In Markman Ellis' excellent history of the way we drink coffee, The Coffee House: A Cultural History, there is a chapter called something like The Lactification of Coffee. I forget the exact title and I haven't drunk enough espresso to get out of my chair and go and find my copy. You'll just have to trust me. Anyway, the premise is a simple one. The way coffee is drunk has changed out of all recognition from the black, hot and bitter to the smooth, milky and sweet. Starbucks is to blame, probably.
He's right of course. The average coffee shop serves variations on large milky drinks that taste vaguely of coffee. The current trend in London for flat whites et al have upped the ante a little, in that at least the coffee is well made and not drowning in milk but there's a vaguely dunderhead trendoid factor involved in getting decent coffee from the likes of Flat White and Fernandez and Wells. You tend to have to wrestle past fixed wheel bikes and iphones or baby strollers made by F1 racing teams. The other curious thing is that they've done away with froth. I remember the days, not so long ago, that the true sign of a well made cappucino was a mountain of chocolate flecked foam you could snowboard down. It would take a foot long biscotti to find the coffee, long since transformed into a molten hot nuclear plasma under the intense pressure. Now, to the new cofferati it's anathema. It's all about silky milk. A merest hint of bubble and the barista gets his head broiled under his very own steam wand. Oddly, the ancient Mayan thought the foam the best bit. They were keen on human sacrifice too. I doubt the two are connected.
We drink a great deal of coffee in the UK but we aren't coffee lovers. We are a nation of tea drinkers really. Like the Japanese. Tea requires ceremony, patience and inspires a certain rectitude. If you look at how coffee has grown up in this country it's always in contrast to tea. Coffee is always more at home alongside debate, sedition and mischief making than tea which hangs around providing succour, comfort and familiarity. True coffee loving nations are chaotic, noisy places usually with a hint of corruption crinkling the edges. We are probably well on our way but we're not quite there yet.