Its inescapable. Around central London, there are Starbucks coffee shops everywhere. But for a coffee snob like me, do they make the grade? And how do rival chains fare?
Within a few weeks of arriving in London, I was meeting a friend at a pub. He said it's across the road from a Starbucks. Neither of us realised that using a Starbucks as a reference point in London was a really bad idea. The confusion arose as the Starbucks he meant was another 100m down the road.
Coming from Australia, this was a complete surprise. Whilst Starbucks did enter the market about 5 years ago, they are in no way on every street corner. Partly this is because other chains (like Gloria Jeans) had already established a pretty healthy presence in the major cities (Sydney, Melbourne & Brisbane). And partly because the café scene in Sydney had reached a turning point around the same time with the explosion of small coffee shops and coffee carts. (And more recently coffee vans doing circuits around business districts).
I for one was not disappointed by this development, because the Starbucks coffee in Australia was horrible. Any form of espresso based coffee drink should leave a pleasant after taste; after a Starbucks drink in Sydney, I wanted to wash my mouth out to get rid of the aftertaste.
However since arriving here, I have had to bow to the cravings inside me and go to Starbucks for a coffee, as often there has been no alternative. To my surprise, the Starbucks in London is much better than that in Sydney (But still not brilliant). They must use a different blend, although on inspection their beans are still over-roasted (They are almost black-burnt in appearance).
And so again today I went into Starbucks, and ordered a macchiato with some milk, no foam. (This is the best way I can describe what I like - I haven't found a standard name for it yet. It usually involves gesturing with my hand to indicate I only want to very small amount of milk. Even though in Starbucks the smallest size is "Tall".)
Much to my surprise the coffee was very pleasant. It was exactly like I ordered it, wasn't too bitter - which means it wasn't over extracted as usual, and had a very pleasing after taste. Now it could be that I have set my expectations sufficiently low that I was surprised by this outcome, and maybe I got lucky with the Barista on duty; the only way to find out is go back tomorrow.
Like in Australia, I have found the other established chains more palatable. In London, that alternative seems to be "Costa" which makes all sorts of claims about being of Italian origin. Surprisingly, the coffee doesn't usually disappoint, so I usually go for them over Starbucks or anyone else.
But after today I might be using Starbucks as more than just a toilet stop…
Categories: :InLondon: :Coffee: