operators offer “consumers something worth waking up for”.

The breakfast occasion

Kingston says: “Insight shows that consumers are more likely to drink tea with breakfast than any other hot bev-erage. Catering to consumer needs in the morning period is essential to publicans looking to capitalise on the growing breakfast market.

“Breakfast is an important day part when it comes to hot beverages – if not the most important... ”

 Shepherd Neame

Shepherd Neame opens for breakfast at 25 sites, 15 of which are residential, offering a full range of hot drinks, including lattes, cappuccinos, fruit and herbal teas and hot chocolate.

Head of retail operations, Graeme Endacott, says: “What used to be known as ‘elevenses’ has moved to earlier in the day.”

Eros supplies its coffee to the Kent brewer and pub operator. “The quality of the product is essential,” says Endacott. “We have invested heavily in our equipment and staff training.”

Equipment is geared to each outlet. Some might have the full barista equipment, while others will be more simple push-button operated, depending on size and location, to ensure speed.

Tea is served in pots, using tea bags, but Shepherd Neame is looking at a more premium offer.

Endacott says adding value to hot beverages should focus on presentation, ensuring pubs have the right cup specific to the drink, and syrup flavours with coffees.

“The main thing is to offer a reliably good cup of coffee, served in a timely manner and in the right receptacle.”

Coffee company Rombouts suggests adding subtle seasonal twists, such as pumpkin-spiced lattes over the Christ-mas period, or having ‘guest’ coffees on offer that will encourage return visits
and tempt regulars to try new styles.

Rombouts sales director Simon Remmer says a high-quality tea option also needs to be on the menu and the company, traditionally known for coffee, now offers its Majes-T range of organic teas and infusions in 10 varieties, in-cluding Rosehip, Tropical Fruit and Linden, as well as classic flavours such as Golden Chamomile, Green Tea, Mint and English Breakfast.

Differentiating the offer is key – and that is something SA Brain says it capitalises on.

Brains provides a Bounty-flavoured hot chocolate using Malibu, for example.

Maybe alcohol at breakfast is not for everyone, but customers will be impressed if they know it is on offer.

And it is surely more fun than merely going to work on an egg?

SA Brain

SA Brain introduced the Great Little Coffee Co to its pubs in 2013 and it was able to leverage much of the expertise gained from the acquisition of Coffee#1 two years earlier.

About 40% of Brains’ managed houses serve breakfast, of which tea and coffee is an integral part and it offers a full selection of herbal teas and speciality coffees that customers would expect at any high-street coffee shop, says retail marketing executive, Jon Murray.

“The popularity of speciality coffees and teas is growing all the time and customers now expect that pubs will have a wide selection. Any pub that does not have a good range risks losing customers to high-street coffee shops, which have hot breakfast offerings,” he says.

Its pubs have full barista kits at all 111 managed houses and espresso machines at 103 sites.

“Having an espresso machine in the pub so the customers can see the coffee being hand-crafted with steamed milk shows the customer that the coffee is high quality and of a standard they would expect on the high street. Other little touches, such as latte art, always go down well.”

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