The instant I fell out of love with overpriced coffee – Stephen Jardine

In years to come, historians will identify the precise moment it started. Personally, I blame the TV series Friends. Until it exploded onto British TV screens in 1994, coffee simply came out of a jar.
It seems we have finally reached 'peak coffee' (Picture: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)It seems we have finally reached 'peak coffee' (Picture: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
It seems we have finally reached 'peak coffee' (Picture: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Then came Rachel, Ross, Monica, Phoebe, Joey and Chandler and things changed forever. Their lives revolved around a coffee shop with a bewildering range of offer. Overnight, the Styrofoam takeaway cup became a fashion accessory and the rest is history. Coffee is now the most popular drink in the world with 95 million cups consumed in the UK each day.

But with that comes madness.

Earlier this week I asked for a coffee on a British Airways flight to London. I didn’t expect a rare bean macchiato or an award winning cappuccino but neither did I expect to be handed a cup of hot water, a tiny bag and instructions on how to dunk it. Basically it was a return to the days of Maxwell House except this coffee tasted far worse and cost me £2.50.

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So it was no surprise to discover we have reached peak coffee.

That milestone came when The Tate decided to advertise for a Head of Coffee on a salary of nearly £40,000. The job advert says it is “a unique role that encompasses all aspects of coffee within the four Tate galleries”. It entails “sourcing, blending and roasting coffee” with “extensive experience of cupping”. I’d hoped that was some unusual sexual deviancy but it turns out to be the practice of evaluating flavour and aroma.

Now, you might wonder why an art gallery needs a Head of Coffee on £40,000, especially when trade unions have pointed out some curatorial staff are paid much less. It turns out the Tate has a bit of an obsession with all things coffee.

Perhaps they were big fans of Friends in the Nineties ?

The Tate website even has a special coffee page explaining that “...home to Tate’s Gender Equality Coffee Project (GEP) and Slot Roasting Collective our WWII Nissen Hut Roastery is a vibrant community-led non-profit business that helps fund Tate Gallery and champion coffee producers and professionals of all genders throughout the coffee value chain”.

No, I have no idea what any of that means either.

Actually, I do feel sorry for the Tate. In reality, I suspect the job is just a boring managerial role where most time is taken up with rotas and worrying about how Andre will make a cortado with a broken wrist after falling off his bike. So they called the job Head of Coffee to try to fool the hipsters into applying. In the rush to be as cool as a cold brew coffee, they have ended up being ridiculed and roasted like a Javan bean.

A quick look at the Tate jobs listing proves the point. This weekend they are advertising for a Commis Chef/sandwich maker to work “in the Tate Modern kitchen”. Can you hear the rush? Me neither.

Or maybe the last laugh will be on us. Perhaps the whole Head of Coffee thing is a daring post modern installation art event that will premiering later this year as an expose of the shallow consumer culture we inhabit.

As long as it is sponsored by Nescafe, that’s fine by me.