Alan Dee: Costa coins it, but it’s all your fault

I DON’T know whether you’ve picked up on it, but there has been a fair bit of sniffy comment about just how well the Costa Coffee crew seem to be surfing the waves of recession.

Everyone else is tightening their belts and cutting back where they can, but the coffee chain seems intent on making Starbucks look like a slow starter when it comes to opening an outlet on every available street corner and squeezing as much cash as possible from its customers.

The bal financials are these – in the last financial year Costa trousered profits of nearly £28 million, a rise of more than 40 per cent on the year before.

It now has 2,000 stores, including 100 in China where the coffee craze is apparently just getting started, and one of the factors in its success was the summer success of new flavours and iced varieties. Ugh.

The Costa expansion express shows no signs of slowing down, either – hundreds more stores are planned in the coming months, with a target of 3,500 within five years.

If you don’t like that success story from the front line of crude capitalism, there’s only one person to blame. Look in the mirror – it’s you.

I spotted a whine from a national newspaper reader the other day, moaning that the price of a Costa coffee at a motorway service station equated to £40 a gallon, if you could be bothered to do the sums. It’s ridiculous, he mused, that the coffee in the cafe costs so much more than the fuel at the pumps.

Yes, it may well be. But you still paid it, you muppet, and there was never a chance that you would conk out on the hard shoulder 30 miles down the road because you hadn’t filled up with a cappuccino.

I wouldn’t say I was a mean person – I’ll leave that to Mrs Dee in her more purse-lipped moments, if that’s the way she wants to play it – but there’s something that grabs at my very vitals whenever there’s a prospect of paying £3 or more for a cup of something brown.

Anyone who has ever done a stint behind the counter in a caff will know that the raw materials don’t add up to that much and the mark-up on coffee – and tea – was pretty healthy even before hot drinks turned up at the cutting edge of fashion and the prices soared.

Yes, the surroundings are swish and the choice is immense, but at the end of the day it’s still only a cuppa.

If you’re troubled by big coffee companies like Costa trousering huge amounts of change and expanding like crazy, then you have a simple choice – don’t go there.

On the vary rare occasions that I find myself stepping over the threshold of a coffee shop, I favour independent retailers wherever possible. There are enough of them about, after all, and both the coffee and the service is usually superior to the chains.

But most of the time I steer clear. If I want a cup of coffee, I’ll have one at home, thanks very much – I’ve got all the facilities, and I won’t have to master the ludicrous descriptions that vary from chain to chain.

And if I’m out and about and in desperate need of a hot drink to keep me going, well, hasn’t anyone ever heard of a flask?