The New Black: where art and science meet for coffee

Retail Connections caught up with co-founder of The New Black, Kia Boon, to discuss the coffee vendor’s intriguing blend of art and science.

The art – and science – of coffee consumption

The New Black is a coffee vendor whose flagship London outlet offers a drinking experience as fresh as the premium product it sells.

Far from flinging out tepid cappuccinos for stressed city workers, The New Black aims to change consumption habits – redefining coffee-drinking culture around quality, delivery and service.

Appropriately located under the futuristic ‘Walkie-Talkie’ building, its newest venue in the UK capital is a unique fusion of state-of-the-art technology and design, realised with scientific precision.

Here expert baristas, stationed at pristine, stainless steel modular workbenches (housing coffee-making equipment never before seen in the UK), create bespoke beverages from an exclusive collection of artisan coffees. The grounds are provided by ‘A-list’ roasters in locations from Oslo to Australia, Singapore to Santa Cruz.

Behind the gleaming steel, mellow granite and soft wood is a visually-arresting ‘taste-wheel’; an interactive infographic spanning an entire wall, profiling the subtle and complex flavours at work within each artisanal roast.

Taken as whole, it’s no surprise that, as well as being a life-long devotee of coffee, Malacca-born Boon spent much of his early career as an international design consultant.

Takeaway, not throwaway

“Wherever I went in the world, I realised it was more and more difficult to get a really good cup of coffee,” he told Retail Connections. “Chains like Starbucks are now not only a global standard, in nations like China, where coffee drinking is becoming more popular, they’re becoming the only yardstick for measuring what something as straightforward as a cappuccino should taste like.”

“I’m lucky enough to remember drinking cappuccino in Italy, and I always use those memories to inform my judgment – but across the world today, many people don’t even know where cappuccino came from.”

Boon wanted to create a new benchmark, to remind people just how good the simple pleasure of enjoying a coffee during the day can be.

“I think coffee can be takeaway – without being a throwaway experience,” he added. “To prove the value of this we deliberately set up in the heart of city to cater to a largely corporate clientele. People with limited time to spare, but who want and appreciate getting the very best experience every time they get a break.”

Boon became fascinated by what are now known as the ‘third-wave’ of coffee roasters; dedicated pioneer enthusiasts who discover special beans and roasts, often by going directly to the farmers growing them.

His next step was to research the best technology currently available for creating the ideal cup of coffee, source the best water, and find the best milks.

These ingredients were then brought together in a gallery like space, to visually express how they all relate to each other, and can be enjoyed.

“Rather than a shop with a counter dividing you from the barista and the product, we also wanted this to be an inclusive, immersive experience that gives everyone the chance to enjoy the creation of coffee, made right next to them, and to also discover a blend they love,” Boon commented.

“When you arrive at The New Black we want you to immediately know we take every element of making coffee seriously, and that you can enjoy that journey with us.”

The next steps in coffee culture

So, what does the future hold for The New Black, and for the coffee drinking industry in general?  “We believe the next step in enjoying great coffee should be in delivery.” Boon concluded. “Even when you go to a good coffee house, if you’re busy and you take a coffee away, by the time you get it back to your desk it’s become a very different product to the one you bought.

“All I can say right now is that the next phase of The New Black is all about solving that problem…”

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