In the light of the latest Starbucks-forgot-to-pay-tax-scandal, your fashion and lifestyle editor reflects over the coffee chain culture in London:
On a recent trip to Berlin, I found myself oddly taken with the city people who seem to either love or hate – partly because of the architecture, the dripping-of-fat currywurst and the peculiar German view on life – but most of all because of the absence of big, corporate chain stores. No EAT, no Pret, no Starbucks (actually there was one, but it was hidden in the back of a mall) – it was as close to a breath of fresh air as you can get in a big city.
It dawned on me how boring and impersonal the uniformity of the coffee chain culture in London really is. I used to go to Starbucks and on purpose order “a normal coffee” just to be met with an empty look from the “barista” accompanied by the words “yeah but…what kind of coffee” and I would insist on just a “normal” coffee – the two of us glaring at each other, clearly pissed off. Every. Time. So I set out on a mission to avoid chains at any cost – annoying, no, in fact infuriating most of my friends when refusing to go to Starbucks or Nero just because it was the closest option. And the funny thing is, once you decide not to go to chains, you only see chains everywhere. And you suddenly realise that most shops in London are in fact chains. Even the quirkiest little coffee shop will have a subsidiary somewhere. Despite this, I have stood my ground, although I have had to make a few compromises – a coffee shop with less than four outlets will not count as a chain, but merely a string.
My newfound philosophy has made me discover a whole new London; a world without standardised venues, dull colour-combinations, staff spelling your name wrongly and blahblah-ccinos; the coffee choices may not be as extensive as at Starbucks; Remember Tom Hanks in “You’ve got Mail” doing some hidden advertising for Starbucks? “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing, or who on earth they are, can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.” Three years on, I still don’t know what size “tall” is. And I don’t want a defining sense of self, I don’t even want a choice! I just want a frikkin coffee!
I have, to my knowledge, not attended a coffee chain since March 2012. Still going strong. Join me in the No Chain Campaign today!
Places we like that are not chains (yet):
Scooter Caffé (132 Lower Marsh, London, SE1 7AE)
Ozone Coffee Roasters (11 Leonard Street, EC2)
For more inspiration:
Lyndonscoffee.com (he’s an LSE student but let’s pretend it’s not the enemy.)