Many of us have that one café where all we have to do is walk in, and the barista already knows our order. We get our loyalty card stamped, working our way up to that free drink of choice, and enjoy the comfort of our favourite coffee, made with love by our favourite baristas, in our favourite environment. Loyalty to this one café is nothing out of the ordinary; it is human nature to gravitate back to the things we know best and have previously enjoyed. But there’s a new concept slowly making its way through the coffee cities of the world: coffee disloyalty.

The Year of Coffee Disloyalty

Coffee Disloyalty in Edinburgh

But a – perhaps well-needed – change is slowly making its way into some local coffee cultures. Let’s go back to the end of 2016, when the coffee scene in Edinburgh was truly reaching a point of mature popularity. In the past five to ten years, the specialty coffee scene in Edinburgh has flourished to form a closely-knit community of robust coffee houses. Partly due to Edinburgh – as the capital of Scotland – being a very walkable city, and the coffee-craving students that roam the streets, coffee shops can now be found lining the streets of virtually every part of the city.

What is astonishing is that the culture among these shops has never been competitive – more so communal. They are basically neighbors, and all have a similar goal: making specialty coffee accessible in Edinburgh in their own unique ways. For example, at Cult Espresso on Buccleuch Street, one can enjoy seasonal Round Hill Roastery beans prepared by the friendly staff in the long and narrow, exposed-brick space. Whereas the small, more modern-looking Fortitude Coffee on York Street serves their own beans in beautiful, clean, and fresh brews.

A rising tide lifts all boats

As the saying goes: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. Supporting each other, rather than trying to compete for customers and saturating the community, is mutually beneficial and helps achieve that goal of building the coffee scene in Edinburgh.

That leads us to the end of 2016, when seven coffee shops in Edinburgh decided to band together to form what they called “The Disloyal 7”: a loyalty scheme with a difference to celebrate the disloyalty of their customers as a good thing. It is about trying to get coffee-lovers in Edinburgh to explore new places and new beans. Part of this initiative were coffee shops Cult Espresso, Fortitude Coffee, Baba Budan, Low Down, Filament Coffee, Brew Lab, and Cairngorm Coffee. These independent coffee shops are all within walking distance from each other, and at every café, a customer could get a stamp on their Disloyalty card. Once their card was filled, they could get a coffee of their choice at a café of their choice.

In this way, the customer is sent all around Edinburgh, trying coffees at some of the best cafes that each get a chance to impress, and thereby supporting the local coffee scene. This card isn’t about favourites, it’s not about competition, it’s not about turning you into a regular; it’s about building the coffee community and providing you – the customer – with a unique coffee experience. Lambie, barista at Cairngorm coffee explains the benefit of the card for the independent specialty coffee scene in Edinburgh: “We always try to think about what mainstream shops cannot do. [The card] is so far from the ideology of most high-street chains that it’s not something they could ever consider. Because we are independent, we have that luxury.”

Good-natured Competition

The Disloyalty Card has a heptagonal shape to allow every shop on the card to have equal space for their logo. It was designed by Filament barista and graphic designer Ziemowit Kaczmarksi. The owner of Cult, Garry Stone, was quoted by Sprudge Magazine saying that “the design lends itself to equality. A normal card would lead toward a specific pecking order, but with this there is no up or down, everyone is on an equal footing, and we are proud to be sharing our customers as well as our knowledge and friendship.”

A few more cities around the world, such as Washington D.C. and Helsinki, have stumbled upon a similar idea. The communal culture of the tightly-knit local coffee scenes in cities is moving more and more towards supporting “disloyalty” rather than competing for customers. We expect this trend to continue to grow, and look forward to how we can adopt aspects of it to bring the best coffee from different places around the world to you.

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