Saturday, 16 April 2011

Fancy a brew?

4.30am alarm, table seat, off peak day return to London Paddington and a buffet car mug of tea - the only sense in which I am living the dream is that I'm awake when I should be dreaming away. I'm off to Grovesnor square where the US embassy mandates that any British type requiring a visa has to get up bloody early to do so. 8 am appointments mean us provincials have to get up before the sun does, even in the springtime. That said I do like a good train journey, they're always reminiscent of adventures to London as a child and trips home from uni as a "yoof".

What's really comforting me now isn't so much the train as my mug of tea, hot, milky and sweet. Hot beverages play an inordinate role in my life, and the bewildering array of varieties is, I feel, a much underdiscussed topic. I've been asked more times than I care to recall "how do you like that colnago/dura ace/helmet/drink mix" - in all of the above cases I'm going to tell you the same thing "its very nice thanks" - you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and no more do you run down the people who are kind enough to give you bicycle bits n' bobs. But ask me what kind of beverage is appropriate for a given situation, that’s when I'll really start spouting (ok I start spouting quite a lot).

Amongst the quiver of options available the most frequently plucked is coffee, every cyclist loves coffee, it's what we do instead of eating. I tend to avoid the bewildering array of "espresso drinks" available at your local 'bucks (I don’t trust mermaids, much less ones who DON'T HAVE NIPPLES), reasoning that most of them are pretty pants for you. A good doppio espresso provides just the kick I need before a ride, or after a ride when I'm lacking the energy to do anything. I'm a massive fan of bird rock coffee roasters so they're my shot of choice. I'll occasionally indulge in a cappuccino if I'm breakfasting lightly on pastry goods but please don't put down a milky, sweet coffee AND a big ol' plate of pancakes, eggs and bacon. You don't need that kind of gut ballast people.

While we're talking about coffee rules here a re a few more: in the middle of a ride you want an espresso, maybe a hammerhead or an Americano maybe a cappuccino. Not a latte or a venti mocha frap, it's not lycra appropriate, save it for later - recovery drink style. A cappuccino, latte, macchiato and a flat white are not the same thing, if you're going to attempt to make it as a barista, you should take the bar exam first. An espresso served in anything other than a demi-tasse isn't an espresso - it's a travesty. And what on earth is going on with all the paper cups in the USA, if I'm gong to stay in your café give me a mug, a warmed one and save yourself the money. Did someone at starbucks get molested by and ent and now they taking it out on the rainforest?

displaced 'muricans have been known to lament the lack of their familiar bucket sized mugs in the land of pointy shoes and public transport but I would submit that us Euro types have an alternative for these situations. The humble mug of tea occupies a special place in the British psyche; any problem is met with the response "I'll put the kettle on". Not just a beige beverage, tea is a social lubricant. A good cup of tea also provides the dedicated sipper with a brew which will last more than 5 minutes of slurping. I've read a theory suggesting that the British predilection for the Asian leaf helped workers in the 19th century to avoid cholera (they boiled water) and helped to kickstart urbanisation and industry. There you go: tea - the building block of empire. But please, none of this fruit malarkey, those names promise so much and deliver so little. I mean come on, if you were blindfolded would you ever be able to tell that the slightly sweet grassy flavoured brew was "lychee and Asian passion fruit with a hint of ripe mango"?

Now over on the continent, teas aren't so common. But there's a variety of hot chocolates which makes your "coffee" drinks look like wheatgrass juice. The French favour the enormous milky bowl of chocolat chaud, served at breakfast and (at least in the case of undiscerning rosbifs) the recipient of many a dunked croissant au beurre. I think every trip to France when I was younger saw me clearing out the hotel breakfast buffet of those little sachets. That stuff is like crack. On the other end of the spectrum you've got the "suisse" chocolate favoured by the Spaniards. This, in my opinion is the peak of the candified beverage art. Thick enough to stand a churro in, darker than Fabian's opinion of Jonothan "no riding" Vaughters and about as bitter, enough to require additional sweetening in the form of a dunked melindra or churro . There's a place in Barcelona which makes the best rendition of this delicacy. I'd tell you where it is but I'd be worried you'd catch me in a private moment communing with my drinkable dessert.

And no, the platforms here are not denominated in bloody fractions and harry potter is JUST A STORY, capiche? And the bloke next to me: snappy suit, pink shirt, proper London attire complete with rolls of neck fat above the collar, well he's listening to ka$ha on his ipod - busted.

And so, a list
Coconut hot chocolate (coconut milk = yummo)
Bird rock coffee roasters (daily specials or the yirgacheffe from Ethiopia if you're buying)
Yorkshire tea (since PG tips ditched the chimps)
Lideman's Geuze (because miller genuine draft is NOT the champagne of beers)

-yep typed it with my thumbs: they're what makes us better than apes

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