Tag Archives: Costa

Fully Roasted

the bitter aftertaste of popping out for a cuppa

Sunday afternoons are surprisingly busy in Costa, even as closing time looms. One family appear to have turned it into a proper outing, hunched around a table with a tablet of some form. Two teenage boys, about 14 and 16, call out film names excitedly, jabbering away on the technicalities of whether Qui-Gon Jinn could beat Darth Maul. I think we established that in 1999. There’s something about video games that I don’t understand, I mean, people know they’re not real, right?

The parents take over the tablet; no, not take it away, but take over the game. The older boy can almost not contain himself at his desire to help them. How can they be so useless? How can they not know who the protagonist of Tron is, or where Star Trek: Nemesis was set? The older boy begins to quiver. Their younger son cups his cappuccino in two hands and proceeds to down the entire cup in a gulping, slurping cacophony. I’ll be  honest, it was hard not to stare. Coffee finished (it’s not as if that’s what you come for after all) he lurches across the table, fighting his brother-jedi at the table for supremacy. Their mother stabs uselessly at the tablet. Please don’t get it wrong, I don’t think I’ll be able to hold my laughter in much longer. Their dad frowns at the paper.

Further along, a father sits on the settee with his son and daughter. The father’s friend, think Flanders from the Simpsons, nods earnestly in conversation. Upright, rigidly wooden in movement, he makes every effort to show his interest in his friend’s conversation. We all know what that kind of conscious effort really means.

Hold up though, it’s a big question at the other table. “The Holy Grail! The Holy Grail!” The younger boy is on his feet, fingers flapping, almost hyperventilating. A sigh of disappointment. What a defeat. C’mon, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Even I knew that one.

Flanders is giving life advice to the little girl beside him. She nods seriously. Well, for a moment. The marshmallows in her hot chocolate are far more exciting and who can blame her? Flanders laughs nervously and robotically adjusts, hiding his rejection. No, we know you weren’t really talking to her.

Flanders gets up to leave just as the next table erupts into ecstasy at the winning answer of “Wolverine!” from the jedi apprentice. His master looks on, beaming. Ah well, if you didn’t get all the answers there’s always next Sunday eh? Can’t promise I’ll be there. As Flanders moves out, I realise I have seen him before, several times in fact, at gigs in London. Well, always time to re-evaluate my music taste I suppose.

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Fully Roasted

the bitter aftertaste of popping out for a cuppa

There’s nothing worse than overly loud people. Except maybe overly loud, obnoxious people. These ones weren’t obnoxious, but the ignorant kind of loud. The “we don’t care loud” paired with the makes-you-want-to-eat-stones idiosyncracy. The two older women twitter and cackle as they wait for their male companion. No, sorry, person-with-tray trying to squeeze through the gap in the chairs to get to your own table, you are irrelevant. Another round of cackles. Another chair is pulled out as their own drinks arrive to much cooing and unnecessary rearranging of drinks, receipts and bags. The tray-battler behind manages to dash through a temporary gap, sacrificing the foam of her latte and someone’s milk. Ah well, emergency situations call for drastic measures.

A small boy leaps to his feet as an even smaller girl walks in. They nervously make their way to the counter together. Could this be what it looks like? No, surely. It could be, he’s paying for her. Disaster! He’s discovered he doesn’t have enough money and sheepishly has to pick something else for himself. Bless, she’s already taking advantage of a free drink. I wish I’d had that skill at 9.

I go to look out of the window, not forgetting to give a bone-chilling glare as my eyes pass over the crows’ nest next to me. It’s as if they arrange that no two people drink at the same time, ensuring an incessant squabbling of voices in my right ear. Looking out the window, it’s strange to see two women have picked a table right on the other side of the glass. Looking at all the empty chairs and tables around them I realise they must have picked it because it was the only one free. It feels strange, as if there’s no glass there really. I almost want to make fish lips. But I don’t. They seem immune to this intense claustrophobia I am feeling and continue their conversation. I feel privy to it though can’t hear any of it. Fear enters me: how do I look out of the window without looking as though I’m looking at them? Fortunately a man wanders under the far end of the canopy so I can look over there instead. He sits down on a chair and lights a cigarette. Oh, it’s funny, I thought these chairs were sat under the Costa canopy but his must be outside the rope. Oh no, it is inside the rope.

Back inside, the first-date sits at a table far away from everyone, overlooked by a sleepy potted plant. Sorry kids, it’s behind the table so no shelter there. They suck on straws cautiously, talking very quietly. At least it makes a change to next door where the tittering voices crescendo before bursting into laughter. Beautiful. Time to leave, I think.

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Starbucks 4 : Costa 2

Oh yeah, it’s getting fierce now! We have the combination of food and drink.

On test is Starbucks’ salted caramel mocha latte and the chicken and roasted tomato panini.

I was excited for this salted mocha, I won’t lie. Salted caramel is a huge flavour at the moment and the combination of sweet and salty is a risky but wonderfully complimentary one should you pull it off. Incorporating chocolate is, again, dangerous but definitely doable. Starbucks didn’t do it. The drink was overly sweet with barely a flake of salt. The drink was too thin and runny, as if the milk hadn’t been frothed enough, the name latte devoid of meaning. Better with cream? I doubt it, though apparently it’s salted. I don’t want to imagine what that’s like. To Costa!

Hold up though, if you’re hungry anyway. Remember that ham and cheese panini from Costa? Starbucks’ panini was, in general size, bigger I believe and had more filling. Classic combination of chicken and tomato worked well with a hint of cajun spice but nothing overpowering or even dominating. The rocket was a fresh addition adding colour and balance. The panini was well-toasted; a bit too floury but thick and foccaccia in style though definitely still a panini – don’t worry, nothing too fancy.

Yep, this panini held its own so a point each.

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Starbucks 3 : Costa 1

Sorry, Costa, if I wanted rubbery cheese, I’d eat babybel and cheese strings.

The word improved is a tenuous one; things can be improved in certain areas while greatly lacking in others. The degree of improvement is debateable too as well as how you judge the improvement itself.

Well in this case the subject to be improved was Costa’s ham and cheese panini. Firstly, yes, it has improved; it was served on sourdough and that was lovely; floury, chewy and thick it really lifted the quality of the sandwich. The ham too was tasty though a little more would have been appreciated. But the cheese! It upset me so, it really did. Rubbery and just far too yellow, it either hadn’t been grilled long enough to melt or just wasn’t good quality. As the panini cooled (it wasn’t really hot enough to start with) the cheese began to solidify and tough cheese is like chewing on a tyre, with the additions of cold bread and salty ham.

Go again? Yes but sorry it just wasn’t up to scratch. Starbucks gets this one.

Am I wrong? What’s your favourite?

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Starbucks 2 : Costa 1

Okay, it’s getting fierce. Starbucks too have released new drinks and on trial today? Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Sounds disgusting right? Who in their right mind would put a vegetable, and one we cut into grotesque faces at that, in a perfectly innocent cup of coffee topped with whipped cream? Horrendous I know.

But it’s not. Calm yourselves, please, don’t shout. Honestly, it’s rather nice. I did have one friend who said “it tastes like soil” but in that case I blame the barrista, or maybe my friend’s taste. Okay, perhaps it’s an acquired taste this one…but I would order it again which is why Starbucks is awarded the point.

Earthy and full of warm cinnamon spice and nutmeg tones, it was much better than I expected. Sweet yes, but not overly so, though a little bit of undissolved syrup stewed at the bottom which was rather sickly towards the end. Sweetened whipped cream floated on top, sprinkled with the Autumnal spices and as the cream sunk below the surface, it became velvety and thick.

The verdict? Probably not without cream, but I’d get it again. Grab it now while it’s out for Autumn!

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Starbucks 1 : Costa 1

The competition is back and it’s come to a draw thanks to Costa’s chicken fajita wrap.

The wrap was crisp, toasted perfectly and with a lovely soft and chewy texture. Inside, chunks of chicken nestled effortlessly alongside tomatoes, all snuggled up inside a blanket of melted cheese. Served hot and suitably spicy it was well worth the risk of trying. The only thing that put me off slightly? The rather unnatural pinkish colour of the wrap and the brown stripes across it; I’m going to bank on the grill pressing down on it.

For interest purposes, the map was purchased at Costa in Milton Keynes, Bucks in Cotswolds. Great service too.

Come back soon for more Starbucks vs. Costa

Not what you thought? Or maybe your favourite coffee shop does something better; don’t be selfish, tell the world!

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Starbucks 1. Costa 0.

I am someone who shops on principle. This means I don’t go into Topshop because I think the prices are beyond a rip-off and I don’t like the monopoly of the Green’s; it also means I am currently boycotting Tesco milk because they continue to buy from areas that support the badger cull.

For some reason though, I find myself unable to resist the lure of Costa and Starbucks, the premium leads in the UK coffee market. For me, coffee shops are a haven; be they peaceful (admittedly not at 4pm on a weekday when students descend like seagulls on chips) and somewhere for my creative mind to whir, or vibrant, warming places for me to meet, socialise and unwind.

Costa in Aylesbury, Bucks, has the unusual luxury of having no nearby Starbucks with which to compete. It does have a Caffe Nero but counters this by providing mini-Costa’s in the town’s Odeon Cinema and Tesco Extra. Yes, it is true, Costa are pursuing world domination. But that doesn’t stop me from going.

This visit had more of a purpose though. Yes, I was meeting a friend but I was also drawn by the prospect of a new drink: the caffe caramella. Cafes and shops like this are forever re-inventing their menus to keep new-comers rolling in while re-engaging with their regulars. Starbucks’ Spiced Pumpkin Latte, for example, has recently become the new poster-boy for their Autumn drive.

I will gloss over the staff and interior; it’s not that they aren’t worth mentioning, (the staff were both good-humoured and efficient) it’s that you don’t go to these places for the service, you go for the atmoshphere. And the coffee. I am no coffee geek; I do not have a favourite blend and I do not have an extensive knowledge of the historical grounds that coffee came to us on but I do know what makes a good cup and what doesn’t.

“This new indulgent treat tastes every bit as good as it looks.” Yeah right. How many times has that come true anywhere? And, sorry, but it’s not ture again. The frothed milk and caramel sauce was indeed deliciously sweet and foamy but the coffee was too bitter, the caramel syrup barely kissing the Mocha Italia blend. It’s no match for Starbucks’ Caramel Macchiato. I’ll stick to my flavoured lattes thanks; admittedly, Costa has always impressed me with these.

So the attempt to re-engage with a regular has failed. Will it stop me going? Probably not, but if a company can’t develop successful products to move forward with to match competitors, we’re looking at a very interesting autumn and winter indeed.


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