It’s no secret that our British and American students have a tendency to join different sports teams, take different classes, and form societies – even friendship groups – around their compatriots. The story is no different when it comes to the many other nationalities. But don’t despair, dear readers. For at 148 North Street, at the very least, we are all just citizens of the Universe.
The eclectic mix of Taste’s patrons reflects a much wider diversity than even their nationalities would suggest. Unlike every other coffee shop in town, it has resisted conforming to a “customer cliché.” We can all picture that fluffy female trotting around Pret in her Canada Goose and black ankle boots as she carefully selects which superfood salad to indulge in today. What about the overly-romantic couple who orders the pancake stack at North Point? They hold hands and giggle about what they will name their children and take horizontal snapchats of their feast despite knowing deep down that nobody will ever rotate their phone just to get a better look at what exactly they are having for breakfast.
And then there are misguided folk who go to Starbucks. The philistines who are so culturally and politically uninformed that they think nothing of supporting a huge, swindling corporation ahead of a local business. Blindly hooked on the allure of loyalty card stamps, these people are potentially the crude oil fuelling the engines of capitalism and globalisation. They are people whose aspirations are to own a detached house in suburbia, drive a Ford Mondeo and feed their kids Birdseye fish-fingers at dinner whilst they discuss their upcoming annual holiday to Benidorm.
There is no cliché of the person who goes to Taste and this is extremely important for maintaining its unique atmosphere. It seems to attract people who are self-aware and independently minded enough to care about where they spend their half-hour of downtime during the day. Someone once told me about an individual who visits the cafe and has never owned a smartphone. “His first name is Alex but nobody can be sure about his surname because he doesn’t have Facebook,” my informant explains. Casting my eyes around the space, I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone who looks like they’ve walked straight off a NY Fashion Week runway sitting right beside another who looks like they’ve climbed straight out of a skip. There are whispers that one frosty morning, even Vice Chancellor Sally Mapstone hopped across North Street from her abode on the Scores for a quick Taste visit.
So what is Taste doing that makes it so special? Let us begin with the interior. There is no way to avoid the fact that Taste is about the size of a telephone box. But what better way to induce conversation between the patrons than have them crammed together like cattle in a trailer? The décor is a cross between a second hand furniture store and a garden shed, but the division of the seating area, leading into a bar along the window and a low sofa along the back wall, helps create the dynamic and both intimate and bustling atmosphere. The tables are sticky – but in a good way, and the single pane windows steam up every night, adding to the overall hygge.
There is something wonderful about the students who work here compared to the other coffee shops too. Take Northpoint, for instance. The staff are dour and you are never made to feel especially welcome. At least they have some character – which is more than can be said for the forlorn, glassy eyed Starbucks employees – slaving around behind the counter, crushed by the weight of the multinational corporations they serve as their individuality and freedom of expression is ground out of them with every extra of commercialism they send over the counter.
At Taste, the staff are an intrinsic part of the tapestry. Their nonchalant attitude to customers is rather fantastic; making coffee at their own pace and calling over to people to come collect their drinks if they aren’t in the mood to serve them. I leave thinking, “Maybe if I keep coming back, I’ll end up being as cool as them.” Sometimes a customer is gifted with the added bonus of some decent latte art — but again, this is very mood dependent. The staff are an essential part of Taste’s appeal. But they aren’t just staff. They are totems of the the way of life that Taste represents.
It pains me to write this, but my beloved hole in the wall simply can’t compete with Pret on the food front. To the right of the counter there is a half-heartedly stacked fridge with some pre-made sandwiches. To anyone who has had the pleasure of trying a freshly made ciabatta sandwich from Eataly, or even Rocca, Taste’s equivalent seems like a sandwich genetics experiment gone horribly wrong. The fillings include soggy roast peppers, Aldi-grade chorizo and pesto that tastes weirdly like metal – but the merciless toasting process obliterates any last whimpering sign of life in these over-refrigerated sandwiches anyway.
The standard improves a little as you move toward the towering baskets of croissants and the oat biscuits kept in a cookie jar (a nice touch). And once you reach the windowsill display of all sorts of fresh tray bake delights, things start to look a lot more promising. As for the coffee? Well there’s no point wasting time talking about that. I am sure you are all aware that there are different types of coffee. There is coffee for strutting along Market Street when you are bored and coffee for the Sunday night of revision week; strong coffee, weak coffee, frothy coffee, not so frothy coffee, coffee from this bean, and coffee from that bean. Whatever. It doesn’t really matter. I doubt the person who actually chooses what bean to grind can even tell the difference let alone determine their superiority.
My favourite part of Taste is the small wooden bench that sits outside. Those three planks of wood are so much more than just that. The bench epitomises the simplistic beauty and raw practicality of the whole place — cool, but without really trying. Taste take-away cups are like Tinder. Carrying one of them around town with you, all you need to do is nod at another Taste cup holder and you know you have made a friend for life. After such an encounter it is not unusual for a feeling of warmth to spread all over your body. It’s the feeling that we are not alone in this world. The feeling that we are one of the chosen people. Taste isn’t a cult, per se. It is more a way of life — and I mean this with only a touch of sarcasm. It’s nothing to do with the coffee, but you can definitely taste the difference.