Instant coffee is cheap, quick and really doesn’t taste that bad, writes Stephen Jardine.
Eighteen months ago something odd happened in my neighbourhood. A long-standing local business shut its doors and was quickly transformed into a coffee shop. I’m not talking about your standard local café. This was stylish and fashionable with a roasting machine, beards and tattoos.
I knew it was cutting-edge because on the one occasion I ventured inside, I missed my bus because it took them so long to actually make a cup of coffee. Even then it was lukewarm. I wrote about it at the time and wondered what on Earth such a trendy coffee shop was doing in a quiet suburb of Edinburgh. The answer, it turns out, was slowly closing down.
One morning a few weeks ago the shutters weren’t raised and the soya milk LPG electric delivery van didn’t turn up. It was all over. That was the moment I realised we’d finally reached peak coffee.
Up to this point the march of coffee had been super caffeinated. UK coffee sales soared from £2.4 billion in 2011 to an incredible £3.4 billion in 2016. Remember, we’re not talking about mined, refined and polished diamonds, just ground coffee beans and hot water. Every day we drink about 55 million cups of that stuff and consumption had been rising year on year.
When the High Street coffee brands reached saturation point, new artisan places sprung up in distressed basements offering ever more expensive and obscure options to help keep sales rising and millennials away from the housing ladder.
Down in London last month I ended up in somewhere that only served cold-brew coffee. The hipster serving explained what that was to me in the same way you would describe Tinder to your grandfather.
I put up with that but then I tried to pay with a fiver. I wasn’t naiive enough to expect any change but neither did I anticipate him telling me, with a sigh, that they are a cashless business and only accept card payments.
It was the kind of place that would operate smoothly, happily and efficiently as long as they didn’t ever have to actually open their doors to the public.
That didn’t seem to bother my fellow customers who stood about waiting for their name to be mispronounced for the privilege of paying half their wages for a cold cup of coffee. We really have been hooked.
Last weekend hundreds of people gathered for the fifth Glasgow Coffee Festival. With over 50 exhibitors, it was an opportunity for people to ... drink more coffee. No doubt you could also learn lots about coffee but what do you really need to know?
Here’s what I know. Anyone who can actually tell their Flavia Alterra Sumatra from their Rwandan Inzovu really needs to make some friends and get a hobby.
While the cafenistas were gathering in Glasgow, I was in the Borders far from the madding crowd. In a local tea room I asked for a coffee. A large catering jar of instant coffee was produced, the proprietor put a spoonful in a mug and added hot water and then charged me a pound. It was by far the fastest coffee I have been served this year and another thing. Whisper it, but it didn’t taste that bad.