News and blog

24.02.17

Hops and grapes are better than beans any day

I love a good pub quiz. Hunched round a table with four or five friends, making room for bowls of crisps and nuts, foaming pints, glasses of wine and taking turns looking at the sheets of anagrams or pictures of famous faces.

As the evening wears on, you talk yourself out of answers as the beer and wine kick in – but by the end of the night everyone’s a winner. Us because we’ve had a good time and the pub landlord whose coffers have been boosted. Sometimes even a lucky charity may benefit from the raffle.

I mention this because the most recent quiz I went to was at The Bromley Cross, one of a growing number of pubs across the UK which has been saved by the local community and is now owned and run by villagers in Great Bromley who have put their hands in their pockets to keep it alive.

If you like pubs (and I do) then we live in dangerous and difficult times. Forget Brexit and forget Trump, we are facing an altogether more worrying future.

Pubs are closing at the rate of four a day across Britain – and at the same time, we are seeing coffee shops increase by three a day.

In the last 20 years, coffee shops have risen dramatically, by over 2,000%. At the beginning of last year there were 21,000 and it is predicted that this will rise to 30,000 by 2025.

Compare that to pubs. During that same 20 years, the number has dropped from 60,000 to 51,000. The Lost Pub Project lists more than 2,100 which have called time forever in Suffolk and Essex alone.

As a nation, we now drink a mind boggling 235 million cups of tea or coffee a day – compared with just 21 million pints of beer and 4.6 million bottles of wine.

I don’t know about you, but I think we need to reverse this trend. I think a local pub does far more for a community than a row of near identical coffee chains peddling organic, fairtrade, aromatic, fresh ground, overpriced hot drinks.

Imagine trying to replicate the sheer enjoyment of leaning on a bar top, pouring your heart out to a sympathetic barman (or barmaid) as you savour your first satisfying beer at the end of a hard day.

You’d get nothing out of a harassed barista juggling some stainless steel equipment, producing a cacophony of weird noises (the equipment not the barista), while simultaneously heating up four paninis and taking coffee orders from a queue of people stretching out the door.

It’s highly unlikely you’ll ever see a coffee shop football league, or a pool league, or darts. The music industry is almost certainly never going to benefit from coffee shop bands. And while most village pubs have a friendly pub dog – I’ve yet to see a four legged friend sniffing around for crumbs under the tables in a café.

Caffeine is, arguably, just as addictive as alcohol, and medical opinion is divided over how dangerous it is for us in high enough quantities. Grown women suffering caffeine withdrawal are a danger on the streets (yes Mrs L. that includes you).

Granted, alcohol has a much worse PR, and if taken in excess can lead to embarrassments such as Dad dancing, telling your best friend how much you love them or even falling asleep and dribbling in a corner.

But falling asleep in a corner may not be an option if your local pub is forced to close because too many misguided people are spending hard earned cash on coffee and don’t have enough left for beer.

2017 seems like it is going to be a year of protests, with people taking to the streets at the drop of a hat. And online petitions are the new big thing for those who don’t want to go out in the cold.

But instead of two million people signing an online petition to stop a foreign politician from visiting these shores, why can’t we get two million people saying we have enough coffee shops, give us back our pubs?

I salute the committed communities like those in Great Bromley who have fought back against the trend and saved their pubs. But if we are losing four every day of the week, we need an awful lot more of them.

The alternative is that in ten years time, we may be forced to sit round a formica table, with the hiss of steam and the grinding of beans in the background as we struggle to hear the questions in our local coffee quiz.

Somehow the bowls of crisps and nuts won’t taste the same if we have to wash them down with a skinny latte instead of a Pinot Grigio.