I’m not someone who often runs towards a Starbucks, but after a weekend of Swansea coffee, I felt I was justified. Those who know me, or have seen the close-on pornographic pictures of my coffee machine, will know that I like good coffee. And, further, I really, really hate bad coffee. I rate bad coffee on a sliding scale, with instant powdered stuff at the bottom, followed by bad versions of otherwise good drinks. Cafetiere coffee made too weak or too strong, filter coffee left to burn for hours before it reaches the cup, espresso burnt or with cold milk. This weekend, I discovered a couple of variations on the theme. But first, let me tell you about a cup of coffee I had on the island of Lesbos a couple of years ago.
Sarah and I were sitting in a tourist-oriented cafe, or our package holiday experiment, and decided to order cappuccino. After living in London and Brighton we had been fooled into thinking there was a standard drink called a cappuccino and asking for one in a greek cafe would produce an espresso with some frothy milk. The quality of each may be variable, but we’d get that combination. It turns out, that in that cafe on Lesbos, a cappuccino means something else. It means a greek coffee (of course!) – strong and black, topped with lots and lots of squirty whipped cream straight from the can. It’s actually a fairly disgusting combination and a good punishment for any tourist foolish enough to think that they should stray from the local specialities. This said, we didn’t blame the greek cafe for their interpretation, and recognised that on a gorgeous island in the middle of nowhere, we should be grateful that this cafe was not conforming to the Starbucks invasion.
The same cannot be said of Swansea. Going to Swansea, and probably any relatively small town in the UK, leads me to have certain dilemmas about my coffee acquisition. I *want* to go to the local coffee shop and support the local economy, but experience tells me again and again that I’ll be disappointed with the coffee I get. So, when Sarah and I arrived at Swansea train station on Saturday to see an ‘Espresso bar’ across the road, my spirits lifted, then sank, as I saw that this ‘Espresso bar’ looked decidedly dubious. We soon decided it was worth giving it a go, as surely the coffee must be good if it’s what the place is actually selling itself on. So, in we went. The signs were OK – two actual espresso machines. And some frothed milk. OK, pre-frothed milk is a bad thing, but we can live with it. Most certainly, we can live with it if the coffee is good. So, “two cappuccinos to take away please”. And now it goes slightly downhill as the polystyrene cups are fetched. Coffee really does not taste good out of a polystyrene cup. Anyway, we can live with that, too. And the pre-frother milk is frothed again. And frothed some more. And poured. Hang on, where’s the coffee? Did I miss the grinding, tamping and pouring of shots? Sarah and I look expectantly towards the coffee machine. And then we panic. There is a metal jug of dark goo, which the ‘barista’ takes from in front of the coffee machine and starts to re-heat with the milk steamer. How long had it been sitting there? How often had it been re-heated? Then she pours about a shot’s worth, over the milk, into each of our polystyrene cups. Then she takes our money.
Unsuprisingly, this ‘drink’ was really pretty unrecognisable as coffee and was quickly abandoned by us posh London types. Especially after Sarah found a random piece of black rubber in hers.
My second brush with Swansea coffee was also unpleasant. Suffice to say that it’s not neccessary to put half a packet of ground coffee in a cafetiere and that, if the plunger can’t go all the way down, the coffee is probably too strong.
So, yes, Starbucks in Swansea got our (running) vote on Sunday afternoon.