Time was when we used to be pretty happy with a cup of dark liquid that didn’t taste of much in particular and which was dispensed from a glass flask containing what was claimed to be “filter coffee”.

Time was when we used to be pretty happy with a cup of dark liquid that didn’t taste of much in particular and which was dispensed from a glass flask containing what was claimed to be “filter coffee”. Rarely seen these days, it marked both the end of a meal and, more often than not, the low point of a perfectly pleasant repast.

That was then. Nowadays we’re spoilt for choice and coffee has morphed into a vast number of forms and is rather more likely to be consumed from a recycled and corrugated cup as it is carried out from a coffee shop. And there is a different sort of coffee shop for every location, whether it’s a branch of the near ubiquitous Costa or Starbucks chains, or one of the select, and more expensive, independents.

The latter seem to occur in clusters and the rules of the game seem to be that when a high street in a relatively affluent area is failing then it’s time to add a(nother) coffee shop to the retail mix. In super-rich destinations, such as London’s St John’s Wood, within 200 m it’s now possible to choose from six different coffee emporia, ranging from Starbucks, to very upmarket cakery Richoux, but all offering pretty much the same warm beverage.

In days gone by, complaints were voiced about clone Britain where all high streets everywhere were claimed to look the same. This criticism probably still holds good, but the nature of that monotony has changed, so that as well as all of the usual fashion chains, coffee shops now look set dominate.

Perhaps these things go in cycles. A few years ago, it seemed that British shopping thoroughfares were about selling mobile phones. That seems to have died back somewhat and coffee shops seem to be taking their place. And like mobile phones, the logic for this is perfectly apparent – profit margins are very high and not a huge amount of space is required to turn a penny.

The mild problem with this is what happens next? We may all like a skinny latte at the moment, but there will come a moment when our tastebuds stray elsewhere. At which point, will there be a coffee-shop crash and the reality of monoculture high streets becomes clear? Possibly, but meantime we’ll all continue to queue to pay over the odds for what is perceived to be a quotidian kickstart. Mine’s a caramel macchiato with soy…   

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