Visited in Towcester, Northamptonshire
I might have taken you by surprise reviewing one of the leading coffee retailers in Britain, but there are two reasons for that: first of all, Towcester was a quick stop-over on my way to and from Silverstone and I didn’t have the time to explore it for its best coffee shop – or equivalent; and Costa Coffee was just by my bus stop. Secondly, London, which I visited next just for a few hours is simply too vast for one to be able to pin-point the best cafe to visit and then to attempt to rate it to reflect the coffee-stage of the City – and therefore the next review will address another chain retailer. The beauty (if you will) of these shops is that they have a set of standards that all branches should follow, and therefore one can assume that the quality of their coffee in one place should reflect a general standard of the whole company – a myth, of course, as there are as many standards as there are baristas in the end, but in this case generalisation is more justified than in others.
But where to begin? Let’s start with the atmosphere; Costa, following from the ?? suggested by the name, imitates a warm, Italian café – in all respects: it certainly was a dry hideout place on that rainy day, the standard red wallpaper, together with low, non-intrusive music instantly created a cosy living-room feeling and the well-stocked pasty case (even in the post-lunch-rush-period) looked very inviting. Also the girl behind the counter was welcoming and kept smiling despite having to do several tasks at once: taking orders, toasting sandwiches and clearing tables; however, the woman on the bar making drinks looked less enthusiastic and didn’t really interact with the customers – but as I found out, that’s pretty much one of the “chains’ standards”.
I asked for my mocha, a Raspberry and Almond Bake and a WiFi code and sat myself by one of the few empty tables (for such a small town this place looked quite popular) with only minutes to spare. Of course, I took my time to taste and assess the coffee: and although it looked pretty and was quite big for a small size, it did not blow me away. It had good, smooth texture and was easy to drink, but it left an unpleasant bitter aftertaste. Again, I’d blame the espresso – Costa use both Arabica and Robusta beans in their Mocha Italia blend (proportion 6:1 respectively), which may affect the quality of the final product. On the other hand, the bake was scrumptious, but a bit too much on the sweet side, so all in all the two somehow balanced the pallet – with some help from the accompanying Flake.
To be fair and square, this was not my first visit to Costa; I never exactly made my mind up whether I liked it or not: the first coffee put me off, the second one was very enjoyable. But with a score for 1:2 against, I would not consider it “Britain’s favourite coffee shop”.
I hope that not being British does not make me a biased voter.
Verdict justification: As every commercial coffee retailer Costa will have it’s friends and foes, so it’s difficult to be objective. It’s a pleasant cafe with good customer service but the coffee, although not bad, needs improving