My cycle route home from the office is such that I usually sit at a traffic light waiting next to a coffee shop called Whoa!, which advertises that any coffee is just £1.50 (not filter coffee either: proper espresso, Americano, cappucino, other Italianesque names). Today, curiosity won out and I walked down there to buy my afternoon coffee. Did they have a chocolate brownie too? You bet they did.
The price of coffee, possibly just in London, possibly just for good coffee, possibly just in general seems to be one of those memes that just won’t die about modern lifestyle. (I’m using the dictionary definition of meme here rather than the Internet definition: a repeated thought or idea, rather than a picture with a funny caption.) In my experience – which is reasonably broad, because I drink a lot of coffee when out on my own, with friends, on dates and at work – a good cup of (black) coffee from a good coffee shop in London will cost you somewhere between £2 and £3. Milky coffees will be slightly more expensive. Specialty coffees, ditto. If you only ever drink coffee from coffee chains, your average will come in somewhat below that. If you frequent the same places, which usually have loyalty cards, or you exclusively use a reusable cup, or you always drink-in rather than take-away, the maths becomes too complicated for me to bother changing my statement: the average cup of good coffee costs somewhere between £2 and £3.
This is not nothing, ok? I’m not suggesting that this is a cost that completely goes beneath notice for the average person. If I suddenly stopped drinking coffee (and didn’t replace it with anything) I’d save somewhere between £20-30, depending on the week. That’s up to £120 a month, so yeah, there’s potential savings to be made there. In fact, whenever I’ve felt financially less secure, I’ve always had a period of relying on my cafetiere more, caring about cup discounts and stamp cards, etc. The same way as I start planning food shopping much more, packing my own lunch, avoiding unnecessary Tube trips, etc.
But on the other hand, let’s not blow this out of proportion. If I suddenly completely cut coffee out of my life – totally stopped doing a harmless thing which brings me great joy and has a not-insignificant positive effect on my mood and disposition – then I would save, at a very generous estimate, £1500 a year. To put that into the sort of context that idiots of a certain generation like to use: the average deposit to buy a first home in the city where I live is around £100,000. So I could never drink coffee again, and then have saved up enough for a mortgage on the home of my choice in a short 67 years, by which time I will be lucky if I’m even capable of opening my own front door unassisted. Or… I could keep drinking coffee, and accept that the UK’s crises of uneven wealth distribution and low home ownership won’t be mitigated by giving up any of the basic simple pleasures in my life.
There’s an advert that’s been on TV recently (though I haven’t seen it for a little while) that really winds me up in the way that only truly unimportant and petty things can. It’s for the McDonald’s McCafé range, and the advert is a series of short vignettes of ‘normal people’ being perplexed by some exaggerated stereotypes of hipster coffee shops. One man can’t comprehend the range of different coffees on the menu and says “I just want a coffee.” One man is served three beakers, one with hot water, one with espresso (presumably) and one with milk. Another man is unable to find a seat because there’s a pool table in the way, or something. A woman serving the coffee takes so long arranging coffee beans on top of it that the customer gets irritated. At the end, a barista says “That’s £9”, and is met with a chorus of disbelief and shocked gasps. Drink a McCafé coffee! I’m loving it!
I hate it. I’ve been drinking coffee in London for seven years now (and I know London has no monopoly on such things, but I’m pretty confident that if this ridiculous level of hipsterism is really rife anywhere, it’ll be rife in London) and this is so far from reality as to completely turn me against the advert. It’s not hard to order a normal coffee from, well, anywhere that sells coffee. The closest any of these shots comes to being true is the idea that some coffee shops do have a wide selection on their menus: complaining about this is nuts, would you walk into a restaurant and complain at being given a two-page food menu because you ‘just wanted chips’? And £9? Alain Ducasse sold coffee that was planted, grown, picked, roasted in and imported from a war zone and even he only got up to £15! If I tried to pay £9 for a coffee in literally any coffee shop I have ever been to, the baristas would just look at me oddly and ask how many coffees I wanted. If you try to use Google to find coffee shops that sell coffee for £9, it starts telling you about barista’s hourly salaries because that’s what it thinks you must mean with that number.
I can only conclude – and I’m pretty confident about this, actually – that the McCafé advert is not in fact aimed at people who ‘just want a coffee’. I know this, because those people go to a coffee shop and buy a coffee. McCafé is targeting a subset of people who don’t like coffee, but who also don’t realise that they don’t like coffee, and so McCafé wins by being the cheapest place for them to buy the thing they don’t realise they don’t like. And yes, I have had a McCafé coffee, once. It was awful. It was burnt and the machine must have not been cleaned for ages. I’m not giving them any more money to check this is still the case.
Anyway. This coffee shop called Whoa! Coffee is near my office and sells pretty cheap coffee at £1.50! It’s not actually half bad either, so maybe all other coffee actually is overpriced. That, or the coffee is being made by slaves. I’m sort of hoping for the former, because they make a big deal about their sustainability and simplicity etc. At £1.50, it’s still better value than a McCafé, so fuck McDonald’s.
They also had a chocolate brownie, it was the last one in the shop, and I bought it so I could have an extra excuse to go to this shop. Here’s what I thought of it.
Taste: So this tasted really nice the whole time I ate it. There was a lot of sweetness to the crust, and a good balance of chocolate in it. Since I’ve eaten it, I’ve had an aftertaste that’s identical to how your mouth tastes after you’ve eaten too much buttered toast. With my genius-level intellect, I have deduced that this means there is too much butter in the brownie. 8/10
Texture: Very soft and moist, no doubt due to the copious amounts of butter in the mixture. In fact, if you look at the picture, you can see that there’s chunks of butter that haven’t been completely mixed in. You do generally want to avoid overmixing brownie batter (it adds air that encourages a cakey texture), but this seems like it may have been undermixed? However, I’m nitpicking, because it was a really pleasant texture in general. It was a little overdone towards the edge sadly. Another 8/10
Presentation: It sure does look like a brownie. Good uniform appearance, little brown paper bag to carry it home (well, to the office) in. 3/5
Value: Ok, so this is where this brownie is going to excel, if I’m honest. It was £2. It’s about twice the size of the Pret brownie, and barely more expensive. The value of this brownie blows all other brownies away, and it’s just not quite good enough as a brownie to get a ‘perfect value’ score – I’m not even 100% sure what that would mean – so it scores 9/10
Fudge Factor: I love having no expectations and getting completely blown away. For a place whose entire schtick is just cheap coffee, this brownie is so much better than it has any right to be. It just suffers a little from being so overbuttered. 3/5
Final Total: 31
Should I Buy And Eat This Brownie?
I’m really curious about Whoa! Coffee’s business plan. Based on this visit, their coffee and their cakes – the two things you’d expect a coffee shop to make its money from – are both a lot cheaper than their competitors. How do they do it? Have they found some ridiculous savings in their running costs? Is the simplicity of the venue really enough to cut their overheads by this much? Or, is a lot of money being pumped into an experiment that will probably collapse financially in a few months? In case it’s the last one, I think you owe it to yourself to get over there and buy a delicious brownie ASAP.
I really don’t like McDonald’s, but I do have to admit that their chicken nuggets are pretty tasty.