Americano Studies: Drinking coffee in England

Andrew, the manager of the Costa Coffee on St. Peter’s Street in Derby, said the amount time it takes make an americano (espresso and hot water), from the time it is ordered until it is handed to the customer, is about 40 seconds.

“That’s if we’re not busy and there aren’t any queues,” he said.

I wondered because to satisfy my absurd addiction to coffee, I’ve been drinking two or three americanos a day since I’ve been in Derby.

That means I sometimes have to stand long queue of people who are ordering lattes, mocha lattes, flat whites, cappuccinos and all that.

Standing in an orderly queue in Britain is a cliche of national character, a behavior that is simultaneously annoying and expected.

Of course, Americans also stand in line at coffeehouses where people order chai latte whateverachinos and the rest of it.

But the line is often hastened by people like me.

I just want a coffee, a black, hot coffee. That’ll do it, thank you. And the barista will then dispense some ready made java into a cup, then lid, then financial transaction, then I leave or sit down. I usually leave.

If you’re behind me in line, you love me.

But at Costa, the largest coffeehouse chain in the UK with more than 1,000 stores nationwide, they don’t have ready to dispense coffee.

“Well, the kind of bean we have would taste awful through a filter,” Andrew said. “It’s from a plant that is grown at a higher altitude than most beans.”

Coffee grown at a higher altidude tend to have a richer flavor, I learned.

My coffee chat with Andrew is a conversation I could not have had in Derby 20 years ago when I was previously in the city.

Now, there are several coffeehouses throughout the Derby city center, from chains such as Costa and Cafe Nero, to locally owned cafes, like The Kitchen and Milk and Honey, two spots on Sadler Gate I’ve enjoyed this past week.

In 1996, proper coffee was a rarity.

The University of Derby cafeteria had coffee available via a machine, where you pressed buttons to determine the kind of coffee you wanted, then it would make whirring and whoosing noises before blasting brown liquid into a verge of melting plastic cup.

It tasted like it came from a puddle in a coal mine.

Usually, though, coffee meant “a coffee,” which meant instant coffee, most of the time Nescafe.

Seeing I’m in England, understatement’s native land, I’ll put it like this: Nescafe is not very nice.

Up until that point, I don’t remember ever drinking instant coffee and I’d been a coffee lover for about 10 years.

My grandparents, both immigrants from Poland, got me started on coffee at age 10 or 11.

My grandfather would make it in a percolator which gurgled and hissed on the stove in the pre-dawn darkness.

He would then fix me one cup and only one cup, quarter filled with coffee with an ample amount of milk and a teaspoon or two of sugar. Easy on the caffeine, floor it with the sugar. It worked for me.

I loved the sound of the spoon clanked against the cup and then tap-landing on the kitchen table.

I drank coffee all through high school. My friend Brian and I convinced our homeroom teachers to let us have a coffeepot in the classroom during our junior and senior year.

As we were not yet of legal drinking age, coffeehouses were essential places to congregate with friends, a comfortable spot to have coffee and figure out a way to get some booze.

By college, I needed a coffee to get me through all my classes no matter the time of day.

When I arrived in England, we did not have a coffee pot in our student flat, ( Why buy one, when that money could be spent at the pub) and there wasn’t any where to get a decent coffee on the walk to the campus.

So, I succumbed. I went to the Sainsbury’s and bought a canister of instant coffee.

You know what. I made do. Over the course of my year in Derby, I acclimated to it. It was OK, it was all right.

It’s a perhaps a clumsy generalization, but I’ve found England doesn’t always have the thing you really want, but it has an abundance of things that you would be willing to tolerate. I sort of like that.

When I first arrived at my Airbnb rental room in a house owned by my incredibly gracious and accommodating host Catherine, I inquired about the coffee situation.

Back home, I have coffee within 15 minutes of waking up.

“I’m a tea drinker, I’m afraid,” Catherine said. “But I have this, if you want it.”

Kenco Millicano Whole Bean Instant Coffee.

I’ve had two cups of it each morning I’ve been here.

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