A defence of familiar: chain coffee


For people who know, it probably isn’t much of a surprise that I’m a bit of a coffee enthusiast (read snob). You can pry my V60 and home-brewed espresso from my cold dead hands. Admittedly there is nothing inherently wrong with chain coffee, even the love-to-hate Starbucks. They serve a purpose people want – you know what you’re getting, and it’s the same everywhere. Sometimes we as people need that consistency. You can have all the artisan bespoke coffee shops in the world, but occasionally you need something sterile and corporate. Maybe this speaks to the British character. Regardless, I had taken this all for granted until very recently.

Picture the scene. Yet another academic conference in the picturesque city of Oxford. Eight solid hours of lectures, seminars, information. All the while my aging iPhone gulps its battery away flinging me notifications I’m not reading. The day overruns, shock of the century, so the small coffee shops are closing. As I reach the station, my phone barely hangs on to that final 1%. I forgot to pack the right charger, so I have to buy one from the station – there’s £15 I’m never seeing again. Just as I scan my ticket and have a slight panic that it’ll die before I get on the train, I find out on the platform that my train is cancelled. The next train: two hours.

I have nothing nice to say about Oxford station. Nowhere to sit and not a single plug point in the place. Outside’s no better, there’s nothing to do. Empty derelict buildings, open roads half-pedestrianised but seemingly never finished, and a shiny new business school named after Margaret Thatcher – what a juxtaposition. There’s nothing around and I’m wandering like a headless chicken. All the signage is pointing you towards is the nearest Oxford Uni College, not say somewhere to get a cup of coffee. I thought to myself… I don’t need Keble, I need Costa! (Incidentally, it’s not the first time I’ve thought “I don’t need Keble”.)

Eventually after minutes that felt like hours, I found my way to Westgate shopping centre, and spotted my little oasis in the desert: Costa Coffee. It’s an easy target but here is where it came in clutch – it was open late and they have plugs everywhere. Thank the heavens! Sometimes there’s a time and place for that weirdly welcoming aura of predictable, aggressively okay coffee. Sometimes. Especially when your phone’s dead and you would quite like to get out of the rain.

Stepping into that Costa I’m ashamed to say made me feel so much better. Never have I felt such delight at finding a plug socket – I’m beginning to realise quite how sad my little life is sometimes. Finally, some familiarity and safety. I unwound a little and ended up writing this very piece. Sometimes you can surprise yourself – yes, I have reached a point where finding a Costa Coffee was the high point of my day. If it can happen to me, it can definitely happen to you.


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