Lost in caffeine translation (part two)
The advantage of being a sixth year architecture student is that you can be shamelessly grumpy. I’ve been around this place for so long that people generally don’t argue with me when I say “it weren’t like that in my day”. I’ve been riding the Arts Tower paternoster for so long that I now believe the urban myth that it used to run noticeably faster than it does now. And I’ve been drinking coffee from the basement café for so long that I know it’s getting more expensive.
Throughout my undergraduate days (between 2001 and 2004) I, like many other architecture students and staff, would break the long studio days by descending the lower ground floor of the Arts Tower to the rather shabby but well patronised café. Freshly prepared 10 inch baguettes were made by the staff and sold for less than £2. Soft, doughy cookies were pulled from the oven throughout the day, and could be bought with a coffee for less than £2. The coffee was nothing special (the beans were ground and prepared in an automatic machine) but there were plentiful supplies of different teas, and nothing was fancy or expensive.
But those days are gone. Long gone. Gone are the soft cookies. Gone are the big and simple baguettes (gone, in fact, is the entire kitchen: everything is bought in). They have fancy ingredients and organic labels, and taste pretty normal. Gone too are the cheap and cheerful coffees and teas. In their place are fancy coffees with fancy names from a fancy machine.
No, seriously, I’m not kidding. A 12oz coffee in a University of Sheffield outlet costs £1.55. Add twenty pence if you don’t have a student card, or if you happen to be a long suffering employee of the university. One of the few perks about being an academic – eating and drinking at student rates – has been snatched away.
Since I’ve been working in the centre of Sheffield over the last few weeks, I couldn’t help wondering how that compared to the coffee I could buy elsewhere in Sheffield. Surely a university coffee bar wouldn’t be more expensive than a proper coffee bar? To find out, took a walk into town, trying to compare the cost of an 12oz university Americano with what the competition has to offer.
Above: Coffee Revolution at the Student Union. £1.60 for a 12oz coffee, and it’s Fairtrade.
Above: PJ Taste on West Street. It’s a privately run sandwich bar that sources almost all of its ingredients locally. Obviously coffee doesn’t grow in Yorkshire, but one of the partners in the firm assured me that they serve only the best coffee they can source. £1.70 for a 12oz cup.
Above: Cafe Utopia in West One. £1.70 for an 12oz americano.
Above: Café Moco on West Street, where it’s £1.75 for an 12oz Americano (trust me, the price is obscured by the light reflecting).
The Starbucks employee at the Division Street branch I spoke to informed me that company policy forbade anyone photographing the interior or exterior of their coffee shop. I don’t have a problem with that, because the interior of that god awful corporate dump isn’t particularly photogenic. A regular (12oz) Americano costs £1.75.
Above: £1.85 for a 12oz Americano in Caffétteria. The manager assured me that if he wanted to sell bad coffee for half that price, he could, but preferred to sell decent Italian coffee.
So (and admittedly to my disappointment) I found that the university outlet is still cheaper than Sheffield’s trendy coffee joints. But only just. Anyone who assumes the university outlets are substantially better value than commercial cafés and bars needs to know that the university intends to make every penny it can out of these secondary activities. But having sampled a couple of these coffees (and having been given a very generous invitation to come back to PJ Taste to sample their blend on the house when I wasn’t so caffeinated) it’s going to be hard to swallow the university’s upmarket prices when the product is so average.
Just when I thought I had got to the point of realising that my grumpiness had been misdirected, I hit the jackpot. Above, the best value and best tasting coffee I’ve found in Sheffield. Gusto Italiano’s Americano is £1.40 for a large (12oz) cup. What’s more, it’s a gorgeous nutty Italian blend that’s rich without being burnt. They’re on Church Street, on the tram line just west of the Cathedral stop. Go there for the reasonably priced coffee, and go back because it tastes so good.