25 January 2008

Some Things Are Better Rich

It must be cold and dark outside; articles about a certain favourite, hot beverage of mine are plentiful at the moment - surely, I couldn't have missed International Coffee Week (hard to say given that every week is coffee week for me).

"When was the last time a really good cup of coffee put your world on hold, took you to another place in your head?" asks today's BBC News Magazine. Good question. I can't even remember. Joe does great, artisanal coffee but is in NYC and so I was probably just relieved to find somewhere that made a drinkable cappuccino. I do come across good espresso from time to time and I make good coffee but I am limited by the machine I have. Perhaps the absolute best coffee I can remember was at Caffè Sant'Eustacchio in Rome but that was about five years ago.

Anyway, the point of today's BBC article is that it is pretty damn hard to find truly great coffee these days, thanks, in part, to the proliferation of big-chain coffeeshops that sell "premium" coffee that actually tastes like crap; yet, because the cappuccino and (especially) latte (pronounced "lat-tay" rather than "lah-tay" by some...) have become luxury drinks. "Going out for a coffee" has become a massively popular activity, except for most people, the main point is to socialise and the coffee itself is mostly incidental.

Strangely enough, according to the survey reported in this story, its the independent coffeeshops that give you the best deal when it comes to the taste-price balance. Who'd've thunk it? The article then lists a few of these places but for London, I think Gridskipper's list is much better (Monmouth Coffee Shop being my favourite; the NYC list being here). It also links to a site called Delocator, which helps you locate your nearest non-'Bucks coffeeshop (Nowheresville isn't so bad for coffee, after all). I'd actually come across the site a couple of years ago when it was US-only and I vowed to create my own version for the UK, but, of course, got sidetracked.

Ultimately, I'm not too fussy about my coffeeshops: all I ask for is a decent cappuccino and good atmosphere. No plastic, fake funkiness and no filter coffee; in the words of Andrea Illy, coffee alchemist and head of Illy, "Espresso is an elixir; filter coffee is a hot beverage." He ain't wrong there: some things are better rich.

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