Monday, 1 August 2011

The Land of the Three quid brew

I’m not happy.

Was there a meeting a few years ago, somewhere in Britain, where we all agreed to move from the ubiquitous, ‘brew’ to a complex variety of hot beverages?

I stopped at the services near Lancaster on my way up to a meeting a few weeks ago. I was a bit parched and therefore gagging for a brew. Just a brew, tea or coffee, that’d be fine. Unfortunately I was greeted by a barista serving behind the counter of one of the big chains which have colonised the country. I often wonder if the coffee companies have pulled a fast one on their employees, by making their job title sound like they’re high flying lawyers, whilst paying them buttons.

With the pressure of a small queue behind me, I was forced to try and process the choices available to me before making a decision. With the hot and cold drinks on offer, plus their selectable sizes, there were over 50 permutations of a ‘cuppa’. You could times this by 3 if you’re fussy about your milk.
I know things have changed and I’m a divvy for expecting simplicity, but 150 choices at a brew counter is more than I need. Like the express lane at a supermarket, can’t they have a booth for Luddites like me, labelled, ‘Brew only’
At the Brew Only booth there will be someone like this waiting to serve you.

She won’t use Italian words to ask you how big you want your brew. She won’t give you a choice about milk. She won’t try and flog you a croissant or flapjack. She won’t even smile at you. You won’t even know if you’re going to get tea or coffee. Whatever she could be arsed to make is what you’ll be getting. If you ask her if there’s any semi-skimmed milk around, she’ll put her fag out in your eye. There’s only two sizes, cup or mug. Try any of that, ‘Primo’ ‘Medio’ ‘Massimo’ nonsense and you’ll get a molten teaspoon to the neck.

It all seems a bit medieval, I know, but until that meeting, sometime in the early 90s, that I wasn’t invited to attend, that was the hot beverage experience for us all. The baristas were known as brew blokes or brew ladies and the only garnish you could expect on the top of your cuppa was a bit of cig ash. What happened? A brew never used to cost the same amount of money as the food you had with it!

There’s a real danger that I’m going to become a person that I used to laugh at. The only people that seem to have it sussed are the ones that sit in the car park on wobbly, plastic furniture, necking tea out of a thermos. Yes, they look a bit daft, defiantly perched in a parking space as far away from the building as possible, but they’re just having a brew and no one’s going to make them shriek with a receipt that should be enough to procure a Full English.


  1. what ever happend to the great britsh brew..we have been taken over by fat cat american meathead who lives in seattle washington .who thrust upon us so called hot bevarages mocka focka an all the rest of these overpriced version of hot choclate. worst of all we lap it up like we really enjoy being ripped off.. so next time you walk past a starbucks an you see someone sat in the window .just think to yourself ..ah theres a peacock ..paying £3 just to be seen in a starbucks... the brew ...a mug with worlds best mum on it...scalding water...1 tetly t bag..bit ov milk..1 spoon of suger optional..mix together..THE GREAT BRITSH BREW all for about 17p

  2. At that meeting,they also decided to change the sizing on fashionable shirts and t-shirts, to slim fit ensuring middle aged men who chose beer and cigs, as opposed to crunchies and dips could no longer buy into the world of fashion, you have to buy xxxl now to get it over even the slightly portly of frames, resulting in having a t-shirt that most size 14 women could use as a dress.

  3. The great corporate brew takeover has been happening for years and not just in Europe. I have the fortune to live close enough to the US to occasionally see the hords descend from Cruise ships on an eight hour duty free orgy. Some days, there are six cruise ships in the bay discorging passengers onto fleets of tenders making it reminiscent of 'Saving Private Ryan' only in loud shirts and white socks pulled up to the knees.
    The throng descend on the local town which is probably not that much bigger than Nantwich and just as frustrating to travel through. The foray into the foreign land is undertaken, their cultural curiosity is soon satisfied and their price level for duty free Breitlings do not match the same level that of the Romanian watch sales persons. It is time for them to seek comfort and familiarity. Somewhere that can be related to, something to recognize and something that they know will rip them off but it's ok, the rip off happens back home so it is all good and familiar. The 'Cafe Sol' is entered and the menu is studied. Ice Coffee, Ice Tea, moccachinos, Frappes, Cappuchinos, Lattes, extra light, extra shot ... the sensory overload is already slowing them down. The menu is great but the comfort level would just be maxed out if they could do something like they did at home. So, something not appearing on the menu which leaves the Phillipino staff scratching their head. An almost near substitute is offered and accepted much to the relief of the line gathering behind the US Tourist. One of the line, tutting heavily happens to be a Brit with a heavy workload and this is the only break he is having today. The disdain is expressed in a series of huffs, tutts and the occasional, under the breath profanity of 'for fucks sake'.
    Eventually, I get my five minutes of fame. It is now my time to show to the world how I can negotiate and revel through the corporate coffee take over and pretend that I am not getting ripped off, in fact, I am a connoisseur.
    I ask the fancily titled 'Barista' for a 'Pedro Moccachino extra light'. She looks on the menu, it ain't there. She rattles off in Tagalog to the other 'Baristas' who equally, scratch their heads and wonder if it is something that the sales rep left and it is still under the counter. The Barista returns 'Sir what is in it?'
    'Well, it is coffee, hot water and stirred up in a drinking cup'.
    An excited discussion begins in Tagalog, followed by some tutting, huffing and regional US Accents commenting on service behind me.
    Things ain't going so good in the consumer world but my blow against the Corporate Big boys is just Kicking off!
    The Barista returns. 'So you just want a coffee?'
    'Yep, I just couldn't see it on the menu so I thought we had to make something up until you guessed what we wanted'.
    The coffee was served in quick time. The aim is to get me out of the line and let the sublimely influenced carry on.
    The beauty about it now, I still ask for something apocryphal and made up. The same girl just pours a fresh coffee, smiles and lets me leave the line. The service is super quick and a smile is always there at the guy who dares to give it back to 'los Bastidos' and makes her day on a minimum wage a little bearable.
    Behind me, as I stir my half and half at the 'condiment station' or something equally as banal, I hear the Louisiana drawl 'Yep ... give me one of those Pete Moccachinos, I'm gonna try something new ...'
    In the end, the small revolution continues. I sit here on the blog and continue the momentum. I still pay the equivalent of a Pint of Guinness in a local Uk bar for the 'El Pedro Moccachino' also known as a brew.
    Somehow though, by not conforming, it feels better!

  4. The meeting went a lot further than people think. I am not the sort of guy to sit here with several theories on how the man on the grassy knoll could have taken the shot, or sit here with a foil hat on to stop the mother ship sending me coded messages.
    I am the sort of guy that thinks, notices stuff that changes over the years and will probably end up in some sort of 'Waco style' siege in the arse end of Hicksville, Tennessee with only my heavily armed disciples to rely on.
    Seriously though, it will probably have me talking about the benefits of roof top sniping as there is some sort of agreed plan. Everything must shrink. Whilst I understand that economically, belts must be tightened and those littel extras cut back.
    I left the UK six years ago at the height of the 'Cool Brittania' period. Whilst this didn't really make me feel any different, the economy and money flowed apparently. What I do remember is making a four hour motor journey in the UK and occasionally stopping at those oasis's in the distance, normally identifiable by a Confederate flag. As I draw nearer I can see the serving hatch of the small trailer and the 'A1 ACE BURGERS' Sign. Only seconds later, the fried onions can be smelt. The line up is tight, well ordered like it always is in the UK. Quiet, orderly, expectant and non judgmental. This could be any situation, Dunkirk 1940, The battle of the Somme 1916 waiting for a sausage bap or even waiting to score crack down some urine soaked alleyway.
    It is only when you get served that the change is noticed. Suddenly, the conspiracy got real. Now the ammunition is needed and the end of days has arrived. The Mayans were right all along. Although the Calendar should have stated that in a certain time, about six years ago, six rashers of bacon would be in a floury bap leaving the customer fed all day at least. The 'bun' would be large enough to wear to keep the rain off and reminiscent of an old episode of the Goodies featuring Black Puddings.
    It would be a two man lift just to get it out of the bag. The bag would be dripping with grease and a scalding sugary brew would come with it. for less than Three quid.
    To be frank, it would be good value and an individual service that could not be replicated by any chain or corporate, faceless organisation.
    I remember a story years ago of a converted 52 seater bus parked on the A1 and used as a layby cafe. A guy gets on and asks for a coffee. The owner tells him that he has just ran out of milk and to sit down whilst he sorts it out. The customer sits down and the hiss off the door is sounded, the roar of the diesels are heard as the owner drives the 'caf' into Huntingdon, gets some milk at Tescos and returns up the A1 to the exact layby then makes a brew. That is dedication. That is service.
    That is not reducing the floury baps to the size of digestive biscuits and cutting half a rasher in half as some poor substitute as a bacon sandwich.
    The day of reckoning will arrive, I just have to work out where the Mayans wanted me to meet the Mother ship!
    Pete Sugden