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Take me to my Time Out city

Giles Coren’s rules for urban living

#3: Coffee is a drink, not a power source

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Giles Coren, Time Out columnist

© Paul Musso

There are many seven-word phrases out there which can cause the jaded citizen to dread what is coming next. Chief among these are: ‘Can I stop you for a minute?’, ‘Your call is very important to us’ and ‘Please blow slowly into this tube, sir’. But none quite chills me to the very rectum of my soul like ‘Do you want to grab a coffee?’

Aaargh! Grab a coffee? Grab! Why on earth would I want to grab anything, let alone a hot drink? Nothing that is worth having can be attained by grabbing. I was taught as a child not to grab. It’s rude. It’s ineffective. It’s what monkeys and toddlers and rapacious colonial armies do.

But, you see, the idea of grabbing is central to the pathetic modern idea that hot coffee from a high street shop is an important fuel for the living of a busy urban life. You can’t sit and enjoy a cup of coffee. You can’t merely drink it. You have to GRAB it! And then run with it somewhere! With its stupid lid on, slurping the boiling muddy shite through a tiny hole that over time solders a permanent dead spot on your top lip, while at the same time holding a meeting on your phone with some other time-poor bean counter currently grabbing a coffee in some other miserable city on the other side of the world.

Worse still is when people invite you to grab not a coffee but a ‘kworfee’. ‘Wanna grab a kworfee?’ they say, putting on a terrible 1970s, blue-collar New York accent to try and glamorise the rancid flagon of hot piss they are about to imbibe by associating it with the busiest city in the world. As if the drinking of coffee were a recent exotic import that needs aural inverted commas around it if one isn’t to sound pretentious.

‘Come on, I’m gasping for a cappuccino,’ they say, perpetuating the myth that drinking caffeine really does anything for you at all. Because it doesn’t. A cup of coffee does not sober you up if you have a hangover, or wake you up if you are feeling tired, or focus your mind if you are frazzled, or cheer you up if you are sad. Unless you are addicted to it. In that way it is identical to cigarettes and heroin: terrific at briefly curing the bad feeling of not having had any since last time, but utterly worthless in itself.

But you don’t care about that. That very worthlessness is what makes it ever so slightly naughty. That’s why you have to grab it. And it’s why you like grabbing it with someone else. It fuels that intimacy and sense of inclusion that you used to feel when you smoked cigarettes, back when you were cool. Indeed, it is very nearly as cool as heroin. Grab that coffee and rock out like a dead-eyed supermodel or comatose bass guitarist.

And you don’t even really like the taste. Not neat. So you drown one shot in a pint of hot milk and call it a ‘latte’ or a ‘flat white’ and slurp it from a paper drum the size of your head as you mope wordlessly to work, suckling like a giant toddler on quantities of warm cow’s milk that are healthy only for other cows, newly born, and then only for a matter of weeks, delivering levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) that in adult humans will grow you at best a fat belly and at worst, it is argued, give you cancer.

It is an absolute tragedy how the elegant, bitter little drink from the Indies which first found favour in the coffee houses of 17th-century Europe, helping to foment both the English Civil War and the French Revolution, became the ubiquitous poison of mooing street dawdlers and exploited office workers across the world. 

And if you think that’s an exaggeration, screw you. I’m feeling ratty. It’s early, and I haven’t had a coffee.

Read Giles Coren’s rules for urban living every week.



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