CoffeeBeer >> Double Shot Buzz >> Previous Coffee Columns >> Caffe Nero
Part of the pleasure of spending a day in London is knowing you can always find a place to enjoy an espresso. This isn't so easy in Kent or Sussex -- in fact, it's downright impossible in some areas. But London is where the Western coffeehouse tradition began in the late 17th century, where news was gathered and distributed. By the 19th century London's coffeehouses had become social centres for the upper classes, leaving the pubs to the working class. As the popularity of tea began to rise, tearooms flourished while the number of coffeehouses diminished, leaving Soho as the focal point of London's coffeehouses.
On a recent particularly hot June day I met an exhausted American friend at Charing Cross Station. Since a pub lunch wasn't very successful at reviving Eileen or relieving her head cold, the two of us headed off in search of caffeine and found, on the corner of Brewer Street in Soho, Caffé Nero. As we entered I thought the minimalist decor of this chain coffeeshop a bit reminiscent of Seattle's coffee giants such as Starbucks (oops! Sorry!) and Tully's. But since it was way too hot to hole up in the more comfortably furnished basement, we chose to sit at the bar and ordered two double macchiatos. They were served in nice little tulip cups and the shots were wonderfully strong -- aaaah. Even a bit acrid but nevertheless refreshing, especially on a 30° C (86° F) day, with the city dripping and hot with touristy crowds, stinky phone boxes, and sticky yuck. After a lengthy chat while browsing through some snapshots we ordered iced lattes. How wonderful it is that this treat has made it to London. They needed a bit of brown sugar added -- an iced latte should be at least a little bit sweet -- but they were very pleasant and helpful in the caffeine department. And the big bulbous plastic cups they were served in made me feel as though I were sipping aliens from their spacecraft through my straw.
The Caffé Nero coffee company was started in 1990. They use predominantly Arabica coffee beans from Latin and Central America. Their golden rule for training baristas is "No crema, no serva!" Baristas undergo 3 days of intensive training before being allowed to serve an espresso, and then they're coached in a Caffé Nero shop for a week before earning the title of Barista. After another 3 months they're considered fully trained Senior Baristas. Whether this means they earn the right to wear a special badge of honour, saffron gown, or tiara I don't know; but if they can wield a mean tamp and give me a good espresso I really don't care what they're called or what they wear. If somebody wearing nothing but a grass skirt and a chicken mask can make me a perfect cappuccino, all the more power to 'em!
I won't know until 2001 is over if this particular day in London was the hottest day of the year. It certainly seemed like it to me. Looking back in the records apparently the hottest day of 2000 was in Norfolk in June, when the mercury reached 32.6° C. (For my American friends that's 90.7° F.) But the London area has set the record for the hottest days of the year in the UK in 1999, 1992, 1981, 1975, 1965, and 1961, with Camden being the most scorching place in the country in 1968 (33.3°C or 92°F), 1956, and 1957 (35.6°C or 96°F). Does this make you hot? Good! Now go get yourself a nice iced latte...
Speaking of hot days reminds me of the following e-mail exchange from three years ago between my Bay Area friend and my former Seattle self:
...and as long as I'm on the subject of misery, here's one from a few months ago about head colds: