In defence of coffee

Don't mistake the crappiest instant versions for the real deal.

Contributions to the Very Late Review* have already started to come in and normally I don't weigh in with my own opinions. However, it's already clear that, unless the pendulum of opinion swings drastically in the opposite direction, coffee is going to score very poorly. A huge number of people seem to consider it undrinkable, too bitter, generally swill-like and absolutely inferior to tea.

I am a lifelong tea-drinker through and through so the last point doesn't upset me. But the general distaste for coffee does. It's normally impossible to change someone's taste when it comes to food as it's so subjective -- why, only earlier on Twitter I laid into the whole idea of cucumbers. But I do feel coffee is misrepresented in this country so I wanted to speak out briefly in its defence.

What many people think of as coffee is instant coffee: things like Nescafé, which you buy in jars and make by adding water. This does indeed taste pretty awful (unless you add a mountain of sugar) and could also do awful things to your guts if you're not careful. Then there's the coffee you get in Starbucks, Costa and similar chain establishments. This is much better quality but it's made with the lack of love you'd expect in chain stores so it's fairly mediocre. But THEN you get what I would call proper coffee, made from a fancy Italian machine. You can get this from slightly more upmarket cafés or make it yourself at home. It is a different world from what often passes for coffee. It's an awful lot nicer.

If you lived in, say, Melbourne, you could march into almost any establishment from a glossy restaurant to a dental surgery, demand a latte and walk away feeling pretty cool about life. Or Rome and no doubt other places besides. For reasons that aren't clear to me, in the UK we don't have the same culture of Decent Coffee Drinking; the crappiest instant versions seem to be interchangeable with the real deal.

Many people on this blog have complained, in the past, of lack of motivation, tiredness, a general feeling of being overwhelmed by life's challenges, energy shortages, all these kinds of things. I can't help thinking coffee would help some of you out, big time. In relatively small doses, it can make you, as one commenter remarked, buzz like a hummingbird. (I guess hummingbirds hum, technically, but any time I get the chance to be likened to a hummingbird, I'll take it.) For me, since Kit was born, it's been the difference between staggering everywhere like a dead-eyed phantom and only staggering SOME places like that. I also doubt I would have got Eleven written without it.

It ain't tea. You can't beat tea for comfort, morale-boosting, warming up on a grotty day and so on. But it certainly does have its uses.

Probably nine-tenths of the people who claim to dislike coffee will be unmoved by this plea for clemency. But all I'm saying is, make sure you're trying the nicest possible incarnation before you write it off. If even one person, in the weeks and months ahead, puts the words "coffee convert comment" in this blog, I will be delighted.

And on the subject of odd acts inspired by this blog, yesterday (at the Stoke show), I got my first biro from Beth, the legendary Youngest Watsonian. She scored a bounty of Where's Watson points and I . . . well, I got a pen. Which makes me happy. It doesn't take much, sometimes.


*If you've not read the Very Late Review before, readers of my blog are asked to review a mixture of films, books, albums, people, experiences and anything else I feel I ought to have tried -- but haven't.

This post originally appeared on Mark Watson's blog.

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.
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Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.