CoffeeBeer >> Double Shot Buzz >> Previous Coffee Columns >> More Motorway Coffee
Yes, once again I have disappeared for several weeks and I apologise. It's not laziness on my part, or lack of inspiration. Since I moved to Sheffield I became totally reinspired about coffee, with so many new opportunities for sitting and having an espresso or macchiato or cappuccino in a pleasant, friendly, and cosmopolitan setting just a few miles from the most beautiful countryside in the world. No, it wasn't that at all. It's just that I've, well, er, um, I've moved back to the States temporarily.
Not that I wanted to...it was a necessary inconvenience. But I will be back in Sheffield just as soon as I can arrange it, which hopefully will be as soon as is humanly possible. In the meantime I'm stuck in -- er, I mean staying in Southern California, in the Los Angeles area. And while I'm here I'll write about not only Southern California coffeehouses but also perhaps one or two in the Bay Area and maybe even Seattle -- hell, possibly even Chicago.
But this month, seeing as how I'm sort of camping out and on the move, I thought I'd write about more English coffee-on-the-move, namely the sort you find in motorway services. So this is Part III of my Motorway Services Caffeine Survey.
Not long ago when my partner and I were attempting to move to Sheffield we stopped at the M1 Welcome Break Services just south of Sheffield. We were excited to see La Brioche Doree, not only because of the French name but because of the French bakery-related name. C'est la place! we thought to ourselves as we walked from the car; we could already hear the burr grinder preparing the freshly roasted beans as we imagined the steamer arm on the classic Gaggia whipping up the milk. But alas: our dreams quickly disintegrated like so much milk foam as we were served instant espressos squidged from a pushbutton machine. Our espressos were a tad better than the instant coffee weakened with oceans of milk which had accompanied our B&B breakfast that morning. Still these espressos were rather nasty-tasting, providing no sense of enjoyment except for the caffeine rush. But caffeine is not what espresso is supposed to be about! Sure, it's nice to get a caffeine rush now and again, or even regularly, if you're so inclined. But if your intention is to get drunk, you'd rather do it drinking fine French wine, wouldn't you? And if you're ravenous, it's a far better thing to satiate your hunger with a pleasant dining experience rather than a quickly-wolfed McDonald's Happy Meal. I couldn't help noticing the "Egon Ronay "Recommended" sign on the wall. All I can figure is it must be for the food...
On another motorway trip, as we headed up the A1(M) we had no choice but to stop at the McDonald's Extra services in Hadden just outside of Peterborough. Inside we found Le Malongo Cafe which seemed promising. A sign advertised Rombaud's coffee, which is not necessarily a bad thing. So we ordered two double macchiatos. They turned out to be way too hot, actually burnt, but not terribly bad for what I've come to expect of motorway espresso, and at least they were real espressos and not instant.
I think I'll start using the term "real espresso" to mean "fresh ground beans put through a Gaggia or similar" as opposed to "instant vending-machine pseudoespresso". Since I also write about "real ale" it makes sense I should write about "real espresso". To Le Malongo's credit the woman who served us showed a bit of savvy: she had no problem with comprehension when I said "double macchiatos", and she commented on my hand-painted cappuccino-cup earrings.
On one long, gruelling road trip from the South up to Manchester we'd been driving all day and were still an hour from our destination. It was dark and rainy and we were both very tired. Suddenly my glazed-eyed driving companion, inspired by all the TIRED KILLS - TAKE A BREAK signs, suddenly pulled off into the Sandbach Motorway Services for an emergency coffee. Most English motorway service areas feature not only petrol stations and overnight car parks but usually a Burger King, a McDonald's, and/or a Little Chef. And, of course, at the better ones you can often find what promises to be a rather mediocre espresso cafe. Imagine our delight when we saw not only a sign for Wimpy Burger (far superior to McDonald's and Burger King) but also a sign for Costa Cuore d'Italia, evidence of the best English espresso company I've encountered so far. Our perfectly made macchiatos were manna from heaven, reviving us enough to battle the hideously confusing Manchester traffic into the northeastern suburb of Oldham and out onto the Saddleworth Moor. This was a quick but delicious espresso experience, the best by a million miles of any motorway coffee I've ever had. Hey, just remember Tired Kills! So take a break! We did.
Speaking of spending hours on the motorway with all those "Soft Verge" and "Slow Lorries" signs, I'm reminded of an e-mail exchange from a couple years ago with my Bay Area friend after he returned from a holiday in Costa Rica: