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Back Buzz - August 7, 2002

[pumping heart] Take Five Cafe, 203 Springvale Road, Crookes, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

When I started writing this column over 5 years ago in Seattle I named it Double Shot Buzz because I knew I would be writing about espresso. This was a natural assumption in such an espresso-propelled city. In England I have continued in the same vein, and in a city like Sheffield there are plenty of espresso cafes to write about.

But there are two distinctly different impetuses which are likely to propel a coffee lover toward a public caffeine experience. The first one, of course, is aesthetic: the desire to sit in a cafe and sip a nice cappuccino or latte or macchiato while chatting with friends, reading the newspaper or a good book, typing away on a laptop, or perhaps writing or sketching or simply cogitating behind a pair of designer sunglasses. This can happen any time of the day or night.

The second impetus has to do with hunger, i.e. the search for breakfast. Naturally a well-made cappuccino goes perfectly well with an omelette or a croissant. But a good cup of coffee is also quite suitable with the first meal of the day. The UK is full of cafes where one can get anything from toast to a full English breakfast, but espresso machines are very rare in these establishments. So the coffee drinker usually has to settle for a large mug of sometimes adequate but never particularly exciting coffee.

That's why I wanted to write about Take Five. Located on a busy corner in Crookes -- across from the Springvale Cask Ale House and next to Indian and Chinese takeaways, a Balti house, and a French restaurant -- Take Five rises far above the average English breakfast-and-lunch cafe. For one thing the atmosphere is very Continental, with a yellow and green colour scheme and large windows looking out onto a view across the hills, and on the window ledge are the latest editions of Le Monde and various design and architecture journals. This is actually a very pleasant place to sit and spend some time, as opposed to your average eat-it-and-beat-it greasy spoon. The food is surprisingly good as well, thanks to the talents of Chef Graham whose culinary creations are far superior to anything you'd expect to find in a simple cafe. Graham, who has cooked for the likes of Pavarotti and Robbie Williams, obviously loves to cook, and if you're lucky -- or unlucky, depending on your appreciation and tolerance of harmonic discordancy -- you might hear him singing away in the kitchen.

A good breakfast deserves a good cup of coffee, and owner Brendan has gone to the effort of obtaining decent ground coffee for his cafetiéres. Two varieties are available: the smooth Java and the strong, dark-roasted Continental, both from Coopers of Yorkshire. Since my dream of being able to sit and drink a properly-made macchiato in Walkley or Crookes seems elusive at this point, knowing I can get a decent cup of coffee is the next best thing. Brendan has no plans at this point for a proper espresso machine at Take Five, preferring to concentrate on providing quality food for his customers. The breakfasts range in price from £3.00 for the Small (Regular or Vegetarian) to £5.00 for the Yorkshire. Also available are omelettes, jackets, sandwiches, burgers, and Provencette hot toasted baguettes.

The building which houses Take Five dates from the 17th century. During the Blitz it was damaged but survived, unlike the neighbouring Springvale House, on which site currently sits the Anglo Petrol Station. Members of the eighties band Human League once lived in a flat above the cafe, and it's been reported that one of them still owes a bit of rent.

Speaking of freeloaders and coffee reminds me of an e-mail exchange from a few years ago with my Bay Area friend:

Do raccoons prefer dark roast coffee?

They must roam a wide territory, because it doesn't happen every week; but now and then at night I hear the hollow percussion of my plastic trash can hitting the ground, and I know that a raccoon is searching for a midnight snack. I usually go out, chase the critter away, and anchor the can with a concrete block. But one night they came after I was asleep. When I left the house the next morning I found the trashcan overturned, but not much of the contents disrupted. The visitor ignored the vegetable trimmings and the rotting bits of Friskies (probably a wise decision). But outside the can was an upright coffee filter with only a few traces of grounds. (Peet's Java, I believe it was.)

When I dispose of the filters I am careful to avoid overturning them. (I don't like ground settling to the bottom of the bag and possibly leaking out.) So this raccoon had apparently devoured a serving of used coffee grounds. What do they get out of it? Would they be happier with a fresh-brewed espresso? Perhaps they're depressed over the fact that the owner of the vineyard next door installed a short electric fence to keep the raccoons from helping themselves to the harvest. Perhaps the raccoon had a big night ahead, so he or she went for the most immediate source of energy. Perhaps it was a group of raccoons who wanted to brainstorm a plan to break into the vineyard, and they thought caffeine would help more than old food.

Or perhaps, like Alcoholics Anonymous members who drink gallons of coffee at each meeting, the raccoons were depressed that the wine grapes are now off-limits and so they went for the next available vice.

In any event, perhaps you should brew up a pot of Peet's Java, pour it into a thermos carafe, and leave it out next to the trash can. It would save the pour souls from having to rummage through the trash and settle for an inferior caffeine experience.