CoffeeBeer >> Double Shot Buzz >> Previous Coffee Columns >> 3 Cafe Neros

Back Buzz - May 5, 2008

pumping heartCaffe Nero, 277-279 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

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Caffe Nero, St Paul's Place, 121 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

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Caffe Nero, 160-162 Union Street, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Nearly a year later I've finally just about run out of cafes to write about from my Summer 2007 travels. Since I've been spending all of my recent time slaving away at a low paying, physically demanding, and mentally unrewarding job, I simply haven't had the time, energy, or finances to check out new local coffeehouses. So I think this month I'll catch up on my favourite UK coffee chain, Caffe Nero.

Having been first introduced several years ago to Caffe Nero in Manchester, and then again in London and in Leicester, I was very pleased when the coffee company finally moved into Sheffield. The Caffe Nero in Ecclesall Road is close to the university where I work. I had my first chance to try it when I was working on a temporary full-time project two summers ago, and once a week I and my workmates would make a coffee run. As Caffe Nero and the Ecclesall Road Starbucks are equidistant from the campus we had to compromise, as two of us preferred Starbucks' chocolately mochas and two of us (including moi) preferred Caffe Nero's double espresso macchiatos. On the days when the coin toss was in Nero's favour I would find myself salivating as the coffee break neared.

At Caffe Nero they make a satisfying take-away macchiato most of the time. Yes, most of the time; at last I can justifiably use my Seattle barista yardstick which takes into account the tamping, dispensing, and milk-foaming abilities of a particular barista. Like pub workers who dispense cask ale from handpumps, some baristas just have it and some don't. It's nature.

This particular Caffe Nero seems to employ quite a few young Continentals which somehow validates the authenticity of the espresso. I know that's silly of me to say, as those accents I detect are more likely to be German, Polish, or Scandinavian rather than dark-roast Italian or French. But just humour me for now, as I'm in a strange and exhausted mood.

Although much like all the other Caffe Neros on the inside, this Nero offers a nice front patio where you can sit and watch the passing traffic on Ecclesall Road, including vehicles travelling between town and Hunter's Bar and the pedestrian throng made up of students, university staff, local workers, local residents, and shoppers with plenty of disposable income.

Meanwhile in town is Sheffield's second Caffe Nero. Located in the pedestrian Millennium Square by the Peace Garden near the Winter Garden and MacDonald St Paul's Hotel, this Nero's immediate neighbours include Caffe Rouge and Piccolino Restaurant. Because my one experience getting a macchiato to go from this Nero was not a good one, I only visit this Nero if the weather is good and I have time to sit outside and sip my macchiato from a proper cup while being mesmerised by the Peace Garden's fountains. Mind you, there are plenty of pedestrians to watch as well, but I'm usually so exhausted from working all day that I can only really take in the sound of water smashing onto the pavement.

Last summer I visited the most northerly Caffe Nero, located in the heart of Aberdeen. I had just debarked the overnight ferry from Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands with my friends Ali and Marion, and at 7:00am we found ourselves sleepily hailing a taxi to our hostel. Dropping off our bags we headed up Queens Road past churches and gray granite buildings onto the main drag of Union Street. Little did I realise, in my sleep-and-caffeine-deprived state, that Union Street is actually a viaduct supported by granite arches. Constructed in the early 17th century, it was a major engineering feat of its time.

And propelling myself down Union Street past shops and cafes that wouldn't open for another two hours was a major locomotive feat on my part. When I spotted the Caffe Nero across the street, I began whimpering with excitement like a carbound dog riding past a spot of green. "THERE! THERE!" I barked, and we crossed the deserted road only to discover my caffeine saviour was closed. As I searched through my backpack for a knife to slash my wrists the door opened: it was 7:58, but the wonderful woman decided to let us in 2 minutes early.

Inside I ordered a double macchiato and a croissant. I can't recall what Ali and Marion ordered because I was delirious by then. I do recall that this is the largest Nero I've visited. We sat in the corner by the play area where, after finishing my croissant, I amused myself playing with the toy till, punching the buttons and making the bells ding. My macchiato was a life saver, a typically smooth and hot Nero jolt that rescued me from lethargy. I think Ali and Marion concurred. Fuelled by our Nero break we headed off further down the viaduct in search of Beach Boulevard and the seafront. The sun was warm and the sand was dotted with pretty shells and bits of glass, along with a few washed-up moon jellyfish. And the whole blissful day lay ahead of us, thanks to Caffe Nero.

Speaking of exhaustion reminds me of a recent e-mail exchange with a workmate:

You're probably laughing because you're still on your 3-day holiday and, as of this afternoon, I'm not. Ah, well, when it was offered I volunteered to work 3 hours on this Bank Holiday afternoon. So this morning is the End Of My Weekend. Which is a bit confusing, because I'm having my second cup of coffee when I should be asleep in the middle of the night, if I'm starting at 1:00pm which should really be 9:30am. It'll all lead to some sort of jet lag... But at least you won't be getting up in the dark. Brrrr...

Remember Concorde? Of course you do, you're not five years old. Used to be able to get to set off from London at, say, 9:30am and arrive in New York at 9:30am. Think of the sleeping you could get done with an arrangement like that. True, you'd have to go back at some point in order to repeat the process. Unless you kept heading west. I could arrive in Honolulu at 9:30am too... Ah... But then on the next leg the international date line rears its bevelled head and that's when things get really confusing. Or "really confusing". Whichever is funnier. I think quotes are inherently funnier. How about Really Confusing? Because I land in Taiwan at 9:30am tomorrow morning, and now, suddenly, from having spent no time at all sleeping, I find I've been in bed a whole day. Still. Let's keep going. Stop off at Tehran, 9:30am, and then on to Finningley in time for breakfast. Well ok, I've lost a day, but at least I've had a really good sleep. Mind you, I could've just spent that day in bed at home and saved myself umpty-trillion quid. In the process of switching my mornings and afternoons, will the water drain down the bathtub drain in the opposite direction? It will drain upwards. I'd stay clear of the water fountain. Will I become left-handed and right-footed? Will I temporarily call myself CJ? We could call you CJ. You didn't get where you are today without people calling you CJ whenever you switched your mornings and afternoons. It would be super... [...risks cultural reference hitting iceberg mid-way across]. Will I walk on my hands to work and drop the Textbook of Pain on my head? You're going to have to eventually. Your feet've only got so much wear in them. Heh. That one is particularly likely, I fear.