British coffee used to have a dire reputation: boiled mud with a spot of milk. That’s changed, and it’s in the coffee shops of Birmingham, Bristol and London that I love to daydream and let my corporate thrillers grow. Although arguably the new coffee culture began with US giant Starbucks (let’s stick to the coffee and ignore their tax arrangements!), it’s the independents that are driving it now. So what’s the secret of their success?
Great coffee is a must, but other key ingredients in the recipe seem to be free wi-fi, room to talk and a high-footfall location. That appeals to a wide audience: businesspeople having meetings, friends catching up with each other, and freelancers like me, who are looking for a workspace with caffeine on tap. Delicious handmade food is a bonus, too – I suspect it doesn’t attract customers, but it keeps them there. The indie places understand all this. To them, one size does not fit all. Their food doesn’t arrive wrapped in plastic; they cook what they think people will like, and if they’re wrong, they try something different.
Coffee shops I’ve learned to love include the Boston Tea Party and Coffee #1 mini-chains (starting in Bristol, they now spreading the joy elsewhere) and fab Birmingham indies Yorks Bakery, Brewsmiths and the rather glam CD Coffee Lounge. Brewsmiths has a fantastic deal: unlimited filter coffee all day for £3 or tea for £2. They’re really supportive of writers too, with a regular book club and spoken word events. I love reading stories there to a live audience; there’s a real buzz about the place.
In London, I had a book party at the Haggerston Tearoom. Again, the combination of tea, cakes and books really hit the spot. Nuala, who runs the tearoom, appreciates that customer feedback is her most valuable asset. She seeks it out “Did you like that cake?”, and she listens to it. Her cakes are freshly-baked each day, with recipes tweaked in response to her customers. Obviously, it’s all about tea in Haggerston, with several sorts on offer. For coffee in London, I head to the Fleet River Bakery, not least for its ferociously fast wi-fi. It’s good for people-watching too, as gossipy lawyers and students like hanging out there.
While caffeine kickstarts creativity, it’s the other elements of coffee shops that bring stories into the world. Being able to relax, eavesdrop and daydream keeps me writing without shutting myself away in an office! This is especially valuable at the moment while I’m working on my third corporate thriller, and compiling an e-book of my short stories for the end of March. If you fancy a free copy of my e-book for the next time you visit your local coffee shop, sign up for my newsletter here.