Coffee. Quick!

…Well, that’s not going to happen is it?

Not in the faux-continental joints dominating our high streets. We go in, don’t we, in search of a coffee and chat? What happens once we’re in there is the Theatre of Coffee-Making.

The young men serving in my local Costa look vaguely like those chivalrous Parisian garçons with their aprons and important keys hanging from their waists.

The girls are the same. How efficient they look in their smart shirts with their hair pinned up in rough-looking buns made to look like it’s come loose as they’ve been running from cup stack to banquettes to kitchen to customer in a committed, ambitious work frenzy.  No, they came in to work like that.

I could excuse them if in between frothing milk and counting marshmallows they also had to change tyres or diagnose a queue of ailing patients. But these people have one thing to do: make hot drinks.

So, how long does it take, in a Buckinghamshire Costa, to produce a hot chocolate and cortado? It took four ‘team members’ two minutes fifteen seconds today.

One took the order and my money; he shouted the order to the chap standing next to him at the coffee machine; someone else got a tray and the other girl I think fetched the spoons. While half-heartedly seeing to my drinks, the money-taker was moving to the person behind me in the queue taking their money, shouting their orders… Mt drinks weren’t anywhere near ready.

I wonder who gets the order-shouting job? It’s pretty cuhy. The coffee machine operator’s job isn’t one I’d fancy. ‘Two lattes and a spiced milk!’ ‘Three espressos, one decaf and one Americano!’ ‘Ten take out coffees…!’ ‘Hang on yeller, leave your friggin’ till and clean this milk nozzle you lazy git.’

At Palma airport earlier this year, I stopped for a coffee. With the loud, perspiring waiter swearing to his colleagues (in that cut-off-at-the-end Andalucian Spanish I could listen to all day and night), it was thirty seconds from order to coffee. Good coffee too.

I didn’t have to be a captive audience watching the spectacle of work: the staff dramatizing the Making of Coffee. Is that part of the company’s brand? That customers witness the important act of making my drink?

Like award ceremonies, they aim to establish the importance of the industry by… well… rewarding those in the industry. If staff look serious and shout your order and give it all a feel of  pre-op complexity, it gives coffee gravitas and significance.

It could have something to do with the loving, British Ceremony  of Tea-Making. Warming the pot, laying out of cups, a tray… Now that is worthy of award when done well.

So maybe the English haven’t got the hang of coffee. They approach it as they do Tea Making. This is where cultures collide.

A cup of tea is had for comfort, after your work is done, easing into a chintz covered armchair and with a biscuit or two.

Coffee (in this country) is had before or while you work with a colleague and a muffin (how these two got put together I don’t know) while talking furiously.

Me? Once and for all I’m abandoning the stripped wood locations with their black and white framed prints; messy buns and keys on curly cables; bitter (burnt I suspect) coffee and professionals (or students) sipping the stuff while sharing laptops.

My inner hot drink voice tells me to stick to what people do best. Tea in England, coffee abroad.

Aaaaagh… Now I’m ready for a good cup of tea. Join me?


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