23 - 26 September 2021 |The Truman Brewery
  • Get To Know a London Barista

Q&A with a London barista

Interview with David Robson
03 April 2019

Plant-based has well and truly hit the big time, and everyone wants a piece of the action. We’re seeing plant-based options available everywhere we go, from your local supermarket to your favourite restaurant, it’s what the people want – and the coffee community is no different.

Alpro, the original plant-based food and drink brand, sits down with @London - Coffee Editor and top London barista, David Robson, to hear his thoughts on how the coffee scene has evolved and the role plant-based has to play.

What are some of the key trends you’ve noticed in the coffee scene in recent years?

The London coffee scene has come so far since I started making coffee here nearly 10 years ago. Over the past couple of years, I’ve enjoyed how accessible and readily available great coffee has become – and we’re seeing high-quality coffee almost everywhere, and most recently in outlets such as in restaurants, hotel lobbies, bakeries and even bike shops!

There has also been a huge increase in demand from consumers for plant-based alternatives – which is a slightly newer development in the coffee scene. Plant-based drinks have become more popular than ever, which is great to see as it means there are endless options to offer customers.

As well as plant-based alternatives, we’re also seeing demand for on-trend flavours being used to add a tasty boost to hot drinks, such as matcha and chai. It’s evident that appetite for all thing’s ‘plant’ is stronger than ever!

Why do you think plant-based has become so popular in the coffee industry?

This has been a result of consumer demand and I don’t feel baristas were quick to jump on board at first. However, due to brands advancing their ranges and introducing more plant-based drinks designed for use in coffee, like Alpro’s For Professionals range, I’m finding that not only are baristas happy and keen to serve these drinks to their customers, but many are even drinking them – myself included!

In terms of what is driving demand, I’ve found that it’s because people are becoming more mindful of what they consume and want to choose options that are going to be beneficial to their health, as well as products which have as little environmental impact as possible. Plant-based drinks ticks both boxes because they offer a healthy alternative without compromising on taste, and I know Alpro sources its almonds from the Mediterranean which means minimum impact from transport and less water irrigation because of the rainfall there.

What advice would you give to baristas looking to add plant-based options to their menus?

Give the people what they want. For example, often I hear customers asking baristas “Do you serve soya/oat/almond?”, so they should ensure it’s on the menu so that customers feel like they are being listened to. You’ll quickly notice an increase in plant-based drink orders if these options are given some menu space.

Experiment with plant-based products in different drinks. I found that almond tasted best with the matcha I used, and oat tasted great in an iced latte. Make sure you understand how these flavours pair with your drinks and make suggestions to your customers so that they try them. I recently visited a coffee shop where the menu items were written with their ideal plant-based pairing, for example “matcha latte with almond”, “chai latte with oat” – I really enjoyed this!

Finally, train your baristas on plant-based drinks and encourage them to improve their latte art and drink quality through practice, training and incentives. This is because each plant-based drink alternative reacts differently at varying temperatures. Customers notice these things and if your café pours a nicer oat flat white than the café down the road, that won’t go unnoticed.

Finally, what’s your favourite plant-based hot drink and why?

I know I’m supposed to be a coffee guy, so this is a little guilty pleasure - I love an iced matcha latte with coconut in the summer, and during the winter an oat flat white is the drink for me.

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