We’re all waking up to smell the coffee shop

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Last week plans were announced for two new coffee shops in Kettering town centre, including a second branch of Costa. Features editor Joni Ager finds out more about the rise of coffee culture.

We may be a nation of tea drinkers, but it is coffee shops that seem to be taking over our town centres.

On every High Street you visit there is an abundance of places to stop for a latte and a muffin.

Walk into your local Costa and you’ll no doubt see mums with pushchairs enjoying a hot chocolate and students sipping espresso while tapping away on their laptops.

Many people attribute the rise of coffee culture to the 1990s phenomenon that was Friends, a TV show about a group of twenty-somethings who seemed to spend all their time drinking coffee in a cafe called Central Perk.

But why has there been such a rapid growth in the number of coffee shops?

Matt Fountain, who owns coffee shop Bewiched in Wellingborough and plans to open another in Kettering this year, says it is down to the fact town centres are becoming places to come and socialise rather than just to shop.

He said: “Town centres will begin to change and are already changing. They will be places to meet as opposed to places to shop.”

There were raised eyebrows last week when Costa announced it would be opening a second cafe in Kettering’s High Street, prompting people to ask whether the town really needed two branches when it already has more than its fair share of coffee shops.

Sophie Matthews, representing 3D Coffee, which will run the shop as a Costa franchise, said: “The existing shop is popular. It’s a good meeting place for shoppers and locals or people popping out for a lunch break.

“It’s not unusual to have two coffee shops in a town and it depends on the character of the area and the demand.”

It’s a view shared by Andy Harrison, chief executive of Whitbread, which owns Costa.

He said: “Most people won’t walk more than 100 yards to get a coffee. In large towns we could have a Costa at both ends of the high street, one in a retail park and one at the station and they could all do well.”

Costa, the UK’s biggest coffee chain, plans to double the number of its stores by 2016, while Starbucks wants to increase its number of cafes from 700 to over 1,000 over the next three to five years, including drive-through coffee shops like the newly-opened Starbucks in Northampton.

But do we really need more coffee shops or are we beginning to overdose on the caffeine hit?

Jon Millar, of Kettering, said: “Coffee shops, pizzerias and tapas bars, not pubs, are the future for town centres across the country. More people stopping, relaxing and interacting helps create a vibrant town, attractive to retailers of all levels.”

But other shoppers are not so sure.

Keith Stafford, a company director who lives in Kettering, said: “At one time it was said that if you were planning to move, see if there was a coffee shop locally and if there was the area was doing well.

“Now, during a double dip recession, I can’t see how there can be so many. I love coffee and enjoy a nice coffee shop environment but I can’t justify £2-plus for a cuppa in the present climate.”

And Kelly Wilson, a customer service advisor from Kettering, said: “Do the council think all Kettering folk sit around and drink coffee all day? It’s not an episode of Friends!”