The Invasion of the Coffee Shop
The rise of the coffee culture in the UK has, allegedly, led to the demise of the good old British brew. I disagree. Not everyone is enamoured with lattes, cappuccinos and macchiatos, as really, what’s the difference? At the end of the day it’s all just frothy coffee. Some folk have gone all healthy and Zen and have embraced the other revolution, Herbal Teas. Just as with its more potent counterpart, herbal tea drinkers can be a fussy lot. They will drink gallons of green tea but won’t go near Chamomile, peppermint is tolerated but ‘anything berry’ is an abomination. I strongly believe that behind closed doors we are still a nation of hard core tea drinkers and by tea I mean, Tetley, Yorkshire etc. The words, ‘Put the kettle on’ has provided comfort to millions of Brits through-out the centuries. They are the first words uttered by thousands as they heave their cases full of dirty washing through their front door after a foreign holiday. Be it a broken heart or bad news those four words are like a liquid duvet. The bigger the crisis, the stronger the tea. A good old brew has got us through the worst of times.
‘Let’s meet for coffee’ is, apparently, the new war cry. No one ‘pops in for a brew’ anymore, it’s all about the coffee. Whenever I go to see my friend, the first thing she does is put the kettle on. The second is to tentatively ask if I’d like tea or coffee, to which I always reply, ‘I’ll have whatever you’re having.’ The look of relief on her face is priceless as she mumbles, ‘I could murder a cup of tea.’ What she really means is she could murder the stainless steel coffee machine that has pride of place on her kitchen worktop and hasn’t been used since the day after she bought it in the sale. The machine is not like her Morphy Richards kettle that can boil water within minutes. These machines take ages to ‘heat up’ and when they do, the coffee is lukewarm and the ‘frother’ doesn’t make the milk frothy at all. The coffee, when presented in its special cup (a normal mug doesn’t fit under the spout) tends to be a huge disappointment. Not all coffee machines are useless. Some, like the Nespresso Machines, are very good. I don’t have one but my neighbour does and I’ve only ever been offered one cup despite spending more time in her kitchen than my own. I believe that this is due to the price of the capsules, they are extortionate. I have cafetiére which I received as a Christmas present years ago when they were fashionable but that’s – to quote my partner – an ‘arse ache’ to use. The plunging the coffee can be very impressive however trying to get rid of the coffee granules afterwards is indeed an ‘arse ache.’ They go and get everywhere! Stick to instant, it’s much easier and cheaper to handle.
For a country that is renowned for more than its fair share of rain, the coffee culture has led to our pavements becoming cluttered with stainless steel chairs that are either wet through (from the rain) utilised by nicotine addicts wrapped up in puffa jackets, mobility scooter drivers or harassed mothers taking a well-earned break from pushing a double buggy all around town. All of them hugging overpriced coffee in oversized cups whilst people try to squeeze past them. Britain has been invaded by coffee shops. They are everywhere, on our High Streets, in petrol stations, service stations, train stations, airports and even leisure centres. Our country has become littered with brand name coffee retailers and artisan coffee shops and nothing is being done about it.
We’ve all been to a Starbucks, Costa Coffee or Café Nero which are pretty much straight forward and easy to use. Stepping into an ‘artisan coffee’ shop is a whole other experience. I’ve learned that as well as wine snobs, coffee snobs also inhabit the earth. Choosing an artisan coffee is a lot harder than choosing a wine. When I’m choosing a bottle of ‘Vino de Collapso’ the first thing I look at is the price, the second is the label. The fancier the label the better it will look on the table, especially if you’re expecting company. If it’s on special offer and under a fiver it goes straight into the trolley. When I step into a coffee shop how the hell am I supposed to know the difference between a robust Brazilian and a Blue Mountain smooth? I don’t want a coffee tasting session, if it was wine, yes, coffee, No! No one minds getting hammered in the day for free but who wants to shake like a cheap washing machine mid-morning in the middle of town? I just want a hot drink for crying out loud! Coffee is coffee, and let’s face it, once they put the froth on top it all tastes the same. This is the reason I tend to give the artisan places a wide berth and, if I must meet someone for coffee, stick to the well-known, on every high Street, in every city, shopping centre, bus station and airport brand name coffee shops.
The Barista, i.e. the person that makes the coffee and froths the milk, is now the modern day Ring Master. Usually, not always, but usually, it’s some über trendy youngster in skinny jeans with an even trendier Toni & Guy hair do – this applies to both male and female. They have taken the art of coffee making to a whole new level. I know I’m not the only one who stands in the queue staring in awe at the way they twist knobs, control the steam and froth the milk so it resembles a perfect cloud, EVERY single time. It’s all ‘Theatre and Flair’ but in a cup. Cappuccinos now come with a replica of the Sistine Chapel made from sprinkled cocoa powder on top. Hearts are considered naff and a smiley face means it’s the barista’s first day on the job. They may be the Michael Angelo of the frother and chocolate sprinkler but one thing’s for sure, they can’t spell. If you’re looking for an alternative way to sign your name then just head to Starbucks, the name they scrawl on the side of your cup in black felt tip makes the wait for the coffee worthwhile. I’ve seen, Soozan, Suzahn and even Suzzan! Being from Birmingham and having an accent doesn’t give the barista the right to butcher my name, which is Suzanne, by the way. On the subject of waiting, when did wanting a hot drink on a cold day take so long? I’ve gone in and out of the menopause waiting for a decaf soy latte!
If you’re a hard core tea drinker, these places are the kiss of death for you. Tea is served in an oversized cardboard cup and leaving it to brew is unheard of. You have to tip the milk in straight away, if you can find it! Usually it’s on a table against the back wall which means you have to do the Ninja challenge with cup in hand, to get to it. When, eventually you get there the milk is dispensed from an oversized flask that’s either empty or gushes out like water over Niagara Falls! And, if you don’t start sipping like your life is going to end in ten minutes then a quarter of the way through your cup the tea is stone cold.
Don’t get me started on the seating arrangements in these establishments as there are none. Apparently, Coffee Shops are supposed to be your home from home with their overstuffed armchairs and large comfy sofas. After waiting ten minutes to place your coffee order and then waited another ten minutes for it to be made you turn around and try to find somewhere to sit. Good luck with that! There’s usually a student sprawled out on the sofa with a Mac Book Pro in their lap. Having guzzled the cheapest coffee four hours earlier they stay rooted on the sofa, sponging the free Wi-Fi and staying warm. The reason being, they’ve spent all their student loan on the fancy laptop which is why they can’t afford Wi-Fi or heating at their digs. They’ve taken the ‘home from home’ thing literally. Also taking up room is the Yummy Mummy Gang; they push all the tables together, commandeer all the chairs and spend hours discussing the latest Ofsted reports for the local schools. To be fair, they’re usually gone by three o’clock as they’ve got the school run to do. The worst are the ‘At £3 a cup, I’m going to sit here as long as I bloomin’ well please Brigade.’ More often than not, they tend to be the pensioners who won’t shift for neither love nor money. The rest of us just have to walk around clutching our coffees, breathing in whilst attempting to squeeze between tables, trying not to trip over bags, brollies and toddlers and spill our expensive cups of Brazil’s finest all over the place. By the time you’ve eventually found somewhere to rest your weary legs, the coffee’s cold and the froth has collapsed.
I’m so over these coffee places. Give me an old fashioned café any day. The tea comes in a pot, the coffee is instant and a ham and cheese toastie, is a ham and cheese toastie. Not a Panini or a Croque Monsieur, which, due to the foreign name always three times the price. Coffee shops have wised up and are getting smart. The new ones that are opening are smaller, the sofas have gone and they have very few table and chairs. It’s now standing room only and if you’re standing you’re in the queue. They want you in and out taking your expensive coffee with you. At the moment all the talk is about Brexit and taking our country back from Europe. Forget all that. What we need to do is start a revolution and take our teapots from the back of the cupboard, dust them off and remember that we are a nation of tea drinkers. I’ll be the first to make a stand….. I’m going to put the kettle on and make myself a flavoured coffee.
Here is another of Suzanne’s fun takes on Men, dating and food !!