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140. Deliverance (V)

There are basically three chains of coffee shop in Britain: Costa, Starbucks, and Caffè Nero. Yes, there are a few other chains, but, sooner or later, as in the case of Coffee #1, it emerges that what seems like a new or independent chain is in fact—as in the case of Coffee #1, owned by Nero—owned by a larger chain. The chains are organised along fairly clear class lines, though not the old class lines that people might think about when it comes to Britain. The class lines are roughly those of Brave New World: Alpha, Beta, Omega, and so on—almost biological, and purely technical divisions. It is the sort of sociological divide that might be found in the old classification of A, B, C1, C2, D, and E—a classification based on occupation and educational attainment. Indeed, I am pretty sure that all these coffee shops have sophisticated spreadsheets and plans arranged so as to attract and organise their market segment very effectively.

These divisions actually exist across the world, and there is nothing particular about them; it is not as if the descendants of Winston Churchill feel self-conscious about going to Caffè Nero or a bishop would never be seen dead in a Costa—or even that, as with certain pubs, surly working-class patrons would make a middle-class punter feel uncomfortable if he sat down for a drink. No, these are purely technocratic divisions; and I know that the divisions work as well in France or the United States or Iran.

The division works something like this: Costa is the most universal and the cheapest coffee shop, designed for the working masses but also anyone who wants a quick drink; Starbucks is more solidly tilted to middle administrative workers, particularly women—hence its propaganda is always very conscious of the latest social justice causes; finally, Nero, with its dark and sophisticated colours, appeals to the higher technical workers—university lecturers and the like—people who actually do take holidays in Italy and so enjoy the pretension of a genuine Italian-style coffee. Nero even makes sure—probably breaking some equality legislation—to mostly employ young Italians as baristas, just to give it that somewhat real flavour.

There are also, supposedly, independent coffee shops. These are the province of hipsters, almost always run by a man with his hair in a bunch, as if he had taken vows in some Eastern religion. These only make an appearance in the larger cities and more affluent suburbs; the patrons are people in the so-called creative sectors, advertising and the arts. People far too self-conscious and pure to patronise a corporate-run shop. The coffee is always very particular and, given the boutique experience, expensive. Yet, even though each shop is independent, every “independent” hipster coffee shop feels the same. It has the same bare lightbulbs, the same rough-hewn chairs, and, probably, the same “independently-sourced” coffee and cakes.

A friend visited Iran—Iran, an evil totalitarian Muslim state closed to the world—and found a hipster-style cafe, right down to the bare lightbulbs and rough-hewn wooden seats. The only difference from the West was that the proprietor did not let him take photos of a girl in a hijab. However, later, he discovered that Grindr works in Iran and met up with an amiable guy. In short, what the radical right calls “globohomo”—the homogenisation of cultures—is really global, even in supposedly closed countries, such as Iran, the hipsters are there; and, as for homosexuality, ignore the propaganda—they hang rapists, not homosexuals.

The artisan is absent. The hipster coffee shop has not been passed down the generations; the proprietor’s children, if he has any, will do something else. The ineffable knowledge that comes from five or six generations brewing a cup of coffee is non-existent, all the little experiments over time never even made. Of course, every coffee shop says it offers artisanal coffee, even low-grade Costa, but none do anything like that at all.


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