In praise of good, independent coffee

It’s almost that month again… May; this is when I start to let my creative juices flow as a method of procrastination for my examinations. Here it goes…

Over the last year, I’ve become something of a coffee geek, shunning the Starbucks and Costa of old for high-quality independent outfits that seem to attract the sort of twenty-something, Guardian-reading, socially liberal cosmopolitan type that I am.

My adventure into the world of specialty coffee started in Birmingham in February 2013 when a friend recommended that I try out a cool-looking coffee shop in the capital of the stunningly attractive Midlands. Since then, I’ve lost many afternoons to this particular coffeehouse, tweeting, reading newspapers, and, occasionally, doing academic work.

My coffee-drinking adventure has led me to explore what can only be described as a varied palette of coffee in cities across Europe, far superior to what one can buy in “mainstream” establishments. Last summer, whilst I had something of a Northern European (and northern English) adventure, I visited fine establishments in cities as varied as Amsterdam, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool (my hometown) and Oslo (still the best coffee I’ve ever had despite the fact the fact that the choice was limited for those, such as my parents, who don’t share my passion for single-origin coffee). This love for coffee led my folks to even invest in a Aeropress coffee filter machine, meaning that my mother has become something of an expert barista, with the coffee purchased from an amazingly varied small roaster in the north of England.

One might assume that, given the fact that the UK’s café culture seems on the face of it to be limited to big chains that seem to exist on every street corner, the independent coffee scene may have suffered. Far from it; in fact, the seemingly tyrannical growth of big chains up and down the country seems to have incubated something of a counter-hegemonic coffee culture. This hasn’t just benefitted the big cities, such as London, with its phenomenal SquareMile roastery: it has also created a market for high-quality roasteries in seemingly unattractive parts of England, such as Staffordshire and Hull.

Whilst it is impossible to deny that a burgeoning independent café culture exists in the UK, one must say that my fellow Britons are still a little too unadventurous in their coffee tastes. Even in the most specialist of independent coffee shops, I see people order cappuccinos and flat whites all too often, rather than indulge in the skills of some of the UK’s best talent; that applies to both the coffee and the eccentric baristas, by the way. I implore you guys to find your nearest indy coffeehouse and try something new today (a Kalita Wave, a V60, an Aeropress, or a Chemex, perhaps).

In conclusion, the last fourteen months have given me a new passion in life: independent coffee. In the UK, I’m optimistic about the potential of an alternative to the big coffee chains, however I would caution that we still have a long way to go before we can be regarded as true coffee connoisseurs. Even in the most cosmopolitan of independent coffee houses in the UK, one can still see some of the trappings of a coffee culture that was created by the big chains.

Try something new today, please.