I thought I'd just write a little something about coffee shops, because that's where I spend half of my life these days.
I don't do posh coffee shops. I play it safe and stick with the big chains: Costa's, Caffe Nero and Starbucks. You only need to know one Italian word to get a drink in those places: 'latte'. I never include 'grande' or any of that other nonsense -- I stick with "a big latte please, mate". If they follow that up with "a grande latte?" then I say, "yeah, a big latte". I will let them have one Italian word in a sentence, but not two -- that is pushing it. This is London, not Rome. They wouldn't like it if I tried to pay the bill in spaghetti, so they can't have it both ways.
I always stick with lattes. I tried ordering an Americano once, but it came without milk, so it appears you have to ask for milk as a side dish -- that is too complicated. And don't get me started on espressos and cappuccinos. They are tiny! They are like a minimalist drink. Apparently they are supposed to be powerful stimulants, as if they are potent potions with smoke coming off the top, but the whole point of having a coffee is so you can sit there for thirty minutes and tick off another chunk of your life. If you sit there sipping a thimble-sized egg cup of coffee it will be gone in five seconds. So I'll stick with my big latte, thank you very much. I'll leave the espressos to George Clooney.
My favourite chain is Caffe Nero, because they always have a bit of classical music on. Starbucks is full of students, and Costa's is full of shoppers. But Caffe Nero put on some Mozart to keep out the kids. It's like one of those high-pitched whistles they deploy to scare away the foxes from the dustbins -- if you put a bit of Mozart on, then no student will come near the place.
Everyone has a routine in this place. Everyone shakes the sugar bag a few times and then tips it into the cup. Sometimes I imagine that the sugar grains are people in the sea, being sucked under the coffee froth to their deaths (I might be a psychopath). Then they get their mobile phones out. Then they bury their heads in those for the next ten minutes. There is one couple in here, right now, for example, who seem to be having a chat with two invisible people... they are just silently typing sentences into their phones whilst their partner does exactly the same two feet across the table. No smiles. No noise needed. Whatever words they are saying stay locked inside their heads. It's probably the closest we'll ever get to telepathic communication. But I can hardly talk, can I? Because I am sitting here typing this!
I'm not such a big fan of Starbucks, because I hate all of that fake friendliness they do, when they ask for your name every time you order a drink. I must have told them my name a thousand times by now, but they still haven't got a clue who I am. "Can I take your name, sir?" The next day you come back in and go through the whole rigmarole all over again. "Can I take your name, sir?" This repeats every day, with no one ever remembering anybody's name "Can I take your name, sir?" (Half the time I end up as Greg, or Dave, instead of Craig, because they don't hear me right.) But this old dear is the complete opposite. As soon as she walked through the door everybody perked up and greeted her like she's their long-lost mum. Now she's holding up the queue by having a chat about her shoe-sized dog, which is being crushed to death in the crook of her arm. She's wrapped her scarf around it and is cupping its nose like she's feeding sugar lumps to a horse. I don't think she's famous (I don't recognise her), but maybe she's a Hollywood star without her make-up on. Or maybe she's the boss, and they're all sucking up for a pay rise -- who knows. Maybe she's a ghost.
Here's an amusing scene... you probably know how their system works at Starbucks... you order your drink and then give them your name, and then they bellow out "CRAIG!" at the tops of their voices for the whole world to hear when it's ready. Well, this system works quite well until you get a crazy person turn up -- that is who I am watching right now. John is his name (crazy John), and he's got a smile on his face like a cat who's just got the cream. He was already given his coffee five minutes ago, but then another John turned up, and now crazy John has waltzed over and picked his cup up when they called out his identical name. And he's still standing at the counter right now, holding his two cups of coffee and telling absolutely everybody in the shop about his good fortune. He genuinely thinks he's got a freebie, but we all know that he stole it. The second John (a skinny dude who wouldn't say boo to a goose) has decided to ignore the crime and the staff are kindly making him another one. A brazen theft, but a successful heist. Maybe John isn't so crazy after all.
Craig I've read a few of your reviews and liked them but this isn't a review of coffee shops. I always go for an independent shop and if there aren't any of them around I pick Pret as their staff are usually/always smiling. Each of the independents have their own atmosphere and coffee, yes it's a risk but as you might not like the coffee but the same is true of the chains as the barsita who makes your cup is as important as the coffee. My favourite cafes are My Village in Camden (the best cafe in London), ICCO Googe St which do good pizza as well, Black Sheep on Charlotte St (great coffee without bitterness). Try stepping out of your comfort zone as you'll then find something different. Pete
Admin28 Mar 16, 10:51
You're right, it's more a review of.... sitting in coffee shops.
I just like it nice and simple. You know what you're getting with the chains, and you know what to ask for every time. It's like when I go abroad and always end up drinking in the Irish pubs and eating at McDonald's, because it's nice and easy. All I want is a sit down and a drink so I can write my stuff.
From the author: “The best thing about this book is that I’m a local, and I’ve been to all of these attractions myself (all 200+ of them – honest!). And I don’t just regurgitate the same old spiel that you find in 95% of guidebooks. It’s not the kind of book where I just tell you the address, how much it costs, and leave it at that. I take you inside each location and share my experiences with you. Maybe I enjoyed them, and maybe I didn’t, but I’ll always give you an honest opinion – alongside a chapter full of Top 10 lists, two weeks-worth of example itineraries, and a guide to using the buses and trains.”