CoffeeBeer >> Double Shot Buzz >> Previous Coffee Columns >> Spoilt For Choice

Back Buzz - June 25, 2006

pumping heart Spoilt For Choice, 432 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Before I start this month's column I've got to get on my soapbox for a minute. I've just read that Costa Coffee is expanding. With 450 outlets already in the UK and 100 cafes overseas, Costa is planning to open 300 stores in China over the next 5 years, competing with Starbucks' 150 Chinese outlets. All I can do is wish them the best and hope that, as happened with Starbucks, this global expansion doesn't cause the quality of their coffee drinks to plummet. I'm not saying that Starbucks' coffee itself is any poorer than it used to be. But when it's nearly impossible to get a real non-caramel espresso macchiato in the oh-so-trendily "global" jazz-infused Starbucks cafes of today, it makes me pine for the old Seattle days when Starbucks was actually an option for people who like proper espresso drinks. So please be careful, Costa.

Besides, are the Chinese really that much into coffee? I thought their status as a tea-consuming nation went back centuries. Ah, well, what do I know?

Back to Sheffield. I first learned about Spoilt For Choice when I was working on the Sheffield Flood of 1864 project on the nearby Hallam University Collegiate Crescent campus. As this was rather intense, detailed work, my workmate Shelley and I would occasionally became caffeine-desperate. As an alternative to the stomach-gurgling push-button dross that was available within a short walking distance, one afternoon I decided to take a longer sojourn down Ecclesall Road to try Spoilt For Choice. The cappuccinos I brought back for us were refreshingly real and drinkable.

I returned recently to have a sit-down espresso. As I walked inside the cafe a young Sandra Bullock look-alike took my order. I sat at the window counter with a view across the street of the Berkeley Centre, featuring Tesco Metro, Labour Ready, Blockbuster Video, and Pizza Hut. There are also two small tables inside and four tiny tables on the front patio.

My double macchiato got marks for a gorgeous presentation, served in a pretty white Italian macchiato cup with a demitasse spoon and two sleeves of brown sugar (even though Sandra had asked if I wanted sugar and I'd said no -- ah, well, it's always better safe than sorry). And a glass of ice water came with the drink, which is always a nice touch. There was that pretty Sheffield-style doughnut of a rosette around the rim of my milk foam. The coffee itself, Segafredo Zanetti, is a bit too smooth for my liking, especially as I had a desperate need for strong bitter caffeine after a day at my current job, spending 5 hours bending, stooping, stretching and sprawling on the floor wrestling with dirty books and filthy journals. And I don't mean "smutty" -- I mean dusty and grimy and covered with so much dirt I can't believe the coal-black water that rinses off my hands when I wash them.

But back to the coffee. This was a very attractive and properly made macchiato, but it could just use just a bit more OOMPH!! My own personal physical fatigue combined with lack of sleep, a late night ahead of me, and way way way too much stress at the moment was making me desperate for OOMPH!! Hmm, since Ecclesall Road offers many trendy shops and cafes I wonder if there's an OOMPH!! dealer nearby... OOMPH!! "R" Us, perhaps? I mean, I don't mind paying top price for my OOMPH!! as long as it delivers.

The cafe also serves reasonably priced hot and cold sandwiches, all day breakfast, jacket potatoes, soups and salads, and homemade chicken fillet dishes. The colour scheme of the cafe is unique, with a very strange rich chartreuse door and medium avocado green walls, reminiscent of squashed caterpillars. As I finished my drink it started to rain lightly again, and I thought perhaps I'd stroll through the nearby Botanic Gardens on my way home, take in the Southern California landscape nostalgia housed in the Victorian greenhouses, and maybe take a quick roll on the grass in search of squashed caterpillar greens and grass stains.

Speaking of my current working days reminds me of a recent e-mail exchange with my Bay Area friend:

Just a brief report on the first week of my job of Shelver (or Lipstick Librarian, as my friend Kimmer has dubbed me). It's surprisingly tiring, I suppose because after the 30-minute walk to the library I then spend the hours hauling heavy tomes around, adjusting and rearranging impressively disorderly rows of books, reaching up to the high shelves and squatting down, sitting on the floor, to reach the low shelves - and then I make the 30-minute mostly uphill walk back home. It's impressive how messy and disorderly these students are. I'm finding that the philosophy students are the most orderly, while those studying to be teachers are abhorrently messy.

I most enjoy my first quiet hour in the morning, before the students start crowding themselves into the aisles - usually groups of 4 to 6 women sitting on the floor, taking up the entire aisle as they pull books willy-nilly from the shelves. The other morning I started off in an aisle which was appalling. We're supposed to try to get as many books back on the shelves as we can, balancing this task with tidying up and reorganising the shelves so that people can find what they're looking for. But this particular aisle needed about a half hour's work moving books around and into their proper places before I could even hope to shelve the books I had in some semblance of a proper spot. I couldn't believe it -- it was like a library aisle for dyslexics and dyscalcics - and then I broke out laughing when I read the subject of one of the books: Numeracy for Students. Moving on through my morning, my bus-accident-injured hips started feeling very sore from all the bending and stooping and stretching and lifting - and I realised I was in the Pain Management section. I continued on through the Treating Back Pain section, becoming just a bit worried when I found myself in the Cardiovascular Rehabilitation section. My final aisle of the morning was appalling, with piles of open books scattered all over the floor, candy bar wrappers and empty Evian bottles stuck in the shelves, and entire numerical sections out of order. It was like a bibliophile's nightmare. Then I noticed where I was: Abnormal Psychology.

The next morning, with renewed energy, self-discipline, and determination, I started off in Policing and Punishment. By the end of the morning - the end of my first week - I was in Dementia. That's funny. I hope that the physical effort doesn't aggravate your pelvic pain too much. Maybe you'll find some relief when you work your way to the Pumping Iron section. Better yet, in Levitation Practice -- that should take the stress off. I hope that when you make your way at the end of the day to the Oenology and Zymurgy shelves you'll find a fresh cask ale or a well aged wine.