Purveyor of the finest flat whites I’ve had anywhere, ever, Coffee Plant on Portobello Road is a good 20 minutes walk from my flat, and yet I make a special journey there most days. There is a usually a queue of bedraggled freelancers stretching into the street, waiting patiently for their expertly frothed and blended caffeine hit before they begin their day and, like a true Brit, I join the back and wait my turn.
Coffee Plant staff tend to be young, attractive and achingly cool in an I-was-out-all-weekend-raving sort of way, and by virtue of this – and the thumping trance music that usually blares out loudly – their customers feel that bit cooler too (even if they’re not). The staff might look like ravers, but if they are coming down from a weekend spent popping Es at a squat party in Shadwell, you wouldn’t know it for (while not exactly chatty) they are always very efficient, churning out coffee after impeccable coffee in a manner that ensures you never have to listen to blaring trance for very long (unless you want to of course, in which case, take a seat).
An independent coffee shop since 1985, Coffee Plant makes a statement of its political leanings in the form of “9/11: An inside job?” t-shirts pinned to the wall, scrawled messages such as “Resistance is Futile,” and postcards with wry quotations about the untrustworthy nature of politians. Interspersed with these are cuttings of slogans that include: “Love is a drug: same high as cocaine”, “Liquid Rave”, and Bob Marley quotes, which all makes for a strangely 90s vibe – a bit like my student bedroom circa. 2000.
This all adds to the charm of course. But it all rings rather hollow when you see the coffee cups, which come in Standard, Large or Extra Large sizes. Yes, that’s right, even an independent, supposedly free-thinking coffee shop has been infected with Starbucks size-ism.
Don’t they realise that the dispensation of small and medium is a largely capitalist affectation, a marketing ploy (admittedly quite ineffectual) that aims to make the customer feel he is getting a better deal than he really is? And don’t they realise that by imitating ‘the chains’ they are devaluing their own position as a liberated, self-supporting and non-corporate establishment? And do they know that Extra Large is as grotesque as Super Size? And that all coffee (especially the best stuff) should be served small?
It’s something to contemplate over a good flat white.
And here’s a doodle to illustrate my point.
180 Portobello Road
To order freshly roasted organic, Fair Trade coffee from Coffee Plant, visit www.coffee.uk.com