22 Mar Coffee shops
Just back from meeting Cath for a coffee and a catchup. We do this quite often – an hour of digging into the big issues of our lives sets us up for the next few days, helps us brace for the fray of life. We flit around with no real loyalty to any one establishment. Carluccio’s in the High Street today. I had tea, which I regretted as it arrived in a glass.
There are 14 coffee shops in Teddington – a fact I find so unbelievable I have to keep adding them up in my head. And that’s not counting the restaurants and pubs that serve coffee some of the time. It can take a while to make one’s choice. The combined length of the two connecting streets running through the town (or village?) is around 1.5km. On this basis, there’s a coffee shop about every 100 metres, though the concentration is higher given the section over the railway bridge where there are no shop frontages. At 10,330 in the last census, Teddington’s population is small. It has no large shops or department stores, no particular business hub – the National Physical Laboratory and a few unassuming office blocks. Aside (self-evidently) from the baristas, washer-uppers and associated coffee-making personnel, there is no mass influx of commuters coming here daily to work. One assumes that the majority of residents are off at work somewhere else, leaving a mixture of young parents, usually mothers, and retired people as likely clientele. So, one wonders at the market for 14 of these coffee shops and the economic model on which this industry is built. I’ve chewed over the economics a few times with Jim, usually over a coffee at home, but we lose interest before we find answers.
Caitlin Moran took up the coffee cause last weekend urging the return of the cup of instant. Tried to read the article online but The Times gives you a paragraph and a half then makes you sign up and create a password if you want to read on. No way. I’m with her, a bit. Instant coffee has its place. For me, that would be halfway up a Scottish hillside on a crisp, clear day, a spoonful mixed with boiling water from the old thermos. Tastes terrific.
Generally, though, I like a good, smooth roasted coffee. I like the aroma, the flavour, the ritual, the sounds. But do the people of Teddington really like coffee so much? I doubt it. Monday I was in Girasole for a meeting; today in Carluccio’s for a natter. Unusual for me, twice in a week. But you get to look around. Spend an hour or two in any one of these places and, like me, you realise: it’s not the coffee, stupid. It’s the social space. It’s where people get out of the house and where they meet up: parents with or without toddlers, kids maybe knocking off school, runners, cyclists, aspiring writers, thinkers, wifi seekers, office workers meeting off-site, young chums, old chums, long-lost friends, clandestine couplings…. Or where a solitary person can come to be alone together with others.