An English coffee

There’s an humbling amount to be proud of as an Englishman. A heritage writ large, a wonderful surfeit of historical traditions and a profoundly rich past, obviously. The beautifully deep greens of a rolling countryside. A sense of style at every street corner. The tapestries of hanging gardens found outside every village pub in summer. A shared courtesy of a ‘thankyou’ hand wave as you pass a car on too-narrow country lane ways hewn from the fields hundreds of years before the horse was replaced. These are real and tangible things that enrich lives everyday. Unseen by those that live here maybe. But gleefully evident to those of us who visit just once a year.

But coffee isn’t one of those things. The coffee outside of London and in 90% of cases inside of London, is deplorably and unforgivably bad. Not just a little bit bad. Really, really bad. And I think I know why. People here don’t care enough about coffee. Coffee is a side issue, an incidental to another purpose. Coffee is just coffee. A watery black liquid made from beans roasted up to 12 mths ago, ground 6 mths later and stored in some warehouse for weeks on end before being ‘put through a buttoned black box’ counts here as ‘coffee’.

Nor is there an obvious barista tradition. Cafes simply don’t have resident, trained, proud, competitive baristas, instead your daily coffee is made by a shop assistant who presses a button and places a mug. No timers, no signature creme artwork, no choice of bean, no knowledge of origin, no single source, nothing other than filling an invariably large mug (cups are optional extras) American diner style, to the brim, with a discoloured warm water.

Today Susie, my wife, and I stopped for a coffee in one of Bishop’s Stortford’s ‘better’ non-chain cafes. We returned it as undrinkable. Only for the apologetic shop worker to make it again, genuinely unaware of what was so wrong with it. The photo is of our coffees second time around, the improved version. We left and bought a Costa coffee. What else do you do in a country where Starbucks, Costa and Nero are king? And where a barista is better known in a court of law.

Tea anyone?

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