Stephen Jardine: It’s coffee – not the golden tears of a unicorn

Making a coffee should not be a piece of performance theatre
Making a coffee should not be a piece of performance theatre
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Getting a cup of coffee was once a very simple affair, laments Stephen Jardine

Is nothing sacred? Earlier this week Costa Coffee announced it would be opening its latest branch on the world famous cobbles of ITV’s Coronation Street as part of an onscreen product placement deal. Costa will hope Roy and Cathy canoodling over a cappuccino will boost the profile of their brand but has it comes too late?

With latest figures showing sales down 1.5 per cent across Costa’s 1,357 high street stores, has Britain passed peak coffee? Let’s hope the answer is yes.

No so long ago, making coffee involved adding boiling water to instant granules and then drinking it. Nowadays it involves a bewildering choice between lattes, flat whites, mochachinos and Americanos. And that’s before you have to choose almond, soya, skimmed, semi skimmed or full fat milk to go with it.

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My local coffee shop is a slick operation designed to get you served and out the door as fast as possible. In other words, it’s a business. That concept doesn’t always seem to be understood by customers. Every so often, someone really puts a spanner in the works.

Last month I was behind a girl who wanted to know the precise difference between a mochachino and a latte. Then she wanted to know if they could make it with rice milk. Finally she asked for her coffee to be served extra hot “but not too hot”.

The person serving her was close to breaking by that point and I doubt any reasonable jury would have convicted him if he had snapped. When I stepped up to be served we shared a look that said “what is it with people who approach ordering as some kind of practical exercise in being difficult?”

If that is you please be assured, holding up the entire queue at rush hour while staff check on the environmental friendliness of the paper cup for you and try to verify the name of the camel which supplied the milk does not make you special, just unbelievably irritating.

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To be fair, a younger generation have known nothing else. They have never faced the challenge of fishing the milky skin off the top of a cup without it breaking into bits and sinking to the bottom. For them coffee, like everything else in life, involves endless choice. And free wifi is, of course, a human right.

But I once spent £33 on a flat white at an artisan temple to coffee in Edinburgh. To be fair, the contents of the cup were £3 but the rest of the cash went on a parking ticket slapped on my car outside. I’d only popped in to get change for the meter but the hipster serving me turned the simple act of making coffee into a piece of performance theatre which took so long, by the time I emerged the wardens had pounced. And it was rotten coffee.

The boss of Whitbread, which owns Costa, reckons the downturn is due to the ongoing decline in the High Street with consumers turning increasingly to online retail. Either that or coffee shop customers have worked out that with the raw

ingredients for a £2.20 cappuccino costing just 14p and delivering a 92 per cent profit margin, a coffee is not something worth queuing for, especially when the person in front wants to know if the beans are from Kenya or Rwanda.