COFFEE CULTURE SPECIAL: Lancaster’s caffeine addiction


The city has a real buzz about it that is only partially fuelled by caffeine. Reporter GEMMA SHERLOCK takes a sip of Lancaster’s booming coffee culture.

Coffee, once just a quick booster and answer to our sleep deprivation problems, has escalated into a cultural statement, a social gathering and a smell of divine richness.

The coffee beans used at J. Atkinson & Co, China Street, Lancaster.

The coffee beans used at J. Atkinson & Co, China Street, Lancaster.

The thirst for outdoor seating and various flavoured syrups added to our latte’s has brought coffee shops into a new entirety altogether.

According to Real Coffee £730 million was spent on coffee last year with 400 billion cups being consumed on a yearly basis.

It’s no wonder you only have to walk around the corner to get your caffeine fix in Lancaster.

But love it or hate it a good coffee culture creates a great vibe for the city says Paul Cusimano, Chair of the BID Management Committee.

He explains: “A good café culture creates a great atmosphere and ambience. It’s great that people want to do that in our city, it says a lot.

“If you take your big city’s like Liverpool and Manchester they always have the big chains like Lewis’s and Debenhams but over and above that what makes the city different is the independents.”

One of these independents is J. Atkinson and Co, built in 1837, the award winning hub for coffee in Lancaster boasts the best flat white in the UK.

The family run business own Atkinsons shop and The Hall on China street and The Music Room on Sun Street.

Proprietor and master roaster, Ian Steel, 56, hopes to set the benchmark for what coffee culture should be about.

Mr Steel said: “We have amazing venues, we were packed out during the music festival. Our core is still coffee but flowing out from that we’ve got all these other wonderful things going on.

“We set ourselves up to be the best we can be because we are showing others how to do it. We can remember what it was like to set up a new business and we can help a lot of other people start their dream of opening a café.”

In ten years Lancaster has seen the arrival of several chains setting up shop including Starbucks, Costa and Café Nero. Mr Cusimano said: “There has been a big improvement in the city over the last five years. Café Nero arrived and Costa more recently and for them to want to come to us is a real credit to Lancaster.”

British-owned Costa already has 1,755 outlets nationwide and plans to add another 150 this year, taking it towards a target of 2,200 by 2018.

Edward Oldfield, 36, owner of Esquires Coffee, admits coffee shops have always been high on the agenda.

Mr Oldfield said: “Lancaster is a very cultural and cosmopolitan city with a long history, people can come in and say to me there are too many but it’s what people want. I would much rather live in a city which is known for its coffee culture than a drunken, brawling culture.”

Mr Steel said: “The chains are doing what they do and we do what we do, I don’t get upset about them, when we came there was only one chain, in the last ten years we’ve seen the arrival of all the others.”

Also competing against the chains is Robert Smith, 41, owner of The Yard. Located on King Street, The Yard has room for just three tables. Robert says business is great and people are not put off by the size of the premises.

Mr Smith said: “We have been here just over a year. I’m not into the chains at all. We are only a small shop and many sales are takeaway but it doesn’t put people off.”

If the coffee culture is good enough for a Lancaster acclaimed author then surely its good enough for anyone?

Jo Baker spent many hours in a coffee shop writing her award winning Longbourn novel. She said: “Coffee shops have become informal offices, social areas, community spaces. People have business meetings, little mother-and-baby groups develop, people tap away at laptops and get on with their marking. It’s becoming a coffee cultural city. Atkinsons is at the heart of that. It’s always been a wonderful, almost magical shop, but the way the current owners have diversified and developed The Hall and The Music Room has been great for the city.

“Starbucks is Starbucks wherever you go, but these places have character and integrity, as well as properly good coffee.”

From whatever the experience whether it be the discovery of coffee berries 1000 A.D in Ethiopia to astronauts in the International Space Station having the first espresso machine coffee certainly seems to bring out the culture.