My usual chain coffee establishment of choice is Caffé Nero; the coffee is good enough, they sell those little praline chocolates, the premises are generally clean and the background music tends to be of a pleasing Italian theme. Essentially it’s somewhere I can go to feel like an Italian without being molested by Berlusconi.
Recently I’d been feeling like something different. Something a bit less leather and dark wood; there’s a mental image conjured up in my mind when I think of Starbucks, and I’d started craving that instead. Being surrounded by ashen-faced Suits, staring dead-eyed into their Blackberries as they staggered through the streets had left me wanting to be a hip twentysomething with a Facebook, Flickr and Twitter account to compensate for having no personality.
I wanted to sit on a goddamn sofa. I wanted to sit with a book, magazine, or some form of Apple-branded product that would allow me a civilised hour banging out shit like this while attractive, vaguely- but not threateningly-hippyish girls glanced over in my direction. I wanted to be wearing a cranberry American Apparel t-shirt that matched a pair of tomato-hued Urbanears headphones hanging around my neck, which were plugged into a (PRODUCT) RED iPod Nano clipped onto a WM. J. Mills & Co. Napthol Red flight bag. I wanted The New Pornographers to be playing, and if they weren’t available then damnit, I wanted The Decemberists instead.
So then: to Starbucks.
This was my first time in a Starbucks in, ooh, maybe seven or eight years, having concluded that it was a place to go for buckets of coffee-scented cream and sugar, though in their defence I did always miss their espresso-frosted chocolate brownies. The experience wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
The New Pornographers weren’t playing on the stereo, nor were The Decemberists. I don’t think anything was playing, or if there was, it was so unmemorable as to be inaudible. I soldiered on to see the food options, fantasising about a head-sized muffin or perhaps a baby-sized slice of carrot cake.
But the food disappointed. The cakes were not so much sliced as slivered, the pastries looked exhausted and there was a bewildering array of tiny concoctions that sounded like Roald Dahl creations: Red Velvet Whoopie Pie? Sparkle Cake Pop? Nothing looked substantial or intelligible enough so I plumped for a bar of chocolate.
I stumbled over my coffee ordering because I forgot that Starbucks uses that custom sizing system. I ask for a ‘tall’ filter coffee and get a short, squat mug, chipped and stained, but as someone who is short, squat and slightly chipped and stained himself, I’m happy to be in a place that considers that to be ‘tall’.
The place was full but it wasn’t a Hipster crowd and by virtue of wearing jeans and an uncombed beard I was easily the most casually-dressed person there. In the heart of the City, naturally everyone else was in a suit, with a mobile in one hand and a sad, limp panini in the other.
There was at least space on a sofa, only half of which was dusted with cake crumbs. Sharing my space was a besuited and beshevelled man in his ’50s, his head lolling gently as he snored into his untouched mug of tea – evidently a long day spent grinding the poor into the ground. I found a spot on the table that wasn’t already taken by dirty cups, sticky stains or food crumbs and placed my coffee down, before realising that I couldn’t lean back on the sofa and reach my mug without having to do a sit-up each time, so I fashioned a rudimentary surface out of discarded magazine inserts and carefully balanced things next to me.
An employee came to clear the table, saw an inch of cold froth sludge in every mug, remarked “Ah, not finished yet!” and walked off without them. I’m already depressed, and I haven’t even tasted the coffee.
The coffee, surprisingly, wasn’t bad. It wasn’t amazing but it was perfectly drinkable, a pleasant surprise seeing as the last time I drank Starbucks’ coffee it tasted like burnt toast scrapings. But everything else about this is wrong. Maybe I just picked a bad branch, but the whole place feels as crumpled and tired as that businessman.
I didn’t stay to finish the coffee. Even the smallest size feels like I’m drinking a pint of the stuff, and the place wasn’t making me feel like hanging around, particularly when Sleepy woke up and started forcing down his cold tea, steeling himself for a busy afternoon of repossessing people’s houses or whatever the fuck it is that people do in this neck of the woods.
I should probably have gone to Shoreditch. There’s something I never thought I’d think.