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Damn Fine Coffee

… and HOT!

Like any good hipster, I adore coffee (and Twin Peaks). I never thought I would be such a fan of the hard stuff; I have always first and foremost been a tea drinker, but in my ever-advancing years I’m finding my tastes shift more and more over to the dark side.

Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it, don’t wait for it, just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair or two cups of good hot black coffee.

Recently, I got an email from a lovely lady on behalf of Greggs, asking if I would like to take part in a little experiment. To highlight their ever-expanding range of takeaway coffees, and in line with Fairtrade Fornight, it was my job to taste-test coffees from various high street retailers and see how they matched against Greggs’ offering.

Bemusing, you might initially think, seeing as Greggs more famed for their steak bakes than their caramel macchiatos. But judging by the declining quality of some of the more well-renowned barista houses (I recently had to take a drink back to Soho, it was that disgusting) I was intrigued to give it a try. So in the name of S C I E N C E, I prepared my heart for caffeine-induced palpitations and set off in search of the best cups of joe.

 

RULES:
1) I’ll be judging each cup on the following criteria – taste, value for money, aroma, visual appeal and, because of Fairtrade Fortnight, sustainability.

2) In the name of science, I’ll be ordering the same beverage from each coffee house – an Americano, in the smallest size possible.

3) I’m also going to be adding an extra criteria of my own invention. An Americano is traditionally espresso and hot water, that’s it. It should always be drunk black. In an exceptionally old-lady-way, it irks me when I’m asked if I want some mysterious invention called a ‘white Americano’, and so if I’m asked this question then the venue in question will automatically FAIL.

First up was hipster favourite, Pret a Manger.

Pret a Manger

pret coffee

I adore Pret. I love their little sandwiches, I love their brie and avocado toasties, and I’ve never been let down on the coffee front.

I order an Americano to take away, please. “White Americano or black Americano?”
Lily’s old lady criteria: FAIL.

After the initial disappointment of assuming I wanted milk in my coffee, this was a pretty tasty beverage. It was robust without being too bitter, and had a nice fullness of flavour.
Taste: 4/5

It also cost a mere £1.80.
Value for Money: 4/5

There wasn’t much of an aroma about it, which was unusual, but might have been because it was stifled for so long under that plastic lid.
Aroma: 3/5

I can’t really comment on the visual appeal of it, to be honest, because by the time I had travelled to my destination and taken the lid of it was no longer piping hot. Also, it’s just a black coffee. There was also an unnecessary stick in the top of the cup, for some reason.
Visual appeal: 3/5

Pret also seems to be continually aware of its social and sustainable responsibility, which you can see here. Sustainability: 5/5

All in all, this was a pretty good start.

Costa Coffee

Remember to look at the lens, Lily, not the flippy side screen.

Remember to look at the lens, Lily, not the flippy side screen. You weirdo.

Next up, we had Costa. I would never really gravitate naturally towards Costa because I always assumed it to be rather expensive. There’s also something a bit weird and fake about it, which I think comes from their strange red colour scheme. Either way, I just don’t really rate it.

“Would you like milk in the Americano?”
Lily’s old lady criteria: FAIL.

The taste of this was very strange. It was almost thin, kind of watery, with a weird acidic tang.
Taste: 1/5

While your fancier coffees might be pricey, a small Americano was £2. Not too bad.
Value for Money: 3/5

Not much aroma to this thin, despicable brew.
Aroma: 2/5

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I do like Costa’s weird, ribbed cups though. It also had a nice crema on top. Not half bad.
Visual appeal: 3.5/5

Costa is also doing their bit for sustainability – all of their coffee is Rainforest Alliance certified. Read more here. Sustainability: 4/5

This doesn’t stop it from being a terrible cup of coffee though.

Caffe Nero

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The colour scheme of Caffe Nero soothes me. The aggressive font they have chosen for their branding does not. It’s for this conflicting reason I don’t often choose this place.

At first I thought that they might pass the first criteria. But then, here it came – the dreaded question. “Would you like any milk in the Americano?”
Lily’s old lady criteria: FAIL.

This was by far the most bitter of all the coffees I had tasted thus far. It was also quite ‘thin’ in taste, not much to report back. It wasn’t dreadful though.
Taste: 2.5/5

The most expensive so far at £2.20. The cup was also a lot smaller than the other places I had tried so far.
Value for Money: 2/5

It had a kind of weird, muddy aroma. Even Tom remarked how earthen it smelled.
Aroma: 2/5

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I took the lid off to have a peep before sipping it and it looked a bit… grainy.
Visual appeal: 1/5

Their sustainability and ethics policy seems a bit bullshit, to be honest. It’s all wrapped up in weird wording on this page of their website. I think they weren’t banking on too many people finding it and actually reading it. They only mention their beans being ‘sourced from clearly identifiable and traceable sources’, which not all of them can be, apparently. So they could be from anywhere, according to Caffe Nero.
Sustainability: 1/5

Greggs

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I saved Greggs til last, because if I’m being perfectly honest I was a wee bit worried about how it would measure up against the coffee giants. While their coffee comes out of a ‘push-a-button-and-ye-shall-receive’ coffee machine (as opposed to an Italian-style barista one with the knobs and steam wands etc), I was very pleasantly surprised.

EVEN GREGGS DIDN’T PASS THIS BLOODY TEST! She even pointed out where the milk was for the espresso we ordered!!!1! Argh!
Lily’s old lady criteria: FAIL.

Not a half bad cup of coffee at all. No unpleasant bitterness, and a fairly well-rounded depth. It was very weak though, so if you’re a fan of strong coffee you might be disappointed. Tom had a double espresso, however, which was nothing short of smashing.
Taste: 3.5/5

A snip at £1.50.
Value for Money: 5/5

Not a hugely strong smell from my Americano, but the whiffs coming off Tom’s were pretty good.
Aroma: 3/5

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Both of these looked lush, to be fair. I have deducted a point because there was no sleeve on my cup and my little porky fingers were getting roasted.
Visual appeal: 4/5

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Greggs’ beans are also 100% Fairtrade, and they have been a Fairtrade Partner for over 10 years, contributing more than £1million through coffee sales alone. You learn something new every day!
Sustainability: 5/5

In conclusion, it was a pretty close draw between Pret and Greggs, in my personal opinion. Tom made a very good point in all of this – coffee is just coffee unless you’re drinking something extraordinary which you’re usually going to be paying through the nose for. So really, if you’re drinking black coffee like me, then the most important factor is the price, which Greggs did win.

If I have learned anything from this challenge it can be summed up thusly: all High St chain coffee shops are much of a muchness, and you shouldn’t disregard something just because it’s cheaper than the others.

This post was in collaboration with Greggs.

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