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Coffee abuse in England

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Fact: when given coffee, Britons (typically) do things to it which would almost be punishable by law in Australia or Italy. The result is nearly always undrinkably awful coffee, though the locals don't seem to notice.

Some abuses of coffee I've noticed include:

  • Leaving bags of the stuff unsealed. The supermarkets now sell ostensibly passable ground coffee, conveniently packed in bags with valves to keep it from oxidising. Not that this means much to the locals who rip the bag open, take a shot's worth, and leave the rest to oxidise. The result: the rest of the bag produces dull, flavourless coffee.

  • Bizarre coffee-making practices. I have, on more than one occasion, witnessed someone put a capsule into a Nespresso machine, run half a pint of water through it, pour some milk in and throw it in the microwave. Eventually, perhaps this practice will catch on in Italy, where they'll call it the "Angliano"*.

  • Generally running too much water through it until you get bitter watery mud like out of an urn at a suburban McDonalds in the 1980s. A certain hipster bar in Shoreditch is notorious for this; why do they even bother having an espresso machine?

  • And then there's actually drinking instant coffee, or considering Nespresso to be a proper espresso.



When, I wonder, will the inhabitants of this green and pleasant isle learn the proper handling of coffee?

* "Angliano" = an Italian slang word meaning crazy (literally "gone English").
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On March 6th, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC), gths commented:
When all the backpacking Aussies move from barstaff to baristas? There's probably enough that know how to do it properly. (Of course that's also if the working visa laws still allow such to happen.)

I had to laugh when I read someone mention on a forum that even the instant Moccona here (which, of course, is bilge) was better than what they usually serve up in England.

I find it bizarre, though, Italians emigrated to a lot of places, why is it Australia where they found the most success inculcating the natives? (Though maybe Argentina has good coffee too, but I wouldn't know.)
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On March 6th, 2009 10:52 pm (UTC), kineticfactory replied:
Well, I've seen cafés advertising that they have "Australian-trained baristas". (I imagine that that means that they hire Australian working holidaymakers with coffee-making experience, rather than sending their local lads and lasses on coffee-making courses to St. Kilda or Byron Bay or somewhere.)

As far as instant coffee being better, it depends on how badly made the espresso is. If they let the grounds oxidise, scorch it and/or run too much water through it on grounds of efficiency, that's not implausible.

I'm guessing the Italian migration thing is a matter of numbers. Here, you have a few Italian cafés founded in the 1950s, mostly in Soho (which was the grungy, bohemian part of London then), the most famous of which is Bar Italia; however, this phenomenon never reached the critical mass of becoming part of the local culture (rather than an exotic specialty). I think Britain probably got lucky in curries and such instead.
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On March 6th, 2009 08:04 pm (UTC), eclipsedeyes commented:
How about the double shot as standard practice (I'm thinking especially of Nero chain cafes)
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On March 6th, 2009 11:03 pm (UTC), kineticfactory replied:
I haven't encountered that. I haven't been in a Caffe Nero for years (I went to those at the start, when they offered the best deal on WiFi, which was my sole link to the internet after arriving), though Costa (a local chain, though one which prides itself on its "Italianness", and has better than the average chain coffee) seem to do single shots as single shots.

Curiously enough, the Costa macchiato I had at Dubai airport on the way back (which tasted more or less identical to ones I've had in London) was better than the Merlo Coffee long macchiato I had at Brisbane airport.
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On March 6th, 2009 09:13 pm (UTC), trayce commented:
When I was in a mall in the UK somewhere (somewhere horrid in the midlands, I forget now) I asked for an espresso at the only place with an actual espresso machine I saw on my whole trip over there (apart from london).The woman peered at me cautiously and said "just so you know, it comes in a tiny little cup!"

.... yes, thank you lady,

Everywhere else served instant coffee, it was terrible. I stuck to tea.
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On March 6th, 2009 10:58 pm (UTC), kineticfactory replied:
(somewhere horrid in the midlands, I forget now)

Birmingham? Wolverhampton? Nottingham? Derby?

(The latter two aren't too bad these days; there's quite a decent music scene there, for one.)
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On March 6th, 2009 11:11 pm (UTC), trayce replied:
Derby, I think it was!

I was staying in Rugely, so spent some time wandering about in Brum and Stafford and such places (went to Alton Towers too, lol that was ... interesting). I mean its a pretty area, but suprisingly ... Im not sure if isolated is the right word. Lots of casual racism (well, round the people I was with anyway).
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On March 6th, 2009 11:34 pm (UTC), kineticfactory replied:
Derby doesn't seem too bad (culturally speaking) these days; in any case, it has produced bands like The Deirdres, and Derbyshire hosts the Indie Tracks festival. Granted, the city centre does look dispiritingly chainy, but that's Britain for you.

Nottingham (Derby's historical rival) seems to be an epicentre of the indiepop scene these days (well, as much as any place not in Sweden can be).
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On March 6th, 2009 11:47 pm (UTC), trayce replied:
...I was thinking that didnt match with what I experienced but thats because I realise now Im thinking of the wrong town. It was Dudley I think, not Derby.
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On March 6th, 2009 11:57 pm (UTC), kineticfactory replied:
*looks at Google Maps*

Dudley? That's out west, between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, right? I haven't been there, though I've passed through Wolverhampton on the way to Aberystwyth, and that did look a bit grim.
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On March 6th, 2009 10:23 pm (UTC), mysterbey commented:
But as you know, while good coffee is generally easy to find in the Australian cities, country towns are a different matter.
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On March 6th, 2009 11:00 pm (UTC), kineticfactory replied:
True; culturally, Australia seems to be provincial Britain + Ireland + subsequent immigration, and the more far-flung the areas are, the less of the latter there is, so I can imagine country towns having all the cosmopolitanness of, say, Sunderland.
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On March 6th, 2009 11:15 pm (UTC), gths replied:
Maybe you haven't been to the right country towns. ;)
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On March 6th, 2009 11:31 pm (UTC), mysterbey replied:
True. Every now an then you stumble upon an excellent cafe in the country.
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On March 6th, 2009 11:36 pm (UTC), kineticfactory replied:
What's the café scene like in Albury these days?
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On March 7th, 2009 12:32 am (UTC), gths replied:
Pretty damned good actually. Basically one woman started up a shop about a decade ago and started roasting her own beans and holding barista courses and that's basically managed to spawn a number of places that do the coffee thing right. Even the cafe in my workplace does it pretty well. Plus the Starbucks in Lavington got cut with most other of their stores when they decided to scale back in Australia, so that's a plus there too.

I think at least a few people have moved to Melbourne after getting their start here and not disgraced themselves nor their hometown.

I mean there's a mix of the usual chain places that you get in suburbia, plus most of the bakery-type places here and in the outlying towns (at least on the Victorian side, Yackandandah comes to mind) usually have one or two competent people handling the coffee.

The A31 trip isn't too bad either, I think there's a place in Benalla that's pretty good. My aunt mentioned some place in Gundagai (in town, not near the dog) that she felt passed muster, it's been a while since I've been in Yass but that's always felt like a gap, and Goulburn has the Paragon of course.
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On March 7th, 2009 10:21 am (UTC), teamwoolf replied:
That's because...
...it's all about tea here.

I think you should make me some coffee one day. I'm quite the novice, what with being a typical English tea addict, but more than happy to learn and drink the result of your teachings.

...that sounded...ever so slightly...filthy. But I'm going to press "post" anyway.

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