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Back Buzz - March 10, 2012

pumping heartTamper Coffee Bar, 9 Westfield Terrace, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

When I first spotted the sign for Tamper from the top of a bus travelling down West Street, two possibilities came to my mind. Could it be a new discount shop offering cut-rate prices on goods that had been previously tampered with? Or could it be an espresso cafe so serious about its coffee that it names itself for a vital espresso-making implement that many ordinary coffee drinkers have never heard of? Once I read the flyers advertising Tamper's opening, I was pleased to see it was the latter, so I decided to give it a try as soon as possible.

I stopped in at 11am on a Wednesday morning and the tiny cafe was jammed. All four tables were taken, so I squeezed myself onto one of the two window stools, situated myself sideways so that my lengthy thighs wouldn't go numb, and sipped my double macchiato with extra foam. The barista was very careful to make my drink exactly as I wanted it, offering a choice of two cup sizes and letting me judge the amount of foam. Although the coffee itself is a tiny bit smoother than what my robust tastebuds would prefer, the macchiato was surprisingly pleasant, the top surface becoming a delightful brown and tan animal print of foam and crema. And even though the cup and saucer were black, the interior of the cup was white, which I consider very important. As Keith Floyd said, the food -- in this case the drink -- should be the star, so a plain white backdrop is best.

The sign in the window shows the outline of a typical espresso tamper with "New Zealand" etched on the base. It turns out that the cafe is owned and operated by Jonathan Perry, a trained barista from New Zealand who has brought his four years of coffee experience to Sheffield.

The coffee menu is extensive, featuring two grinder choices which regularly rotate. Today on Grinder 1 was a boutique blend of El Salvador and Costa Rica and on Grinder 2 was Espresso made with Tchembe beans from Ethiopia, and the beans are all roasted in Yorkshire. Along with the usual cappuccinos and lattes there are three types of basic espresso drinks offered, including ristretto, short black, and long black. Also on the menu is the currently trendy "flat white", which I have the impression lies somewhere between a latte and a cappuccino. There is also a selection of teas available including herbal choices.

The food menu features very nice looking sandwiches as well as what I would consider an excellent breakfast choice: a toasted bagel with cream cheese, peanut butter, jam, or Vegemite -- although I would want cream cheese, peanut butter, and Vegemite, and I'd prefer it to be Marmite. But as Vegemite is more popular down New Zealand way, one can't really argue. (I'll admit I've never tried Vegemite, although my fellow Marmite lovers warn me it's not as good. I suppose I should see for myself.) Meat pies are featured, with a choice of steak, chicken and mushroom, lamb and mint, and steak and cheese, the latter being a Kiwi favourite. The breads are freshly baked by the local Cat Lane Bakery. And of course there are sweet treats. While I was there a customer purchased a mint and chilli brownie from the counter, and although I'm not a sweet treat fan I was very tempted to ask for a bite.

The cafe is located across from Nandos Restaurant and not far from Cow. As I sat in the window watching the Wednesday lunchtimers gradually emerge from their offices and studios, I thought about the word "tamper". If one ignores the negative definition -- to interfere, meddle in, or corrupt -- and also the scientific definition (a neutron reflector), one is left with the idea of a person or a thing tamping something down, which makes both a pipeful of tobacco and a shot of espresso just that more enjoyable. And of course there are the poetic possibilities. Imagine sitting in a meadow near Champéry sipping a Tamper cappuccino, pampering yourself with a hamper full of treats and a bottle of champers, followed by a brief scamper amid the blooms, knowing that if rain puts a damper on your picnic, your camper van is parked nearby.

Speaking of dreamlike experiences reminds me of an e-mail conversation from last year with a workmate:

Last night -- before starting on another marathon dream about trying to make my away across inland Los Angeles County to an after-works drinks do without getting arrested as a murder suspect --I awoke suddenly in the night with an acute allergic reaction. My nose, which has been clear for weeks, was bunged up to the extreme, my throat was dry and parched, my skin was tingling and my heart was racing. It turns out that at the same time Andrew was downstairs dreaming that a family of pythons had moved into our house. He was talking to the babies abandoned by the front door because their parents had gone up the stairs for some reason. So we figured that, like house pythons often do, they slithered up into my room and licked my nostrils. So I must be allergic to python saliva.

I recall you having bad sinuses. So if pythons start invading your home neighbourhood or the university library, I'd advise you to take the precaution of not letting them lick your face. This is salient saliva advice, and I am truly grateful for it. I shall take anti-python precautions in future. My bedroom may well be infested so I will lay humane python traps (or should that be pythane? Or is that a gas?) in order to isolate and remove them. As I don't have a python-handling licence, I shall have to get an expert to manage the release of pythons into the wild. I shall call Lee Jackson immediately.