Friday, 18 April 2014

"Where there's hipsters, there's latte."

Whichever way you look at it, it's still £6.60 for a coffee and a slice of cake
An inevitable side-effect of eschewing alcohol is my burgeoning caffeine addiction. Basically, I've been frequenting a lot more coffee shops and drinking a lot more coffee. Like beer, the more coffee you drink, the better you get at understanding various signifiers of quality.

I was in Manchester the other day, wondering aloud whether we'd find a decent coffee close to the area we'd parked up. A member of the team indicated the high proportion of men with beards doing whatever people in skinny jeans do.

"Nah, we'll be alright," he said "where there's hipsters, there's latte."


The above photo was taken in a coffee shop in London. I paid £6.60 for my coffee and cake. That's the "exposed wood" premium on top of your chain shop rates.

Of course £6.60 for something which costs pennies to produce is ludicrous, but as we all know, you're not paying for that. You're paying for the staff to pretend to enjoy serving you, the presentation, the comfy seats and the free wifi.

And yes when the unsmiling be-apronned tubby fellow with a ginger beard appeared holding my beautifully arraigned order on its own cut of hardwood I was momentarily impressed. Momentarily, because despite asking for what I wanted twice, they got the order wrong.

People in coffee shops nearly always get my order wrong. In fact, they've got it wrong in four different shops on the last four occasions. My usual request is:

"Americano, extra shot with hot milk."

Not exactly a paradigm shift in consumer demand, but they always forget the milk was ordered hot, or just forget to mention it to the "barista" altogether. I presume this is because they're focusing on the remembering the extra shot and the reblahblablablablah.

I've taken to speaking slowly and clearly, trying to make sure the person taking my order has held eye-contact with me for the full three seconds it's taken to tell them what I want. If their eyes flit away or down to the till before I finish what I'm saying, I can almost guarantee a cold milk experience. Obviously it's not the end of the world if the milk does come cold, but... why is it so hard to get right?

I had high hopes this time round, as the exposed wood premium usually comes with a degree of staff attentiveness. The wide-eyed girl who took my order was attentive, but equally unable to work out what to do when I requested a slice of cake from the precariously constructed display between us.

There was a pause as we both stood there, giving me time to wonder how ordering cake with a coffee could be such an unusual request in a place geared up to sell little else.

The stand-off continued until the obligatory artisan cake supplier (who happened to be re-stocking the display) took matters into her own hands, used her tongs to pick out the slice of the cake I wanted and waved it in front of the wide-eyed girl's face.

The girl behind the till still didn't look like she felt she should be responding to this development until the cake supplier gestured to the side plates behind the counter. This finally prompted our heroine to swing into action. She picked up a side plate and allowing the cake to be dropped onto it. Unfortunately the five second cake distraction meant my coffee order had been forgotten, so I had an opportunity to repeat it.

"Large Americano, extra shot, hot milk." I said.
"Large Americano?" she repeated, taken by this new, bohemian variation.
"Yes. Extra shot. Hot milk." I smiled. She smiled. We had made a connection. It was going to happen. But then I made the fatal error of asking if the payment process was contactless. She shook her head sadly as she took my card off me, and in that moment my hot milk request fell out of her brain.


I would never dream of taking the kids into a joint like the one above, but they do consider going to a chain coffee shop a treat. The deal is they get something chocolatey to eat whilst the grown ups enjoy a decent coffee.

Unfortunately the moment the children have finished eating whatever they have chosen from the counter, their interest in being in the coffee shop sinks to zero and they start tearing round the place, or in my son's case, out of the door towards oncoming traffic.

To avoid the dilemma of losing a child or losing the chance to finish my hot drink I have taken to ordering my Americano in a takeout cup. The moment my kids can no longer be persuaded to sit at the table, I can cut my losses and leave with the product I paid for.

Asking for this at the till is the challenge, though.

"Hello. I'd like a small Americano with an extra shot and hot milk in a takeout cup. I'd also like two baby-cinos in takeout cups and a chocolate pastry with two plates and a knife. And three cups of water. Please."

It's not a massively long order, is it? Or that complicated. But there's something transgressive about requesting a mixture of takeout and eat-in containers. All bets are now off as to how many times you have to repeat yourself and the amount of supporting contextual information ("you see I need two plates because...") required before the exact order is processed.

This morning was an exception. The boy behind the counter did not seem to be fazed by the crazy crossing of takeout/eat-in protocols. He listened to and repeated my order and even offered to bring it to me as my children had already disappeared out of sight to bag a table.

A couple of minutes later he arrived and put a tray down in front of us with a flourish. Everything I requested was there.

Except the milk.

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