Commentary: Wake up and smell the coffee snobbery

Commentary: Wake up and smell the coffee snobbery

Perhaps this is a new business model for cafes: Create something so preposterously expensive that journalists have to come to test it out, says the Financial Times' Robert Shrimsley.

FILE PHOTO: A cup of latte coffee is pictured at a cafe in Sydney
A cup of latte coffee is pictured at a cafe in Sydney, Australia, May 12, 2014. )Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed)

LONDON: I was hugely excited to hear that a cafe in London is now serving a £15 (US$19.90) cup of coffee; though not as excited as I would have been had I been one of the many London journalists asked to sample it.

Perhaps this is a new business model for cafes: Create something so preposterously expensive that journalists have to come to test it out. That’s got to keep the cash rolling in.

Then, in about a month or two, when all the world’s hacks have tired of tasting the £15 brew, the cafe can come up with a new one for £25 and start the process all over again.

Seriously, this is the future — media services. “Need a story — come on down to our restaurant, we are selling pork scratchings at £50 a bag.”


Clearly the real pay dirt is if you can get a TV crew interested; that’s about three people each needing to gulp down a £15 coffee from the plains of Yemen. Then, obviously, you will want to buy a few more cups to test on passers-by for the prestige slot on the nightly news.

Of course, the screamingly expensive coffee is just the one that garners all the publicity and pulls in the self-selecting aficionados. Regular punters can get a shot of house joe for the bargain price of £3.50.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I was not deemed refined enough to go taste the Yemeni gold blend. So they sent someone more cultured. Naturally I practised for the role.

I stood near the FT’s Food & Drink desk slurping McDonald’s Americano and saying things like, “Yes, I’m getting definite notes of coffee, with just a hint of coffee aftertaste”. Apparently this wasn’t enough for the assignment. If you want to get sent to sample the £15 cuppa, you have to know how to detect notes of bergamot in a cup of Caffe HAG.

READ: I get a headache without my morning coffee, a commentary

mccafe mcdonalds coffee
(Photo: Unsplash/Alina Kovalchuk)

Anyway, the point seems to be that the coffee is from Yemen, the sugar from the Indian Ocean, the milk from Normandy, the beans twice roasted and ground between Mila Kunis’s shoulder blades and the water filtered through George Clooney’s chest hair.


Obviously, the whole thing is simply the latest summit of coffee snobbery, but it is hard to object. If you are rich and stupid enough to pay that much for a brew at the Coff-up Cafe then it is only right that an expert arrives to relieve you of your cash.

It is your absolute right to pay through the nose and sit sniffing over your cup with the intensity of a cold sufferer over a Vicks Vaporub steam inhaler.

I’m sure it’s darn fine coffee but the division in society is not really between those who do or do not possess a sufficiently refined palate to appreciate a £15 coffee. It is between those with a sufficiently refined brain to know not to bother and those not so lucky.

What I do object to is when the coffee snobbery spills out into normal life. If someone wants to go out of their way to buy a £15 coffee at a coffee boutique, then good luck to them.

They are probably happy to embrace all the affectations and other superciliousness about not adding milk and dunking Hobnobs or whatever.

READ: Coffee, a health drink or an unhealthy addiction? A commentary

pour over coffee, cafe
(Photo: Unsplash/Karl Fredrickson)

The problem is that this is beginning to infect ordinary places. I have now lost count of the number of only slightly upmarket restaurants refusing to offer sweetener or skimmed milk with coffee because the barista feels his view is more important than the customer’s.


There is a place near the office that serves roast chicken — a sort of posh Nando’s replete with exposed brickwork and wooden benches that for some time refused to provide sweetener.

The place sells roast chicken — roast chicken! Yet it’s still too hip to have a few sachets of sweetener. The £15 coffee is at least offered by a French Michelin-starred chef. The bar staff at the chicken shop are just making coffee; they aren’t Heston Blumenthal.

If people want to flock to a luxury coffee boutique, then the owners can be as dictatorial and sniffy as they like about the product. You are paying for the elitism. Back in the real world, you can shut up and pass the Canderel.

Source: Financial Times/sl