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Back Buzz - May 27, 2002

[pumping heart] Freya's Coffee Experience, 760 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield S11, South Yorkshire

Eternally jammed with traffic, Ecclesall Road offers a wide assortment of trendy cafes, upmarket boutiques, and shops offering nonessential items only the disgustingly overpaid could deem essential to life. One would naturally expect a setting this rich in expendable income and car exhaust to be a virtual breeding ground for coffeehouses and espresso bars. There are quite a few -- mostly called Café This and Caffé That -- and many have signs proclaiming expertise in everything having to do with coffee. So why is it so difficult to find a place that actually sells coffee beans?

I know, I'm supposed to be reviewing cafes and the drinks they sell, not their retail practices. Still, if anybody who knows Sheffield can tell me where I can purchase gourmet coffee beans without having to go to Whittard's or Pollard's in the City Centre, I would be extremely grateful.

Which brings me back to Freya's Coffee Experience. (Now, with a name like that, wouldn't you think you could buy some coffee beans here? Okay, okay, I'll stop whinging for the moment...)

Freya's is a small sunny cafe which serves coffee drinks, sandwiches, hot snacks, salads, and pastries. The decor is sparse and high-tech with wiry chairs and tables and vases bursting with arrangements of dead stems. The walls are tastefully adorned with modern art and pleasing sconces that do not interfere with the dead-stem motif. Dead Leaf Decor, I would call it -- definitely the place to have a cappuccino on a windy autumn day.

Of the four of us who stopped in for an afternoon pick-me-up, three of us had double macchiatos which were served in nice white china cups. Sadly the drinks were big enough to be double cappuccinos. It wasn't that there was too much milk for espresso macchiatos; I suspect too much water was used for each shot. Rory's latte was massive, with well over a cup of liquid served in a tall glass. He enjoyed it, nevertheless, as did we our so-called macchiatos. Although a bit weak the coffee itself isn't bad, with a smooth taste and a nice bitter edge. There's something a bit odd about the flavour, something I couldn't quite put my finger on...perhaps it's the dead leaves.

So what's with the "Coffee Experience", anyway? Certainly the barista seemed experienced enough; she didn't blink an eye when we asked for double macchiatos. But why advertise a coffee experience if it isn't going to be a memorable one? Imagine the anticipation on entering a place named "Freya's Coffee Experience". Will you be greeted by a dredlocked woman in a long flowing tie-dye gown who offers to make you a Magic Latte? Will there be a light show of dead leaves oozing across the walls and ceiling, accentuated by the smell of patchouli? And over there in the corner -- is that the ghost of Jimi Hendrix munching on a prawn sandwich?

'Scuse me while I kiss this dead leaf...

Speaking of art on the walls, the following is a brief e-mail exchange between me and my Bay Area friend from four years ago:

I heard this morning that Jack Lord, star of "Hawaii Five-O", died at age 77 in Hawaii. It was heart-related.

Did you know that he was also an artist, and that his works hang in some prestigious galleries?

I wonder if, perhaps after he has finished with the rigors of the presidency, Bill Clinton's "works" will be subpoenaed to appear during the investigation of the mounting number of sex-related accusations against him. I wonder if any artist -- a sculptor, more likely -- has dedicated his ( -- yes, I suppose it would be his) life's work to sculpting male genitals? Then he could have his works hung in galleries. Depending on how famous his works became, they could be hung in galleries all around the world.

But wait a minute! Do you remember Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party back in the 1970s? I got to see the exhibit at the Dayton Art Institute. A large room was full of long tables which zigzagged across the room. On the tables were place settings with plates, glasses, and cutlery -- I forget just how many there were, but perhaps 50 or so -- which were sculpted by Chicago and which all looked like female genitalia.

So I suppose we could say that Judy Chicago has displayed her "works" in galleries around the world, too.

...and speaking of nonstandard plants as a form of art, here's another short exchange from later the same year:

I just received a travel e-mail about a package deal to Las Vegas, and it includes this little blurb:

"While you're there, be sure to visit: ETHEL M CHOCOLATES FACTORY & CACTUS GARDEN: Self-guided tours show every step of candy-making process. Free samples. Browse the shops and explore the 2.5-acre cactus garden. Free admission. Open 7 days, 8:30am-7pm. 2 Cactus Garden Dr. (Corner of Sunset and Mountain Vista), Henderson, NV 89014. For more information: (702) 433-2500."

So what do cacti and liquor-filled chocolates have to do with each other? Were we missing a whole side of the Ethel M experience when we used to indulge in her chocolates at work? I envision a tall long-needled saguaro blooming with truffles.

But in the 100-degree dry heat they would melt and dribble onto the sand.