Coffee. Ain’t nothing else like it.

Happy 2014. May it kick last year’s ass.

Generally, at this time of year I’d write a post about how I wished I’d blogged more last year*. I’d go on to reassure you and myself, that I’ll totally be blogging more this year. But we both know that’s bullshit.

What I can promise is that I’ll blog when I remember, and I’m not sleepy or late with a deadline. And I’ll definitely blog if there’s not a Marvel movie on at the cinema and I’m not engaged in a Nerf war. Provided of course, I don’t find myself driving to McDonald’s for chicken nuggets and a coffee in the small hours of the morning before setting off on an adventure to a castle in the middle of Derbyshire.

On the subject of coffee, I’ve spent the last week far from a place where they serve anything approaching a good cup of Joe. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no shortage of places to purchase the Holy Stuff**. It’s just that they’re less coffee shops, and more beverage vendors. Places staffed by folk well versed in how to put hot liquid in a disposable cup.

On yesterday’s trip to one such pretender, a friend asked me how my coffee was. He was tired, hungover. We both were. And at some point I shall apologise for my rant.

‘There are three sorts of coffee in this world. Good coffee, bad coffee, and then there’s the stuff I’m pretty sure is yesterday’s rainwater mixed with a little bit of dirt for colouring. I love the former and wouldn’t drink the later unless the alternative was to drink my own urine. The stuff in the middle, such as this you’ve just handed me, I don’t have feelings about. It’s bad. I know it’s bad. It knows it’s bad. The guy who took your one-fifty for it, knew it was bad. I’m gonna drink it because there’s nothing else.’

‘Mine’s okay,’ he answered as though we were drinking something that hadn’t come from the same glass flask. ‘Maybe you need more milk.’

Forgoing the urge to slap him, I replied, ‘It’s not fucking hot chocolate.’

‘If it were hot chocolate, it’d be better than that shite from Starbucks.’

On this he was right. Starbucks hot chocolate is made with a weird chocolate syrup, which can only be the result of exposing chocolate to a degenerative disease.

‘Still,’ I said, swallowing another mouthful of proxy-coffee. ‘I’ll take one of the coffee chains over an independent any day. At least you know what you’re in for.’

Of the three major chains operating in the UK, I’d rank them thusly – Starbucks, Cafe Nero, and Costa Coffee. Though my ordering has little to do with the quality of the coffee. I’ll explain.

costa sign 2In my opinion, Costa has the superior espresso. It’s less acidic and smoother, with a fuller taste. However, visiting any of my local Costa stores, prompts me to use the word fucktard*** more than anywhere else in the world. The one closest to me is staffed almost exclusively with people who seem unable to listen. Order Taker asks me what I’d like, then asks me again because they weren’t really paying attention. Next, Order Taker passes the information to Till Staffer who would totally tap my order into the till except they weren’t listening. Instead, I repeat my order for a third time. Finally, Till Staffer relays the order to Drinks Maker who it turns out isn’t really listening either because they’re still busy fucking up the last guy’s drink. Desperate, and on the verge of deploying ‘Fucktard’, I repeat my order directly to Drinks Maker. They nod, like they always do. But I can see it in their vacant expression. They didn’t listen. Unsurprisingly, I get the wrong drink. I make them remake it, sometimes twice. They screw their face up. I deploy, ‘Fucktard’.

Oh how I loathe the ineptitude at my local Costa****. Now, in the spirit of fairness, there’s one guy who always remembers my drink and is smiley and friendly, and another guy who when he sees me inspecting the sandwiches, immediately tells me which one has the best protein to calories ratio. But the rest of them? I’m astounded they manage to stand up and breathe at the same time.

Nero signFor me, Cafe Nero sits in the middle of the road. The coffee is pretty good, they use powder and not syrup in their hot chocolate and their muffins are ace. Their staff also seem competent if a little removed thanks to the crap crowding the counter tops. The problem is the speed of service and the noise. Yes, I’d like the illusion that my coffee is master crafted just for me by a Drinks Artisan. No, I would not like to be able to complete a degree in that time. Though to be honest, my main gripe with the place is the noise. I like to write in coffee shops, and it’s incredibly difficult in Nero’s. All the hard furnishings and wooden floors do nothing to soften the clank of dishes and clattering of chairs.  Saucers and spoons are all fine and well but Rambo makes less noise with an M60.

starbucks-logo-640x400Starbucks then, is a heaven from morons and loud furniture. Hardly a glowing endorsement I’ll grant you. Their staff though are generally awesome. When they ask me what I’d like, they listen to the answer and even write it on the cup just to make sure. This seems like such a fool proof method for remembering someone’s order that the only reason I can think of why Costa haven’t adopted it, is because their management think it’s too much to expect applicants to be able to read and write*****. Starbucks’s selection of sugary drinks and the ability to minutely customise your drink, and still have it made correctly, is beyond rad. As a company they make quite a big deal about building a rapport with their customers, and although it’s a tactic to help retain customers, there’s no denying it’s nice to show up for your morning coffee and have them remember your name and drink. In fact, no matter which Starbucks you go into in my local area, they know me from my order.

‘For the skin-head scottish guy?’ they apparently ask.

Oh and in case you fancy testing the theory and bringing me a coffee:

A Venti, skinny, wet, two-pump caramel latte with an extra shot, would be swell. If you’re brining it from a distance, having it made extra hot wouldn’t hurt either. Thanks.


*According to the 2013 end of year summary WordPress generated for me, I blogged twice last year. I’m sure their graph-bobbins-peeps are way off. But I’m a big person. I’m not gonna make a scene. I shan’t be going back and tallying up all the posts I’m almost a little bit sure I wrote.

**Coffee, obviously.

***Which by the way is my favouritest of sweary insults. ‘Listen Fucktard’ being my preferred use of said phrase.

****So why go? Well, it’s the closest coffee shop by quite some margin, and the only one open in the early am.

*****Unless Starbucks has copyrighted writing-on-cups-with-marker-pen, which, let’s be honest, would be awesome.