Illustration by Marcelina Jagielka

I talk a lot in this column about food, and of course that will never change! But I thought that this week, I’d branch out into the mysterious café culture of Oxford.

As I have been struck by the realisation that I have already done one third of my degree and have barely explored the much-touted cafe scene, I have recently ventured from Hertford’s library into some of the cafes that dominate Oxford’s high streets. I am not a coffee person; I once drank two cups of strong black coffee and thought I was having a heart attack so I said to myself: never again! I often receive bemused glances as I order an “decaf oat milk flat white” at 8 in the morning. I will be decaf until I die (or until the Oxford student lifestyle finally converts me!).

Ever since I came to Oxford, I have been walking past Horsebox Coffee on my way to Uni Parks. It’s a clever design: perfectly placed for coffee-in-hand ambling and offers a range of traditional hot drink accompaniments. I placed my order, and it was passed to me in under a minute, which was very handy as I rushed to man a stall at Freshers’ Fair. The cup was simply designed: a logo on a cream background. My coffee was simple and hot and exactly what I was looking for.

image taken by author

What I have never understood about coffee people is their insistence on the different flavours of coffee. Maybe my taste buds have been dulled by endless mugs of ASDA peppermint tea, but I simply cannot tell different blends apart. When I went to Society Café, the barista was kind enough to tell me that I should be tasting dark, caramel notes. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it just tasted like coffee!

image taken by author

This trend of expertising drinks has seemingly also extended to tea. I went into Bird and Blend with a friend and was overwhelmed by the number of options available. You could have tea, or chai tea, or sticky chai tea. You could have over 50 different flavours in hot or cold, brewed for different lengths of time, requiring milk or some being better without. My friend and I ordered seemingly very different drinks, yet I was hard pushed to identify the difference in taste between spiced pumpkin and lemon drizzle! I wasn’t even going to attempt to work out what the difference was between a matcha and a sticky chai.

I don’t think this variety is a bad thing, though. Experimentation is welcome: rip up the rule book and even brew your tea with lemonade! Just please don’t tell me what my coffee should taste like.