I love coffee. I mean, I’m not one of those hard-core bean-junkies who can’t function without their pre-9am quota of umpteen oversize mugs of máximo-strength, but I do love it. I’m a bit fussy about my coffee, mind you. I’m not a coffee snob, or anything like that, I don’t know enough about it, but I certainly know what floats my dinghy, and what scuttles it on the ocean of hot beverages, and sends it gurgling into the murky depths.
This was not always the case, however. I’ve always been a tea drinker; still am – I think it’s probably written deep within my genome or something. I’m a bit pernickety about tea too actually, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is I’ve always loved coffee – its rich, heady aroma, its intoxicating taste, redolent of exotic, distant lands. The problem was that it was all rather unrequited. I’ve always loved coffee… coffee just didn’t love me. It never even gave me a second look. Two sniffs of a cup of Nescafé Gold Blend and I was buzzing around the place like some kind of hummingbird. The merest sip from a steaming mug of Maxwell House and I could forget about any notion of getting to sleep for at least twenty-four hours. Not to mention the nausea. So I wouldn’t drink it. I’d gaze longingly through the tinted windows of coffee houses as I ambled past, glum in the knowledge that I could only ever order a hot chocolate, or perhaps a cup of hot water with a forlorn-looking Earl Grey teabag dangling over the side on a piece of string wound round the handle a couple of times. Something had to be done.
And then someone at work bought a coffee machine for the office! It’s a compact little contraption with a rather alluring matt red finish, and it churns out cups of espresso at the press of a button, more-or-less. Connoisseurs would no doubt baulk at the idea of using one of these gizmos, but it appears to have been a decent enough place for me to start. A colleague convinced me that I should attempt to wean myself on to drinking the good stuff, working my way through varying intensities of decaff, then on to the milder, full-caff blends and so on, gradually building up my tolerance over a month or so. And it worked. That’s to say I still struggle with the rather tiresome insomniac effect (if that’s not too much of an oxymoron) of drinking coffee after around midday, but I’ve definitely transcended that whole woozy-headed, pseudo-drunkenness that plagued me, erstwhile.
I don’t use the espresso machine so much anymore, although I do have one of my own now, which I utilise at weekends mostly. Instead I’ve inadvertently established a routine that sees me arriving for work about 40 minutes early each morning (Chiltern trains permitting), and calling in to a local, independent coffee shop called Saint Kitchen on Birmingham’s leafy St. Paul’s Square, to sit and read before heading to the office. So, I’ve tried the chains, you know – the ubiquitous Starbucks and Costa and so on, and I have to say, the coffee they serve doesn’t hold a candle to this unassuming little indie. I’ve drunk cappuccinos at all of these places (espressos are still a little too fierce for me, first thing), and at my new watering hole it’s a different drink. Completely different. I don’t know how you make a cappuccino, nor do I know how or why it should be different from one place to the next; I know there’s a lot more to it than pouring hot water over a spoonful of freeze-dried, instant coffee granules, but that’s the extent of my knowledge of the subject. But where Starbucks gives you something that tastes decent enough, Saints serves up something altogether more rich, complex and smooth. It really is notably different. And you never get offered the old chocolate sprinkles… I never really got that, to be honest. It’s now my mission to extend my experience and try a few different drinks, and I think Saints will provide a benchmark by which other establishments will be assessed!
Oh, and the food there is knock-out!