Crazy for coffee

It would seem that everyday someone somewhere is opening a coffee shop. Forget the fact that the UK is traditionally renowned for tea drinkers. Now in every shopping centre and on every high street, a coffee chain store is lurking. The first Starbucks (the trendy America Seattle based chain) hit London back in 1999. In the 12 years since then, we have watched and witnessed the rise and rise of the coffee phenomena. The friendly bubble of coffee perking can now be heard up and down the country.

From a quick pick me up in the morning to a leisurely cup after dinner to several strong black cups in the middle of the night when trying to stay awake to meet copy deadlines (or perhaps that is just me), most of us now drink coffee every day.

The only question is what kind of coffee? Whereas coffee was once limited to black or white, the choice is now endless. Hands up who has spent time staring at a coffee menu wondering which of the numerous names translated as regular filter coffee?! From frappucinos and lattes to mochas, skinnys and expressos, the coffee bars of today arguably offer you more coffee than you need.

In addition you can now choose from a vast selection of syrups to add to your coffee such as peach, vanilla, caramel and chocolate. Whereas once we used to say, "fancy a drink"? Today we are more likely to meet for a cup of coffee and this has much to do with the image both institutions project.

Starbucks, Caffe Nero, Costa and co have revolutionised coffee drinking. It’s a lifestyle where you can slip from your living room to their high street outlets without noticing you’d moved. In a coffee bar, time is flexible. For the price of a cup of coffee, you can sit and read (or write!) your novel, survey the complimentary newspapers for hours on end while nestled in comfy sofas. All are welcome. In a coffee shop, you belong in the cast of Friends. In a pub, you belong in ‘Enders.

But now that we have have woken up and smelt the coffee, which of the many chains deserves your patronage when shopping for your Spring wardrobe?

In order to ensure that you, dear reader, aren’t ripped off, I selflessly determined to taste and test the coffee on offer at various venues in the interests of finding the best tasting coffee and value for money. It was a caffeine fuelled day! Here I spill the beans (pardon the pun)...

STARBUCKS

Arguably the most famous of all the chains. Inside it is very Friends like - think comfy sofas and interesting paintings on the wall. On offer were lots of tempting pastries and snacks from muffins and flapjacks to cinnamon buns and brownies. In addition there was an overwhelming selection of coffee related memorabilia to take home as a souvenir of your spell in Starbucks. To drink, we tried the espresso which was strong with a good, rich smell. Not bad at all. The grande caramel mocha on the other hand, tasted like a lukewarm caramel milkshake. However a CD-Traveller staffer who has yet to be converted to coffee, praised the diverse range of coffee alternatives, particularly the good old fashioned hot chocolate with lashings of cream and the tai chai latte. Service is efficient and friendly but the high prices prevents Starbucks from scoring that highly.

Rating 3 stars

CAFFE NERO

By far our favourite. Stylish and swanky - the Italian ambience works well. The interior is dark and well designed and you don’t need a degree to read the menu. Feeling happy, we reclined in the big leather chairs and sampled our selections. The espresso was rich and the cappuccino actually tasted of coffee and was not negated by lashings of milk. Prices are competitive and loyal Caffe Nero regulars are rewarded with a a free tenth coffee. Well every little helps....

Rating 4 stars

COSTA

The first coffee shop to open in the UK way back in 1978 but has long since been overtaken. Nice surroundings but the cappuccino here is for those who don’t like coffee: hot milk and lots of it! Not bad, but not great...

Rating 3 stars

Okay at this stage of the game its only 11.30am and I am buzzing having definitely od’d on coffee causing me to consider the pros and cons of a daily caffeine habit. We all know coffee gives us an instant lift, but how much is too much?

PROS Coffee is virtually calorie free

It provides an instant energy boost

It acts an antioxidant in the body

CONS Overdosing on caffeine can bring on symptoms such as headaches, nausea and diarrhea.

It can increase the risk of miscarriage and the symptoms of PMS

If you drink coffee with a meal, it restricts the absorption of some nutrients.

Like anything, coffee should be enjoyed in moderation. Three cups of coffee a day is a good average guideline.