I was saddened recently when Brasserie Gerard, a restaurant I reviewed not so long ago, closed its doors in my town. It's a chain, though, so it's not completely gone.
We collectively scratched our heads. What would take its place? Over the years, the building itself ha been home to many businesses - a newsagent, a bank, a bakery among others - and so the possibilities were virtually limitless. Imagine my chagrin, then, when it started to take shape as a branch of Costa Coffee. Costa has been painted as a bit of an 'evil empire' type of place, but that's probably just jealous rumours, because Costa is the largest coffee chain in the UK, with over 1000 stores. They operate in over 28 countries, but their beginnings were quite humble. Two brothers, Sergio and Bruno Costa, opened their small coffee roasting operation in London in 1971, about the same time that Starbucks opened their first store in Seattle's Pike Place. In 1978 they started their coffeehouses, and by 1995 they were big enough to make Whitbread sit up and take notice. Whitbread (my old employers) purchased them and since that time they have been on a seemingly relentless quest for global coffee domination. I used to own stock in Whitbread. I sold it a few years back. I now regret this decision, as I could have shares in some serious coffee.
In town I decided I'd better try out the new store. The one and only time I'd had Costa Coffee was at Heathrow airport on the day I arrived back on these shores in snowy January. So I didn't have much to base any opinions on.
Yesterday I'd been to Ashford and Caffe Nero - yes, I know there's a Caffe Nero in my hometown of Tenterden, but we happened to be in Ashford and went to the one there. There my dear Laura had had an Amaretto Latte, which she said was pretty durn fab, I'd had their 'Caramelatte' which was also delicious. Only after we had come out did we walk past the Starbucks and noticed that they had Eggnog lattes, and I kinda kicked myself for not going in. Oh well, no matter. There are still 40-some days till Christmas.
But today was a different matter. As soon as we walked in we were impressed. They had retained the same basic shape of Brasserie Gerard, including some of the shelving units and the lovely atrium.
Their coffee selections were pretty much the same as most espresso places, lattes, Americanos, Cappuccinos, etc. but then there was a heading on the board declaring the legend 'Festive Drinks'... and guess what? There were more than the standard three, there were at least five or six, including Roasted Hazelnut lattes, Cinnamon lattes, but the one that caught my eye was at the top of the list - Creme Brûlée latte. Mmm, that sounded too good to be true.
Like all coffee houses they have weird Italian-sounding names for the different sizes. Why, I don't know. Everyone ends up saying 'small, medium or large' anyway, so it seems a bit silly. Anyway, I wanted a biggun, so I ordered my Creme Brûlée latte Massimo (I had a sly chuckle to myself when I saw the word Massimo, because I am one of those men who has seen "The Wedding Planner" about a dozen times, and that's the name of Justin Chambers' hilarious character), and Laura ordered the Roasted Hazelnut. Now, every coffee place has its own cups, and they all wanna be just a little different than their competitors, so when you order a biggun from Costa, different is what you get.
That's right. There are TWO handles on this bad boy, and you need 'em, cause it's humongous. The saucer, as you can see, is designed with the little place where the cup sits toward the edge, so as to create room for whatever baked item you might want to purchase (biscotti, flapjack, muffin). Well, we picked up our cups and took our first sip. Wow. All I can say is wow. The Creme Brûlée is definitely one I want to experience again, it's so fabulous. I had to swipe my finger around the inside of the cup to get all of that lovely foam. I didn't want to waste a single drop.
I tasted a small sip of the Roasted Hazelnut too, which was very very nice indeed,
but I loved my Creme Brûlée.
The sign out front proudly proclaims 'Costa For Coffee Lovers' and all appearances indicate that this is truly the case. They seem to really care about their product and the customer's experience is of utmost importance. And while other coffee houses do the whole punch-card thing, Costa issue a plastic credit-card style card which gets swiped every time you make a purchase, and points are added to your running total, which you can redeem against anything in the store.
I have found my new home...
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