6th February 2020

The commercialisation of coffee: style over substance at Pot Kettle Black

Food writer Anneliese Murray explores the idea that coffee shops are giving in to the culture of style over substance
The commercialisation of coffee: style over substance at Pot Kettle Black
image: rawpixl from

Its hardly news that coffee shops are moving further and further from the traditional format of coffee-centric espresso bar. In many ways, I’m comfortable with the transition. A favourite pastime of mine is spending an afternoon in a chic café, with brunch and cake options only an order away and often the option to get a bit of work done (depending on the scene).

That said, as coffee shops become less about the caffeine and more about the whole ‘experience’ of the venue, the value for money seems to be ever decreasing. The main feature that seems to be most important now is how ‘Instagrammable’ a coffee shop’s plates and location are.

Pot Kettle Black is, for me, a solid example of a coffee shop monopolising on the demand for these new features yet not delivering on the value of their products. It’s the perfect example of style over substance.

I really wanted to like Pot, Kettle, Black – after all, it’s a Manchester favourite, winning the 2018 Manchester Food and Drink Awards with ‘Best Coffee Shop’.  It’s a well-known hot spot for brunch, coffee, and everything in between. I even visited twice, just to be sure of my verdict. But my overwhelming impression both times was that, despite a decent atmosphere and fresh food, what I was really paying for was their solid marketing efforts and fancy-sounding menu.

The brunch dishes both times actually left quite a lot to be desired for me. The menu seems innovative and different, yet the reality was that I paid £10 for their ‘Goats Cheese Toast with chilli, avocado, sliced radish, heirloom tomato and pickled red onion’. I’d expected something hearty and flavoursome, and was essentially served a glorified, singular slice of avocado toast.

Maybe I’m just missing something, maybe I ordered wrong, but the price I paid seems disproportionate to the fairly average and small (although, of course, pretty) dish I received.

This brings me onto their coffee and cake menu, another element of their offerings which looked beautiful but just wasn’t up to scratch.

I ordered a latte and their salted caramel cake – which, according to a sign I was shamefully influenced by, is their best seller. The cake itself was passable, although inordinately salty (perhaps my pallet is not sophisticated enough?), but the most obvious thing about it was its dryness. At £3.50 odd a slice, I expect a cake to be freshly baked and moist, but this one had the texture of a cake baked days earlier.

Similarly lacklustre was my latte – or should I say flat white? I ordered the latte expecting a long drink, as it traditionally should be, but was served something that was not an awful lot bigger than a shot glass. Again, it came complete with beautiful latte art and a wafer, all served on a rustic metal tray. Ideal for the ‘gram. But where was the rest of my overpriced coffee? Admittedly, it was good coffee, but if I’d wanted a short drink, I would have ordered one.

Overall, this place isn’t bad. The ingredients are fresh, the coffee is decent, and it’s a nice venue tucked conveniently in Barton Arcade, just off Market Street so ideal if you’ve been doing a spot of shopping. However, I couldn’t help but write quite a damning review, because I’m disappointed that the café industry is so quickly giving way to style over substance in lieu of their Instagramming customers, charging a premium along the way. Pot Kettle Black sadly falls into this category.


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