Servicing my coffee addiction

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the coffee drinking experience at motorway services leaves a lot to be desired. More often then not, I will avoid buying coffee at service stations. Sometimes they get it just wrong. Even with the big chains the quality of the coffee and service can be very different to that of the high street. The environment is often busy and messy, usually I need to clear the table myself!

Having said all that I did have a really nice coffee drinking experience at the independent Gloucester services. I think part of the reason was the fact it was sunny.

Servicing my coffee addiction

For those that don’t know about the new(ish) Gloucester services between junctions 11a and 12 on the M5. Unlike any other motorway service area, they don’t have franchises. They use local produce and have a huge farm shop selling a range of delicious looking food and drink (and crafts). They also have a eatery, called the “Kitchen” where food and drink can be purchased.

I ordered a flat white and enjoyed drinking it outside on the terrace by the lake in the sun.

Now that was a nice coffee drinking experience.

It was supposed to be a macchiato…

espresso macchiato

So what do you think that was?

That is a small espresso cup by the way.

It was supposed to be an espresso macchiato.

From my understanding, an espresso macchiato, is simply a shot of espresso with some foamed milk. This was a single shot of espresso with a dollup of hot milk!

I have had a decent espresso macchiato from the Pumpkin Cafe chain at railway stations before, so was unimpressed with this effort. I was going to complain, but ran out of time as I was heading for a train.

Now checking the wikipedia, I can see that globally there is a fair amount of varation in how people interpret the macchiato, in some cases it appears to be more like a flat white than a small espresso based coffee.

Next time, I will be more explicit about what I want when I order.

The Cortado

Back in 2009 I was in New Zealand for a conference and was introduced to the Flat White.

According to Wikipedia:

Originating from Australia and New Zealand, a Flat White is a coffee beverage prepared by pouring steamed milk from the bottom of steaming pitcher over a single shot or double shot of espresso. As with many other espresso-based drinks the Flat White is interpreted in a number of ways. In Australia it is commonly served as a single shot of espresso, whereas in New Zealand it is more commonly served using a double shot.

Back in 2010 I started to notice that many coffee places, including the major chains were now selling the Flat White. I said back then

I have had it a few times now in the UK, from Costas and Starbucks and though nice, it’s not quite the same as a Flat White from New Zealand.

Having been a while since I was in New Zealand I have lost track of the true flat white experience.

Meeting up with Thom from New Zealand at a recent conference he confirmed that the Costa version of the Flat White was lacking, it was too big and wasn’t strong enough. When he tried to order a “proper” flat white, smaller cup, another shot, the barista couldn’t quite understand what he wanted, but did recommend the Cortado.

Cortado #altc #coffee #photo365

The Cortado originates from Spanish speaking countries and the word cortado is the past participle of the Spanish verb cortar (to cut).

The Costa version of the Cortado is not quite what a classic Cortado should be, but as a result is more like a Flat White from New Zealand.

Not sure if putting the drink in a glass adds anything, I would much prefer a cup, but despite that I did enjoy the coffee and would certainly order it again.

The Green Coffee Machine in Cheltenham

The Green Coffee Machine

A colleague at work had recommended that I visit The Green Coffee Machine, an independent coffee place quite close to Cheltenham Railway Station. I had seen it a fair few times as I travelled to and from work by train, but until recently had never had the chance or the time to pop in.

I much prefer independent coffee shops to the high street chains, I find that they have more personality, the staff care about the coffee and the food is usually better and more tasty.

Having arrived much earlier into Cheltenham than I normally do, I took the opportunity to give The Green Coffee Machine a try. I was pleased to find that it opened early, it was 7:45 which isn’t that early, but I know other places that don’t open until 9:00am or even later. I was on the Gloucester Road in Bristol the other morning and I wanted a coffee, the local independents were closed, so I had to go to Costa for a coffee. The other morning in Gloucester I was going to grab a quick espresso at the Portivo Lounge in the Quays, but it didn’t open until 9am. So to be honest I was expecting The Green Coffee Machine to be closed, so was pleased to find it was open.

I received a friendly greeting and I ordered a flat white and some toast. I had considered ordering an Americano, which is usually my way of comparing coffee from different places, but I really felt like drinking a flat white. What was really nice was after ordering I didn’t need to wait around, I was told I could sit down and my coffee and toast would be brought to my table.

Sitting down I was able to take in the asthetics and design of the environment. It’s quite eclectic in terms of furnishing and decoration. It in my mind mashes together two different styles that doesn’t quite work. There is a design asthetic that takes slate with (usually lime green) plastic. If you have ever been to the Tea Monkey in Bath you will know what I am talking about and it works quite well, modern, clean and ever so slightly futuristic. The other design style is what you find in somewhere like Coffee#1, wooden floors, reclaimed wooden furniture, comfortable relaxing sofas (preferably weathered leather). What The Green Coffee Machine has done has mashed those two styles together, so you have the modern fresh slate floor complete with lime green plastic chairs, alongside really nice leather Chesterfield sofas and weirdly cable drums as tables.

The Green Coffee Machine

As a result, for me, it doesn’t work. I think a slate and lime green look would have worked really well, likewise a retro wooden design would have worked equally well.

They are not alone in mashing styles together, Portivo Lounge in the Gloucester Quays has done something similar, wooden inside, and green (and also orange) plastic chairs outside. That doesn’t work either!

So what about the real stuff, the main reason for going, the coffee?

Flat White at The Green Coffee Machine

Well I really enjoyed the Flat White, it was great coffee and the milk was exactly the right consistency, not too foamy and not too milky. There was no feather, but let’s be honest that’s just trying to be flash. I really enjoyed the coffee and it tasted of coffee.

Toast at The Green Coffee Machine

The toast, though nice and hot, with generous portions of butter and jam (and no little packs of butter either, which I do prefer) I was slightly disappointed that they were using a standard loaf of Hovis. They had just bought it from the Tesco next door! Okay, so toast is toast, but some proper artisan bread would have been so much more preferable than sliced bread from the supermarket. It looked like they were using rustic French bread on the menu, so not totally out of the question. In a traditional British cafe (as in caff) you expect them to use sliced bread, but in a place like The Green Coffee Machine I had expectations, especially as it was Cheltenham, that they would use proper bread.

Overall I did quite like the atmosphere, the service was excellent, the coffee was great, if you don’t mind a slighty confused design and decor and avoid the toast, then it’s a really nice place to spend time drinking coffee.

Flat White

Ever since visiting New Zealand I have had a fondness for the Flat White. It can be challenging to find a decent Flat White in the UK, despite the widespread adoption by coffee chains of the Flat White; unless the barista knows what they are doing, you may think you are getting a flat white, but you get a disappointing cappuccino instead.

Drinking coffee #366photosI was pleased the other day to order a Flat White in my local Costa and I got a really good Flat White, perfect.

The coffee was good, the milk was steamed to the right creamy consistency and even the pattern on the top was sharp and remained as I drank the coffee.

Hopefully the next time I get a Flat White just as good.

A flat Flat White

It's supposed to be a Flat WhiteI was less than impressed with a Flat White I recently had at Starbucks, it was flat and insipid. I wonder though how much of that was because it was in a paper cup? I’m not a great fan of coffee in paper cups and where possible I will “drink in” so I can have a proper china cup.

I still find it a little incredulous how much we pay for coffee in paper cups these days, we think it’s somewhat normal!

Good Flat White

I had a really good skinny Flat White today at Costa.

Flat White

Good flavoured coffee and the milk wasn’t too foamy. This was a different branch of Costa to the one where I have been before.

Still don’t understand why it is more expensive than similar sized coffees. At Starbucks they even use a “short” cup and charge more!

Flat White’ish

Flat White'ish

After a walk this morning I found myself at my local Costa, as you do…

I have mentioned previously that:

Costa however do seem to be able to make an adequate flat white. Like most things, they don’t seem to come close to the ones I had out in New Zealand.

Well today the barista who was on duty had no idea how to make a Flat White. Alas it wasn’t the first time either that I have had a Flat White which wasn’t a Flat White.

I am guessing that they don’t get ordered much and as a result they lack the experience of making them on a regular basis and so they are a bit of a challenge. Alas this is a vicious circle, as people like me who order them, probably won’t order them again as they weren’t up to scratch.

The thing is the Flat White is not the cheap option, at £2.40 it’s near the top end of the menu of coffees. Yes I know I should have complained, but to be honest the queue behind me was horrendous, and I had three impatient little people wanting their toast and apple juice. Also the staff don’t appear to care very much about providing good service either, they come across as disorganised and see customers as an inconvenience. The thing is having been to other coffee places (independents and chains) where the baristas have been professional and shown that they really care about the coffee they make, it’s always a disappointment when you go somewhere where the staff don’t seem to care.

It isn’t a “real” Costa, in the sense that it is a franchised branch, but wouldn’t think that was really the issue. My first choice would be to avoid the place and go somewhere else… however choice is limited, and the Morrisons Cafe is not really a viable option (even if I am the Mayor).

So maybe next time I will complain, I certainly should drop a line to their head office.

Costa Flat White

Experience has told me that Starbucks though they now sell the flat white aren’t much good at making them. I have also found asking them to make a skinny flat white results in either excuses that this isn’t possible or that the end result will not be very satisfactory.

Costa however do seem to be able to make an adequate flat white.

Coffee

Like most things, they don’t seem to come close to the ones I had out in New Zealand. Costa also don’t complain if you ask for a skinny flat white either.

The only thing I don’t quite understand is why is the flat white more expensive than other similar coffees on offer?

Oh and another question is a flat white different to a latté? It should be in my opinion, a latte should have less foam and a flat white should use a foam consisting of much smaller air bubbles than you would find in a cappuccino. Not every coffee place I go to knows that though. Ah well one day I will need to go back to Auckland for a visit.

Flat White

So what is it with the Flat White?

It was never available in this country and now it’s all over the place. First I see Costa sell it and now Starbucks is also selling the Flat White.

So what is the Flat White? According to Wikipedia:

Originating from Australia and New Zealand, a Flat White is a coffee beverage prepared by pouring steamed milk from the bottom of steaming pitcher over a single shot or double shot of espresso. As with many other espresso-based drinks the Flat White is interpreted in a number of ways. In Australia it is commonly served as a single shot of espresso, whereas in New Zealand it is more commonly served using a double shot.

So it’s popular in Australia and New Zealand, and yes a fair of them have come over to the UK, likewise they are also popular counties to visit. But why the sudden popularity here in the UK of the Flat White?

No idea!

I have had it a few times now in the UK, from Costas and Starbucks and though nice, it’s not quite the same as a Flat White from New Zealand.

Photo source.