It’s been a heavy week for coffee shop dwelling. Until the explosion of these chain caffeine zoos, ‘coffee shop’ used to suggest a walk in store, where you’d be able to buy exotic beans from countries you would spend hours hunting on your grand parent’s 3D globe, just to prove they existed. Now they’re spreading like viruses and are no longer limited to the streets.
Has anyone noticed, they’re like Russian dolls, these days? Like the premise of Inception, but for hot drinks. I walked into the co-op up the road the other day, to stretch my legs halfway through a twelve-hour shift, working at home, only to be confronted by a Costa coffee; it’s own stand and payment terminal! Does anyone need coffee that bad? Book shops, service stations; they all have their own coffee brand within. Even a college I taught at a few weeks ago had its own Starbucks! What happened to the Styrofoam brain stripper vendors of my 2001/02 college days?
I’ve spent five days in the capital. My girlfriend lives here, so I jump between Manchester and London, given how mobile by job is. I’ve had meetings about my book and meetings about illustration, my bill paying profession. That means, around the meetings, I have two options. One is to stay at her home and use her desk. But that would only end in a glut of naps and too many drink breaks. I’d also be wracked by guilt about using the electricity and leaving her the tab, to split with housemates. So what happens is, I hang around ‘coffee shops’ like some sort of desperate narcoleptic.
My question is: How long is it acceptable to stay in the coffee shop on the one, solitary drink purchase? I arrive at 8.22am after Laura gets the train to central. They know my face now and I’m not sure whether this aids or hampers my thrift pursuits. Whilst I wait for them to churn out my mocha, I wonder if Café Nero’s seemingly exclusive Italian staff roster could be a form of discrimination in this culture of overly brittle feelings?
8.22am until 9.54am is not a bad innings for just one regular mocha (sit in), but at £2.55, I am reluctant to return for a second round. But I need to stay here until midday at the earliest. It’s busy by now, a combination of mums with screeching banshee babies, old people and people in suits holding unnecessarily loud conversations with poor sods who are taking a lesson in patronization from pinstripe suited prats.
Then it starts; the calculated table wiping starts here, at my table. Of course it does. My dry, frothy vessel is snatched up and the area around my laptop is cleaned in what should be preparation for the next person. But it’s not, as long as I linger. I have to wait this out for a further 85 minutes. They’re not happy about my unwillingness to make eye contact. I know this because the next member of staff, a middle aged grey haired bloke is now rearranging tables, which end up back where they were anyway, as he bores new holes in my face with his rage stare.
I put on my headphones and focus really hard, with a squint to make sure my concentration on the evidently vital task is obvious to the lone re-arranger. Half an hour later, the place is empty bar three people, all spaced far apart. I can feel the eyes on me from numerous staff this time. I convince myself that another loyalty stamp can justify taking my tab over the £5 mark with a hot chocolate. I smile far too hard, feeling bitter that they applied enough pressure on my conscience to force my wallet open, but determined not to hand them any sort of victory by acknowledging their efforts.
At 12.20pm I leave, keeping my head down and saying nothing. I am a prisoner of these soulless coffee chains, by way of my horribly free-range job as an illustrator, with all their fake Italian quirks, because I need a plug socket and reliable wifi. I’ll be back next week and £5 lighter in the wallet. I wonder if bringing one of those 30p hot chocolate sachets and pouring in water from the toilet tap will confuse them into thinking I’ve been served a second brew by a colleague, or whether the intelligent touch screen cash terminals will lay bare my role as a thieving coffee highwayman? Perhaps Starbucks might strike a deal to open one in my kitchen?