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Caffeine Might Be a Drug, but Private Equity Money Is on One Hell of a Trip

New York City’s Blank Street has acquired London speciality chain Over Under

A green coffee cup with “Blank Street” written in white capital letters, under an espresso machine
Pouring espresso at Blank Street’s first London cafe, on Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia.
Blank Street

A New York City coffee chain fuelled by espresso and private equity is continuing its mission to turn London’s streets blank. Over Under, the eight-strong chain mostly clustered in the west of the city, will slowly morph into Blank Street Coffee, with the U.S. arriviste having acquired its cafes and brand identity, according to MCA Insight.

Blank Street’s model runs on a few key things: small spaces to minimise rent; automatic espresso machines to maximise speed and volume; and plenty of backing from investors. Its mint green ubiquity in NYC stems from a denial of the “third place” philosophy, in favour of a “good enough” coffee that speeds its customers on to other things without having to think about why and what they are drinking.

Automation is a very viable way in which speciality coffee could progress: Baristas could get paid more to do less manual, physically demanding work while having time to actually communicate why speciality coffee producers are doing remarkable things; automation also helps to remove some of the “craft” theatre of pouring water which can sometimes obscure where the most remarkable part of the coffee value chain is, at origin. But to so see its widest adoption come from a chain that has, by its own admission, deliberately moved away from those benefits in favour of an anodyne pastel-optimisation pitch that pushes out local cafes might give pause for thought.

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