I had my first proper coffee when I was 16.
We were on a school trip to Paris, and my friends and I all ordered single shot, extra-large, caramel vanilla lattes from the Starbucks inside the Louvre. (Quelle cliché!)
That was the start of my love affair with caffeine.
Over the next couple of years, my coffees got shorter and darker, until the week before my Selectividad* exams, I found myself doing shots of double espresso to keep myself going in the library. (*Uni entrance exams in Spain. Kind of like A-levels, except 8 subjects instead of 3.)
Since then I’ve cut down to just two cups of coffee a day: one with breakfast, and one after lunch.
I make my own in the morning. It’s a ritual, and I love the routine of boiling the kettle, stirring it all up, then sipping my coffee while I read emails, catch up on Twitter, and write out my To Do list for the day.
Lunch time is more varied, and a couple of times a week I’ll treat myself to a takeaway coffee from one of the many high street coffee shops near my office. Pret, Costa, Starbucks… we’ve got all the usual suspects, plus a few more.
McDonalds’ coffee is surprisingly great. Patisserie Valerie do a FAB cappuccino. And then there’s that great British institution, known for its pastries and pasties: Greggs.
Greggs sell a variety of hot drinks in all their stores, and they’re pretty proud of their 100% Fairtrade coffee blend. So proud, in fact, that they asked me to put it to the test in a Coffee Tasting Challenge.
So here we are.
Over the past fortnight I’ve taste-tested skinny lattes at five popular high street coffee chains: Costa, Starbucks, Caffe Nero, Pret a Manger, and (of course) Greggs.
I’ve marked them all on five different categories: presentation, aroma, taste, value for money, and sustainability (ie: how do they source their coffee beans?).
It’s been a tough competition, but here are the results!
OK, so first of all: it really bugs me that Pret only serves one cup size. Second, they don’t provide holders which means I burnt my hand on the cup. Third: the milk on this one was all bubbly and foamy, instead of smooth, like a latte should be.
The coffee blend itself is… OK. It’s my least favourite of the bunch, with a really strong flavour and a slightly bitter aftertaste. But it’s also one of the cheapest coffees on the list, so swings and roundabouts I guess!
Pret isn’t Fairtrade, but their coffee and milk are both organic.
*VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5
*SUSTAINABILITY: 3/5 – Not Fairtrade, but they do have their own sustainability plan.
It’s been years since I bought a plain latte at Costa, and I’ve sort of remembered why… Their blend is really not strong enough for me. I love their hot chocolate and flavoured coffees, and it would be perfect if you like milder blends, but it’s definitely not where I’d go for a proper caffeine hit.
The milk on this latte was also pretty foamy and not quite hot enough either.
They’re the only coffee shop in the UK to get their beans via the Rainforest Alliance, which supports farmers like Fairtrade does, but also works to keep the environment safe.
VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5
SUSTAINABILITY: 5/5 (Rainforest Alliance)
I have conflicting opinions about Starbucks. On the one hand, I love their signature cups, and I think their flavoured coffees are probably the best on the high street (Burnt Caramel?! *heart eyed emoji*).
But on the other hand, their actual coffee blend is… weird. It’s got a very distinctive “Starbucks” taste, and I find it almost a bit too fruity, and a bit TOO strong.
They’re also the most expensive coffees on this list, by quite a large margin.
*VALUE FOR MONEY: 2/5
*SUSTAINABILITY: 4/5 (Fairtrade)
I was pleasantly surprised by this one.
No cup holders, so again: burnt my hand. But the milk was perfectly hot and smooth, and the coffee was just the strength I like it. The blend has a lovely balanced flavour, and overall: I was really impressed!
Plus, at £2 for a large, or £1.75 for a regular size, this is the cheapest latte on the list by a long shot. (And you can also get a coffee + pasty deal for £2, so there’s that.)
VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5
SUSTAINABILITY: 4/5 (Fairtrade)
One of my all-time favourites! My coffee shop choices tends to vary, depending on what I actually fancy drinking, but Nero is my baseline. Their flavoured and Chai lattes are excellent, but what about the actual coffee blend?
Interestingly, I put the question out on Instagram yesterday and a whole bunch of people told me they don’t really like Nero coffee.
I love it though! It’s perfectly balanced and strong, with just the right amount of smoothness. The flavour is great too, with nothing that particular stands out as odd or different. It’s just a good solid cup of coffee.
VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5
SUSTAINABILITY: 2/5 (Not members of any sustainable organisations)
We have a tie!
Pret came in last with just 13 out of a possible 25 points. Costa got 15, and Starbucks got 16 points.
And in joint first place, with 19 points each: Caffe Nero and Greggs!
The taste of Nero’s blend is by far my favourite, but its lack of guaranteed sustainable sourcing stopped it from pulling in front. Greggs’ latte is fantastic value for money, and I was pretty impressed by their blend, especially as it’s 100% Fairtrade.
So there we go.
The Little Miss Katy prize for Best Coffee on the High Street goes to Caffe Nero and Greggs.
Now go forth and caffeinate, my friends!
Photos by Gary
*This is a paid post written in collaboration with Greggs.