In the world of Third Wave coffee shops, it often seems the case that the look of a cafe is as important to customers as the quality of the beverages on offer. In London for example, I tend to gravitate towards a certain type of coffee shop: small outlets with micro-roasters and minimalist fit-outs, tucked away in the backstreets of trendy neighbourhoods. An elegant, historic food hall inside one of the most luxurious stores in the world isn’t the kind of place I would normally associate with today's specialty coffee trends—but Harrods, the iconic department store in Knightsbridge, is breaking the rules.
Harrods was founded in 1849 as a wholesale grocery and tea merchant and, to this day, the Harrods food halls remain a tantalizing option for fine foods in London. With a legacy spanning over 160 years, providing the best products and maintaining high-quality standards is of utmost importance to the company—and now they've raised the stakes in their coffee game.
In November of 2017, Harrods unveiled The Roastery and Bake Hall, as part of a large-scale renovation that will see a total of five new food concepts launched in store by 2020. It is the largest redevelopment of the food halls in more than 20 years, focused on bringing the theatre of food production to the public.
In true Harrods style, the Art-Deco-inspired hall is grand, timelessly glamorous, and all about making a big statement—with paneled ceiling, marble tile floor, black steel light pendants, and decorated pillars. There is an artisanal bakery serving fresh breads every 15 minutes (a brass bell is rung whenever new pastries are ready), a patisserie, gourmet grocery, and a tea counter where customers can get a tailored experience of loose leaf blends made up to their personal tastes.
A round coffee bar stands out in the middle of the hall: marble bar counters with elegant brass rails and leather stools surround a team of trained baristas working behind black La Marzocco FB80 machines. Shelves are lined up with coffee bags, metal tins, and coffee pods for customers looking to buy beans. They can choose between Harrods coffee blends or seasonal single origins as well as order a blend made to their personal tastes.
Inside the new hall, there is a state-of-the-art brew bar, boasting a Marco MIX Ecoboiler tap and a Modbar. And in full sight—albeit within a glass enclosure—is an 85k Probat coffee roaster. For the first time in Harrods’ history, customers can watch every step of the process—from roasting to brewing—and enjoy the coffee-making process from bean to cup.
As part of the project Harrods is calling “The Taste Revolution,” the company appointed a new Master Roaster, Polish-born Bartosz Ciepaj. Ciepaj, a 2017 UK Roasting Championship finalist, spent more than a year prior to the launch consulting Harrods on how to design the new roastery and coffee areas, ensuring quality control in every cafe and restaurant inside the store, as well as Roast & Bake, a new food-to-go concept shop located outside the store on Basil Street.
A few days after the grand opening, I had the opportunity to attend a cupping session with Ciepaj at the roastery. “Although Harrods is a large company, it is still very much a small-batch artisan coffee roaster,” Ciepaj insists. And yet the scale of coffee operations at Harrods is impressive: around 450-500kg of coffee roasted weekly, peaking at more than 700kg per week during the Christmas period.
Unsurprisingly, Ciepaj’s biggest challenge is serving the approximately 15,000,000 customers that walk into Harrods every year, whilst delivering the same standard of quality service to everyone.
The house espresso, named “Knightsbridge” for the posh neighbourhood where Harrods is situated, is a blend of four different types of Arabica beans (Brazilian, Colombian, Sumatran, and Costa Rican). It’s a full-bodied, round, and nutty blend with notes of chocolate, a spicy aftertaste, and red berry sweetness. “We were looking for an ‘easy' blend that would appeal to the wider general public,” Ciepaj says. Customers curious to taste more unique seasonal offerings can choose from a wide range of single origins.
“We roast several styles of coffee and regularly tweak our coffee range to offer fresh and seasonal offerings. Our ambition is to be very inclusive and accommodate the different taste preferences of our customers,” Ciepaj says.
“I am open to all sorts of roasts and coffee,” Ciepaj continues. “My idea is to serve everything for everyone, everywhere. We don’t have to narrow ourselves down for five percent of customers who are crazy about a certain style of coffee, but instead we can appeal to each individual group.” And in a venue serving as broad a customer base as Harrods, Ciepaj and his team have a unique opportunity to do just that—and in grand London style.