Big Interview: Elan Cafe
The popular and expanding London chain of Elan Cafes is well-known for its beautiful pink flowered decor that has often been described as “instagrammable”.
But the approach to its design is only one element of its offer, which is known for being premium and stylish. The good news is its approach is a successful one as Elan has just opened a new site at Selfridges, joining its other London venues at Mayfair, Knightbridge and Oxford Circus. And there are two new sites in the pipeline with Hans Crescent, Knightsbridge to open in December followed by Belgravia in January.
When Joao Almeida, head of coffee operations, joined the company he was motivated by offering an experience to the customer. For him, coffee is a shared experience that is about spending time with people.
“Coffee is all about sharing those experiences. One of my favourite memories in terms of coffee is that in Portugal you know you are a man when you allowed to have your first coffee,” he says.
“You are probably allowed to have a beer or a sip of little wine way before you are allowed your first espresso. When you walk into a café and ask for an espresso and they give it to you – you know you have made it.”
While the café chain has a premium offer Almeida has always wanted to make the brand accessible to all types of people.
“The espresso menu is just as accessible as any high street shop and we always try to add, as a craftsman, soul in a product. I can’t just have a product that looks good there needs to be a reason for it,” he says.
Elan roasts its own coffee in-house that has been specifically produced with a medium roast profile to appeal to its customers. Union Hand-Roasted Coffee also supplies the chain with six single origin coffees and Elan also offers a guest coffee.
Offering the best quality coffee is something that is crucial to Almeida. It is for this reason he is not a fan of decaffeinated coffee calling it a “downgraded version”. He even compares it to the cooking of a steak.
“I am going to buy this beautiful steak, put it on the floor, step on it, roll on it, throw it against the wall and then wash it and then I am going cook it for you. Why would you do that?” he says.
“If you want something that is not caffeine why have the downgraded version? Why don’t you have something that is delicious and happens to be caffeine-free?”
Instead Almeida has introduced a “caffeine-free alternative” called red espresso, which uses red bush tea, which is made into a tea shot and then has milk added to it.
This sort of innovation and creativity is at the centre of the drinks offer, which covers not only coffee but its range of Alternative Lattes. for example, its Golden Latte contains turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, ginger, chilli, pepper and milk and is served up yellow in colour.
“It is about trying to find something I can work with," he says. "I like the idea of giving you the nicest turmeric tea that people drink in Bangladesh and you may just share this experience.”
He admits that the Elan chain has a “ridiculous focus” on tea, which accounts for around 20% of its drinks sales. Around 80% of these tea sales are breakfast tea, followed by Jasmine and then Earl Grey and Peppermint.
“If you are a tea fan you are going to get attracted by teas such as Oolong, Sencha and Lapsang souchong,” he says.
“Really good quality tea, produced in the way the customer wants to use it, gives a better customer experience.”
It has speciality tea suppliers, including Hannah Sell’s Tea and Flora Tea with black teas, green teas and herbals, as well as winter and summer seasonals. It also stocks Japanese Matcha tea, Nitro tea and even a cold brew tea mojito.
Its soft drinks offer is equally innovative focusing on giving the consumer something different and having that element of experience.
“If you want to be a place for people to come there is no benefit for me to have Karma Cola or cucumber favoured water or Earl Grey flavoured sparkling things. People can get them in the supermarket. Why would you come to Elan?” Almeida says.
Innovation remains at the core of the offer. Almeida is even looking into producing Cascara, a drink made from the wasted coffee parchment.
“Cascara adds an extra revenue stream to the farmer. It has the light coffee taste and is healthier than other energy drinks. It gives an experience that you can have outside the house,” he says.
Whatever the beverage offer Elan Cafe is going from strength to strength and Almeida has no plans to slow down on the beverage innovation.
For Almeida, coffee is about more than just the bean but about the overall experience in delivering the perfect cup.
"It is how to share an experience. When I make a beautiful coffee, and I tell everyone that this coffee shop makes the best espresso in the area I am sharing an experience. When somebody buys a flat white and has this beautiful picture of a coffee and sends it to a friend it is sharing the experience," he says.
- Joao Almeida, Founder of Latte Art Bar and Head of Coffee at Elan Group, is a member of European Coffee, Tea & Soft Drinks Expo's Steering Panel.
- For more information on European Coffee, Tea & Soft Drink Expo, contact Sukhvir Hayre on +44 (0) 203 668 9809 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and check out stand and sponsorship options.