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McDonald’s Roasted Speciality Coffee, Now Wants to Brew It

The global hamburger chain will trial “barista coffee” in two London restaurants

First McCafe Opens In Northern California Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

McDonald’s is trialling what it calls “barista coffee” in both its Oxford Street and St. Paul’s restaurants, with a view to rolling out the offering nationally, first off in the east Midlands. This comes in the wake of a 49th quarter of consecutive growth, as originally reported by Big Hospitality.

Chief executive Paul Pomroy said in a statement, “Coffee drinkers are our most frequent customers and people may be surprised to know that we are second in this market.” It’s not just coffee: the mini McFlurry is allegedly outperforming projections, while table service and in-store, in-app ordering have streamlined the customer experience. So far, so good.

Unfortunately for McDonald’s, there’s a rather large elephant in the room. In both February 2017 and February 2018, the brand ridiculed the speciality coffee industry, and in turn its baristas, lampooning drink size, equipment, deconstruction, menu complexity, speed of service, and the definition of the flat white.

Why? In London, particularly, what was once a niche market has become increasingly mainstream; the city’s essential coffee shops focus on ingredients, origin, and preparation as much as many restaurants or wine bars; restaurant groups with speciality coffee as a focus continue to expand apace. Those adverts, this trial — and a likely roll out — represent a simple admission: McDonald’s needs “barista coffee” to keep up, or at least take a share of the market. In a report published by Allegra this week, one line stood out: “Today there are more than 7,470 branded coffee shops in the U.K. generating some £4 billion in sales annually — that’s a 1,328 percent increase on the £280 million total branded coffee shop turnover recorded by Allegra in 1999.” Sitting second in that market means sitting on a goldmine.

When pressed on the hypocritical nature of the adverts and this new initiative, the brand was evasive: “Our Barista coffee remains true to the McCafe offering which is great tasting coffee, served quickly, simply and at an affordable price,” a spokesperson said. A further statement added, “like the rest of our coffee range, it is made from freshly ground 100 percent Arabica beans from Rainforest Alliance.” (Arabica, though, is the name of an entire species of coffee, in which there are at least 41 varietals. It would be like a winemaker proclaiming their grapes are ‘red.’)

The representation of McCafe coffee in the aforementioned adverts is a server handing a takeaway cup to a consumer, no brewing in sight. Where this leaves those customers seen on television — who “just want a coffee” — is not yet known.

McDonald’s did not respond to a question asking what the barista training programme entailed, nor did it offer any further information on the qualifications its baristas would be expected to hold.