The Great Coffee Experiment

I think we all agree that Coffee is a wonderful invention. It kick starts our days and gives us a feeling of warmth or a good chat with friends.

Readers of this blog might have already read my visit to the Southampton Repair Cafe. I volunteered once again the other week but this time it was slightly different: in addition to the usual repairers there were a bunch of organizations promoting various community and anti-waste causes.

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One of these was “EthiCo” – sety-up by a bunch of Southampton University students with the aim of reducing plastic waste around the campus. On their stand they had toothbrushes made from bamboo and re-usable coffee cup called a KeepCup. After chatting with them for a while I was impressed enough with their gumption and their cause to buy a KeepCup from them.

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This got me thinking: can I really use this everywhere in Southampton..?

The EthiCo guys told me that some cafe’s will give a small discount or more loyalty points for using a re-usable cup. I had to try it out myself…

McDonalds

I wasn’t sure what kind of reception I would get at the well-known “chain of the golden arches”. In my mind I was expecting some inflexibility: “no sir, we can only give you the coffee in our certified, anti-litigation McCup with the McLid and McSleeve”.

So it is with some interest that I approcahed the McDonalds in the West Quay Retail Park and… I’m happy to report that they gave me my Latte in my re-usable cup.

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But.

A few days later I cycled to Eastleigh town centre and decided to try the McDonalds there. I asked if they could give me it in my reusable cup and they said they could only give me it in their own cup – and that I could then pour it into my KeepCup!

Uhhh, yeah OK.

To be fair, the server chap seemed amenable to my request but I saw him ask his manager who then refused my request. The server empathised with me about the cup being a waste.

It would seem the it’s all down to the attitude of the staff or manager in McDonalds. For this reason McDonalds gets two out of three coffee beans. A shame as their coffee is pretty good on both the taste-buds and wallet.

Cafe Thrive

This a is a relatively new Vegan cafe/resteraunt on Hanover buildings sandwiched between Rice Up Whole Foods and British Heart Foundation. Look out for the black and white logo (the pasta place next-door is also black and white so don’t get confused!).

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Given the laid-back friendliness I already experienced here I could predict that they would just “get it” and sure enough they gave me a delicious Assam blend tea in my Keep Cup with no fuss whatsoever. They even gave me the Oak milk in a cute bottle alongside it.

Well done guys, you get the maximum three coffee beans out of three :)

Mettricks

The family-owned chain also exudes an environmentally-friendly vibe due in part to the locally sourced nature of all the food. I should have no problem here right?

As you can guess, I did indeed have no problem. The staff in Mettricks Old Town gave me a coffee in my Keep Cup twice now. No muss, no fuss.

Mettricks gets three coffee beans out of three.

The Art House

As the website puts it: Your one and only creatively-inspired, community-run, organic, love-filled, not-for-profit, quirky, slightly wonky, home-grown, 100% original, local cafe / gallery / venue / home-from-home in Southampton.

With an introduction like that you can probably guess if my re-usable cup was accepted: it was :)

Much like Cafe Thrive, these guys were chilled and friendly bunch. They also had a wide variety of non-dairy milk substitutes (Oat milk being my favourite which they prepared up to a lovely creamy froth).

I sat upstairs which as the photos show has oodles of character – it is more like somebodys lounge. I sipped my lovely coffee over reading an artbook about famous street-artist Banksy.

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I give The Art House three coffee beans out of three.

Costa

No issue here – simple and straightforward and damn good coffee :)

They also gave me a discount for using a re-usable cup. Got nice, frothy Soya milk on top.

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Three coffee beans out of three. Well done Costa.

Coffee #1

A friend of mine claims these guys serve the best coffee in Southampton. We’ll see about that son…

I think there are two branches: one on Commercial Road not far from West Quay and the other in Portswood High Street towards Highfield Lane. I tried the Commercial Road branch and they accepted my reusuable cup without any issue.

However as I was having it within the premises, they stated that no discount was forthcoming. They pointed out the ceramic cups for that purpose. Fair enough I guess (but what if I decide to leave the cafe after 5 minutes? I cannot take their cup) They also had milk alternatives, but this was limited to Soya milk although they say Coconut milk is coming soon.

So I got my coffee in my KeepCup and you would think all is well right? Wrong. Now every other barista filled my KeepCup to the top of the cup but here I got a small volume of coffee that consisted mostly of mostly dried milk. Check photo below.

Now to be fair, I should have told them about and I’m sure they would have fixed it but I came there to do a bit of work on my laptop before rushing off somewhere else so I wasn’t really in the mindset to get up and confront them over it.

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And while I am in rant-mode: the guy cleaning the crockery was so damn loud that I’m sure he was pissed off that day or something – clearly the Santa hat he was wearing did NOT fulfill it’s function of delivering Christmas cheer :(

And finally: no free WiFi! Holy First World problems! Luckily I was within range of the Lloyds Bank free WiFi next door which I was able to connect to without any tedious “create account” feature.

My wallet got plundered too... :/
My coffee got plundered too… :/

So these guys get one coffee bean out of three – must do better next time guys… Maybe I’ll try the Portswood branch but for now you rank below the fast-food chain.

Hey! What about <insert cafe here>?

There were a bunch of others to try but I have yet to approach.

One is the intriguingly named “Coffee Lab” at the corner of London Road opposite the city park. This is the kind of place that is the target of the recent McDonalds ads. The ads poke fun at boutique coffee places that go over-the-top in brewing the “perfect” cup.

Another is Cafe Giordano in West Quay food court. The food court itself is populated by weary shoppers, self-conscious teenagers and spaced-out families but the cafe is situated towards to window side and is actually a civilized oasis of calm in the commercial shopping chaos nearby.

There is of course Starbucks which I just didn’t get to. I will update this article once I try them out but I’m expecting a similar experience to Costa. I don’t think Southampton has a Cafe Nero but Eastleigh has – that would be another one to try.

I bought my KeepCup from the EthiCo guys but you can also find them on Amazon 

If you want to get really fancy, you can buy a KeepCup with a glass base and cork mouthpiece.
If you want to get really fancy, you can buy a KeepCup with a glass base and cork mouthpiece.

Southampton Shop Spotlight: Retro Hut

Remember the days video-games didn’t ask you to pay for level two onwards? Or when you didn’t need a fibre-optic cable to actually get the game?

Or perhaps you fondly remember those warm-yet-scratchy sounding vinyl discs with amazing cover artwork? Some featuring striking designs such as a prism of light being split into a rainbow of colours.

Wouldn’t it be good to find somewhere local in the real world that you actually walk to where you can have a friendly chat with the proprietor (and other like-minded shoppers) and re-live those good ol’ days?

Well, I have good news: Southampton boasts several such shops and I’m here to introduce one of the finest of those establishments: Retro Hut

If you venture a relatively short distance north from Southampton Central train station you can find Retro Hut – if all else fails just look for the life-size Dalek from Doctor Who (not a joke, there is one outside).

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Rob from Retro Hut has been on the scene for more than a year and has built up a reputation of being a down-to-earth and very fair chap. He is also a lovely chap to speak to and will even take requests if you’re looking for something specific.

Retro Hut will also buy your unwanted retro stuff which you can even trade for new stuff. There’s nothing like the honest feel of cash in your hand to spend – much better than using a card where you can succumb to temptation ;)

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Inside the shop you will find retro video games, hardware and accessories from the 8-bit and 16-bit console era – along with more recent PS2, Xbox, GameCube, Xbox 360 and PS3 stock. There is also a selection of vinyl discs, comics & magazines, electronic games, Transformers, LEGO, superhero figures and if you look closely you will find an amazing coffee table book that chronicles the history of video-games.

Some exotic stuff passes through here – one time on a random visit Rob showed me a copy of a very rare and valuable Super Nintendo PAL game: The Firemen.

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Outside you may also find a selection of bicycles – I saw several BMXs, kids and adult bikes on display.

My connection with Retro Hut is just as a happy customer, I urge anyone with an interest in anything retro/pop-culture to give them a visit :)

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They have a Facebook page too where Rob features photos of weird and wonderful new stock.

Southampton Human Festival

Human Festival? What on Earth is that? Is this Star Trek or something? When is the Cardassian festival? :D”

Despite the slightly odd sounding title – the Southampton Human Festival is actually a celebration of the humanities. The humanities is just the study of how human experience is documented and processed. Still a bit mystified? Read on and some of the workshops and displays of this festival might give a better idea.

I first heard about the Human Festival on one of my bike rides into Southampton, I think I picked up the flyer in Rice Up Whole Foods on Hanover Buildings. They have a little section at the back of the shop with local events and suchlike.

It was held at the Avenue Campus of Southampton University which is within an enjoyable bike ride of me – and the “human” in the title is what got me interested as I’m all about living modern life in a more “human and sustainable” fashion. Naturally I was going to attend! The event was yesterday and it was a surprisingly thought provoking and inspiring gathering.

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I met a couple of researchers studying climate change by analysing deep soil samples. They had a couple of microscopes on their table which one showing a much deeper soil sample than the other and within you could clearly see the change in plant seeds from forest trees to grasses and cereals. What caused this? Climate change or a co-incidence with the ride of farming in the Neolithic period of human history?

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Another chap was talking about the “Metamorphosis” movement in urban transformation. This was of particular interest to me ask it talks about upgrading the cycling infrastructure in Southampton :)
What suprised me is how far parts of Western Europe are in terms of more liveable urban centres. Think free bike kitchens where you can pump up your wheels and put you bike on the stand to do maintenance. Think also residential areas where there are gardens and allotments in the middle of the street! I think that is a brilliant idea and the chap at this display was brimming with enthusiasm. This chap mentioned that Southampton has a lot of cultural history that is accessible on foot (I know this to be true – see my previous blog entries). He even runs a Facebook group called “Southampton Cultural Connections” to promote this stuff. One this he mentioned was the original Roman settlement at Bitterne (aka “Clausenteum”) – according to Wikipedia this is not accessible but I’m going to try it soon.

I also had a short walking history tour of Southampton Common where I learnt that there was once a race-course there and that the town tried more than three times to create a reservoir (the Boating Lake is one failed example). The main through-fare down the north end of common is also called Coronation Avenue – it is named to commemorate the ascension of a British monarch in the last few centuries. I cycled through that with new appreciation after I left the festival.

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Back inside the festival, I got to have myself 3D laser-imaged by a £40,000 laser imaging scanner. They even saved the image scan for me on a USB stick which they presented to me afterwards. This scanner is used my the Geological department to study erosion and the Lab manager told me of all the world-wide places he and his team have travelled in their research.

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Some of the displays covered some unusual things you would not think of… such as Medieval Graffiti! This attempts to study and document the “graffiti” – small carvings and etchings – made on the walls of churches. The reasons for these markings are sometimes very touching. I learnt that there are some markings on the Bargate near West Quay and I asked how to find them. If do find them I’ll be sure to update this post with photos.

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There were so many things going on that I could not attend them all. Ranging from new technology to clean up oil slicks to the study of our ancient humanoid ancestors. They were things for all ages too – I saw some creative writing workshops packed with lots of children. Obviously the next generation of writers were being inspired by this festival. There were also short story workshops for adults.

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One thing I didn’t realise is that Southampton University is ranked number one in the world for Marine Archaeology. There was an entire room dedicated to this with a very impressive Virtual Reality headset tour of a real shipwreck and several divers/researchers were present talking passionately about their work. They even had a 3D printer and several 3D models of actual shipwrecks that you could touch and look over. Does that mean that laser imaging scanner can work underwater? Amazing.

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There were displays showing how we can transform retail shopping experiences from the sometimes draining “shop till you drop” affairs to something more civilised and efficient. Personally I wanted to attend the Astrodome (a large black indoor upside-bouncy-castle type thing) put on by the University Astrological society but I ran out of time :(

All in all a very worthwhile and interesting time – really opened my eyes on what is going on in our city. A big thank you to Southampton University, the exhibitors and student volunteers!

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Repair all the Things!

Imagine if there was a somewhere within walking distance of where you live that you could take your faulty, ripped, wonky and broken stuff to get it repaired?

This is exactly the idea behind “Repair Cafe” – and there just so happens to be one in Southampton!

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The Repair Cafe operates from the United Reformed Church in Shirley High Street on the first Saturday of the month, every month from approx 10:30am to 1pm. It is run with calm efficiency by Angela and staffed by a small squad of volunteers who attempt to help people fix things of every shape, size and description.

What kinds of things? Bikes, vacuum cleaners, laptop computers, FM/AM radios, phones, hair straighteners, sewing machines, jewelry, clothes… and probably other stuff I can’t think of.

There are also people who need help with software problems – which could range from how to download and edit a Word document to changing the font-size on their email software.

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In the most recent one in November I saw someone bring in a Betamax Video recorder. These are no longer made having lost out to VHS (which itself lost out to DVD, which itself has lost to Bluray…) It was looked at by a volunteer electronics engineer.

This comprehensize toolbox was custom-made  by the owner Neville. Very cool.
This comprehensize toolbox was custom-made by the owner Neville. Very cool.
An example of ingenuity -  this is a homebrew headtorch with magnifier lenses!
An example of ingenuity -
this is a head-torch with built-in magnifier lenses!

Yeap – you get very kind professional people giving their time for free at these places. Although I could not repair that myself, I helped this particular person by looking up local companies that do BetaMax to digital transfers – and they left happy :)

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I’ve been volunteering at the last two Repair Cafes and I can tell you that it gives a warm fuzzy feeling to help people in your local community. You also get a buzz from being a bit of a “superhero” because there are things you may know or do that might be like magical super-powers to others.

Henry vacuum cleaner getting some TLC - this picture also points out a cup of tea and brownie - did I mention that volunteers get a token for one cup of tea and cake for FREE?!?
Henry vacuum cleaner getting some TLC – this picture also points out a cup of tea and brownie – did I mention that volunteers get a token for one cup of tea and cake for FREE?!? This puts the CAFE in Repair Cafe

I mentioned Angela earlier who is the organizer. She told me that there are plenty of people in other areas of Southampton who would love to be able to bring their stuff in but are unable to drive – or would find it awkward to take their broken vacuum cleaner or bike on the bus!

I known that Angela is keen to get a repair kitchen going in the area of Bitterne.

So, this blog post is a call-to-arms to anyone out there willing to chip-in to attain that warm fuzzy “help the community” feeling I talked about.

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Be a local superhero and get in touch with the organizer Angela via email

Learn more:

Southampton Repair Kitchen on Facebook

Transition Southampton – ideas for sustainable living around Southampton

PS: I cycled to the Repair Cafe despite the rain (makes it interesting!). My slightly dodgy rear brake was looked at by the friendly bike guys – thanks guys!