A caffeinated discovery

Strictly speaking, I was done with my Texan retrospective well over a week ago, but there’s something I didn’t think to share on the blog that in real-life has proved to be quite a revelation to those I’ve mentioned it to – the wonders of Starbucks’ coffee for twelve people.

No, not twelve separate cups of coffee with complicated milk/shots/flavour combinations, a receptacle containing enough coffee for ten people. Voila:
As if buying morning coffee from a drive-thru Starbucks wasn’t enough excitement, I then got to travel with this (hot) beauty on my (bare) legs! It’s basically like a wine box, with a tap on the front and a handy holder for your cups, stirrers, napkins and milk on the side. Simply genius! 
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve told several people of this product’s existence and without fail, none have comprehended what I’ve been talking about until I’ve shown them the above photo, so read and believe! 
In the words of the Starbucks’ website: ‘This is our way of lending an extra hand to all those kind souls who purchase coffee on behalf of family, friends and workmates.’ In our case, it was literally a lifesaver – I don’t know if you’ve met any of the friends I choose to travel with, but without morning coffee (in large, fast-flowing quantities) they are not pleasant. 
Now Starbucks, if you could just get your head around selling tea in the US in the way you do in the UK, I would be much happier about spending longer in that country. [A coffee receptacle of any sort is no good to me – my morning injection of caffeine can only be done via tea. In Texas, I had to make do with the iced variety.] 

What’s in a name?

Something short and sweet (and previously featured) for today…

You may be aware that Starbucks recently introduced the concept of writing their customers names on their beverages to the UK (despite them doing it long ago in the US). In typical British style, we have been amused, bemused and cynical. People have created coffee pseudonyms; they’ve been encouraged by Radio 4 comedians to use ridiculous names; and generally, we’ve been confused as to why they should need our names in the first place. Sometimes it can be down right hilarious – have you heard the one about the guy who said his name was Voldemort and received a cup labelled ‘He who shall not be named’? Sometimes, it’s downright awkward – my friend Stew’s coffee arrived bearing the moniker ‘Jew’. Hmmm.

Cathryn has decided to give up & become ‘Kate’ at Starbucks.

Today, my Norwegian flatmate Øystein [major achievement in September: learning the Mac shortcut for that interesting little figure] ordered a coffee, gave his name, and discovered he was in fact a genius:

And you’ll notice that that’s not even how you spell Einstein… 

Fabulously, as he left the shop the barista shouted after him “see you Albert!”. Give credit to those comic Starbucks workers… 

It reminded me of a Friday Fun item from last year, which presumably has had a spike in submissions from Britain in recent months – Starbucks Spelling is a Tumblr of images customers have taken of spelling/listening/interpreting fails. Brilliant. Some are plain ridiculous, how can Tommy become ‘Duck’? Others simply illustrate the honesty of a barista who asked the customers name and promptly forgot it (which, quite frankly, is something I’d do in their position).

(It was Claire.) 

Just in case Starbucks feel I’m doing them a disservice, here’s a friendly public service reminder that they’re currently offering half-price Frappuccinos between 3 and 5pm until the 5th June. Make mine a Strawberries & Cream, thanks…

For lovers of beverages…

Returning to studenthood has begun a quest for perfect studying spots. I’m a great believer in getting out of the house to work (rather like those ‘job’ things other people have) and avoiding quiet libraries unless I need the books held within them.

During our bizarre heatwave, the British Library courtyard became a favourite place, but with the advent of autumn proper, that will no longer be tenable. Starbucks are ok, as are Neros, but they often lack atmosphere and life…

London is awash with independent coffee houses and in my new neighbourhood I’m discovering more and more of them. But last week’s newest discovery is a little further afield. Working on my multi-tasking ethos, I did a few chores on Oxford Street, while toting Greek notes and theology articles in my bag so I could have an impromptu study session when my feet were weary.

One of my more local ‘discoveries’ (I knew it existed, I just had to have a reason to go there) was the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, on Leather Lane in Holborn. A couple of weeks ago, its owners opened Speakeasy – an expresso bar off Carnaby Street. Finding myself weary and in the vicinity on Wednesday, I thought I’d pay a visit.

As you may know, I’m not a coffee fan, so I can’t comment upon its brews, beans and filters. However, I can tell you that these guys love their coffee and do everything in their power to do it well – and to teach you along the way. I’m a tea drinker and they do that well, so I’m happy. Teapot, tea leaves that you place in the pot & you takeout when it’s brewed sufficiently – that’s excellent tea etiquette.

In some ways I preferred Speakeasy to DCSA – it seemed lighter and more open. Plus, downstairs in the filter room are two shelves of books – books of a variety that I adore. Penguin Great Ideas series – check. Virago ‘pretty books’ – check. Persephone books – check. Orwell – check. Plenty about New Zealand – check. Actually, the quality of their book browsing section is down to the fact that my good, bibliophile friend Katie was responsible for choosing them and she did a great job. The staff are friendly and enthusiastic and the tables are an excellent height for studying. One could say it was an oasis of calm in the manic West End.

At the end of the day, it’s just nice to be somewhere without banging and shouting; where staff aren’t simply trying to get you to buy a tasteless muffin; and where the aim is to ensure that you get the best beverage and drinking experience possible.

A pot of Earl Grey is perfect accompaniment to the task of creating Greek vocab flashcards. 

Postscript:
I wrote this post on and off yesterday, intending to finish it off last night – but I got distracted. Kind of lucky (and really only vaguely ‘kind of’) as this morning I experienced another joyous beverage experience during a pre-work coffee. [Yes, I managed a social engagement BEFORE work – this is all kind of impressive and not at all to do with the presence of workmen in my flat at 8.15am…] 
The Espresso Room is just across the road from Great Ormond Street hospital and is exactly what it says it is – a room that serves espresso (and other coffee based drinks, plus tea and rather yummy looking pastries). It’s tiny but has wooden stools and benches out on the pavement that are perfect for perching on and watching the world go by. Its proximity to the hospital is deliberate, and the owner hopes to open similar establishments near other London hospitals, which, given what I’ve heard about hospital cafeterias is probably an excellent plan. 
On reflection, I should have had the teapot in the foreground. 
It was eminently functional, with an in-built strainer. Delightful. 

Friday Fun for a day off

Apologies for the delay in posting this week’s Friday Fun. The problem with having a frenetic working week this week is that it left me very little time to explore random internet diversions – unless they had #methconf attached to it in some way. [Following that hashtag will go some way to explaining what I’ve been up to all week.]

First of all, I just want to boast that something I posted on my blog weeks ago has this week made it into The Hairpin. I think it’s the first time that’s actually happened and is a happy reversal of the usual pattern of events. They drew attention to the fabulous ‘Weird things customers say in bookshops’ strand of Jen Campbell’s blog, which incidentally, is still being updated – the 7th instalment has just appeared and keeps getting better and better. (I’m trying to think up something truly weird to say the next time I’m in Highgate and can pop into the shop, but I just don’t think I’m special enough.)

Secondly, there is a new tool by which you can gain answers to all life’s important questions – what to buy your recently acquired girlfriend for her birthday, where in the UK to go on holiday [Mansfield] and, fabulously, which is the coolest Christian denomination. Miss Information’s Booth will accept questions via Twitter or e-mail and will apparently be at this year’s Greenbelt. I’m super excited, but have yet to come up with a suitable question to ask her.

One of the reasons why I’ve delayed writing this post is because I had a house guest to entertain and we spent the morning walking to London Bridge and back in order to have coffee at Monmouth Coffee – one of London’s best independent coffee places, so I’m told. I would know little about such things as I don’t actually drink coffee, but this morning I had my first ever Flat White and the experience wasn’t an entirely unpleasant one. My companion is quite the coffee connoisseur having spent the last couple of months working at another highly recommended coffee venue – the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs in Farringdon (visit it if you get the chance, they love their coffee) which has caused her to develop an addiction to the stuff – on our way home we had to stop at Starbucks too. Which needs me neatly to a nicely diverting little Tumblr of misspelled names on Starbucks’ take-out cups

So that’s meant to read ‘Claire’.

My first ever Flat White – some people are going to be SO proud of me! 

What else is fun at the moment? Well, if you’re really, really bored this afternoon, I can offer you the distraction of a 36 page research paper that came out this week. It’s basically what my life has revolved around for the last couple of years and could potentially be interesting if you fit into some or all of these categories:
(a) You’re Christian or went to church at some point in your life.
(b) Are aged 25ish to 40ish
(c) Have some connection to the Methodist Church
(d) Like reading very long research papers

When not drinking coffee turns out to be a bad thing

I should’ve known not to share any of my answers during what seemed to be a perfectly harmless pop-psychology quiz. Especially when the quiz formed the introduction to a seminar on dating…

6 questions were asked, all equally inane. Number 4 was “what would your response be if offered a cup of coffee?”. As all who know me well are aware, I don’t like coffee – never have & probably never will. Therefore it’s only logical that my response would be “no thanks, could I have a cup of tea instead?”

I probably should’ve kept my mouth shut when the roving mic asked what my answer was. Because, of course, that was the question that apparently revealed my attitude to sex. Good job I don’t take these things seriously, else I’d be worried about having a rather unsuccessful future marriage.

Probably shouldn’t have listed my 3rd favourite animal as a kangaroo either. Listing the three characteristics I associated with that creature, I chose: energetic, bizarre & Australian. Turns out that’s the question that reveals how others see you. I doubt anyone regards me as Australian and very few would think I was energetic. Bizarre would probably ring true. Ho hum.