Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Choice That is No Choice

When is a choice no choice at all?  Answer: when you are ordering coffee in the UK.
Currently, in our town, we have three major coffee chains on the high street, along with at least five eateries that also serve coffee.  And if you care to walk 100 yards to The Forum, you’ll find another coffee outlet and a few cafés.  You might think this would be a coffee hound’s wonderland, but to me it represents a virtual coffee drought.
Granted, I can go into any of these establishments and order from an expansive menu that includes, among other delights, a cappuccino, frappuccino, mochaccino, latte, Americano and any number of other grand sounding names for water squeezed through ground up beans.  But the problem is, every single one of these ‘different’ types of coffee is made in exactly the same way: a shot of espresso poured into a cup of hot water.  How, then, is this a choice?  How, also, is this even coffee?  Pouring espresso into water to make coffee is like adding water to a raisin and calling the result a grape.
Another issue here is time.  These days, coffee is “hand-crafted” by “trained baristas” (read: teenagers who were sent to Coffee Universe by the Job Centre because they happened to be hiring that day) and each cup takes forever.  Generally, when I am after a cup of coffee, it is between trains at Victoria station, and the last thing I want to do is stand in a queue with 57 other frantic commuters while the barista casually takes 57 different orders, carefully crafts a tiny cup of espresso and pours it into a cup of hot water.

In the States—ironically, the origin of this type of coffee culture—it is still possible to pick up a cup of joe on the run.  Want a cup of fresh brewed coffee in a hurry?  Stop at a Stewart’s store, or even a Dunkin Donuts.  Don’t really care about the quality of your coffee and just need a cup of hot, brownish liquid?  Then use the McDonald’s drive-thru.
Coffee addicts, in America, still have a choice; they can wait an age for a pretentious cup of Crappamochaccino topped with cinnamon-sprinkled whipped cream, or pick up a large, authentic cup of filtered coffee like a normal person.  Here, it seems no matter where you go, all you can order is espresso water.  I even went into a Wimpy’s and had to order a latte.  In a Wimpy’s, for chrissake!  (For those of you in the States, Wimpy’s can be compared to, well, not much, really; imagine a down-scale Denny’s in a depressed area of the city and take way the ambiance and fine cuisine and you’re almost there.)
I suppose by now you’ve guessed that I happen to be in one of these establishment.  It’s not my fault; I was lured into the newest coffee emporium to open in our town, hoping against all evidence to contrary that I might be able to get a cup of coffee in an establishment that promotes itself as a coffee vendor.
Alas, it was not to be.  I’ve taken a few sips of the rancid liquid in the oversized cup in front of me, but I can’t bear to drink any more and I am desperate for a cup of something, anything, the even remotely resembles coffee!
Wait a minute.  I just remembered there’s a McDonald’s on the corner.
Gotta run!

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