I’ve been told recently that I love attention, I disagree (of course) but if that’s true I’m probably going to be the last one to know aren’t I? In my mind however, I like to think of more along the lines of getting involved. That’s one of the reasons why, if I really like a place – and yes we’re talking coffee here – I get involved.
My first trip to the Benugo installation on the mezzanine at Waterloo Station wasn’t my first Benugo experience but it was an eye opener. I’d come across Benugo signage awhile ago in the St. John area of Clerkenwell and may have popped in for a bite and coffee but it didn’t leave an impression on me. Again, another encounter within the corporate environment of a major construction firm near Blackfriars did even less to endear me to their coffee making skills. So you can imagine my surprise after I took my first sip of mocha at the Waterloo Station branch; my face must’ve been a picture.
Just one sip and I was a believer.
If you ask why I get all emotional over a mocha, then you haven’t been following my other blog posts on coffee have you? Consider this then: To make the perfect mocha you need to have the right ingredients, a good blend and roast of bean, chocolate, preferably in liquid form and a barista who knows the difference between burn and optimal. The most important thing though is knowing your ratio of coffee to chocolate, and then taking the time to blend it together before attempting to kill your masterpiece with milk.
I hear the purists among you (not a very loud voice I agree) asking what the fuss is about; it’s not like they are Taylor St. Baristas or Monmouth. Well for starters, Monmouth don’t do mocha last I checked and you try finding a Taylor St. shop on your commute into work. This isn’t taking anything away from Benugo; they are bringing quality coffee mainstream and putting a ‘kitchen/deli experience into a fast paced commuter environment. That’s a mean feat to pull off without compromising quality and so far so good, they’ve pulled it off.
Benugo use a blend of Arabica and Robusta beans to give the coffee kick and a memorable aftershock. Juan, one of the knowledgeable baristas volunteered this information whilst making my morning fix which finally answered my question about what it was that made my first sip such an experience.
So what else is good?
You mean apart from having trained baristas making your coffee with a smile?
OK you would think that unimportant but I am bored to my shattered back molars of baristas with what I call attitude (apologies to Miranda’s mum, just felt the pretentious phrase was justified). You know the ones; sullen, bored look as if to say “watch as I make a mocha wiz my incredeeble skeels for your undeserving palate” or maybe “I’m too cool to enjoy this job, just using the change I earn to pay for my unpronounceable course at uni”. No, if you’re making my coffee you’d better be enjoying the experience or chances are I won’t enjoy that brew.
Everyone here is friendly even in the extremely cold and busy winter mornings which I find quite remarkable. Elodie runs the place with a friendly smile, not in a “would you like fries with that?” but in a way that gives the impression that she is interested in the customer as a person. This attitude might explain why other team members show a great awareness of customer service to varying and pleasing degrees.
My ‘plucky spirit award’ goes to Hadnet who is always smiling despite the obvious freezing conditions in the winter months or a frenetic morning rush. Ricardo takes the ‘keep calm and carry on award’ for his ability to deliver consistent quality regardless of crowd, time of day or any other distraction you could think of whilst Juan gets the ‘sage’ award for the way he displays his knowledge and passion for coffee. Special mentions to Lisa, Reka and the rest of the team who I would mention if they didn’t have a badge that just said ‘in training’.
Freshly baked pastries.
Benugo at Waterloo Station bake their morning pastries on site and have a nice selection of muffins and other morning bites which I’m never going to eat, probably because I like what I know and the choices are more than I’m willing to go through. My preferred morning extravagance is the Eggs Royale which is a smoked salmon and scrambled egg muffin with Hollandaise sauce or if you’re adventurous like the Friday morning commuter last week, you can have yours with brown sauce (I know, right?). My afternoon recommendation is definitely the lamb wrap, it’s a meal and a half which if I had a bottle handy, would be awesome with some tabasco.
What’s not so good?
My niece hates them and now I know why; having to fight them for seating space isn’t the best way to enjoy a quick snack. This being Waterloo station it’s one of those things outside the team’s control so I’m just putting it here as a friendly warning. Bring your own pellet gun and mini barbecue stand.
Probably the biggest gripe of most customers but I believe good things are worth waiting for and queuing time is comparable to other similar outlets in the station. What is different is there appears to be less order in the system at Benugo than say, Costa downstairs and more needs to be done to correct that impression. Benugo as I said earlier is more of a kitchen/deli experience than the regular coffee chain experience. Your order is taken, marked on a cup and passed to the nearest barista who then prepares your order. Cracks appear when the order includes a sandwich or something that needs heating and the member of staff has no way of knowing which end of the counter to yell out the order, of which there may be two people waiting for the same item. The result is a break in the chain and an unhappy customer or two. Tinderbox use the printout from the till to ensure coffee and sandwich are never separated and the coffee prep is timed accordingly, something Benugo could try. They could also look at simply putting a number on the till receipt rather than the carbon duplicate they give you when you order the sandwich, that only tells you what was ordered not who ordered it so when you yell out ‘bacon and egg sandwich’ you’ll get 3 or 4 commuters politely asking the others if it’s theirs.
What you need to know
Am I getting paid for this? No, and even if I was, it wouldn’t change the content of this post. If I’m not happy about the service or the coffee, you’ll know about it. Ask the crew and they’ll tell you about times I’ve complained about staffing levels affecting the quality of the coffee and a rare occasion when I asked for a remake as the cup felt light.
Are they consistent? Are you? That’s the real question, and that’s why I get involved. Without feedback; letting your barista know how you like your coffee and more importantly, letting them know when they get it wrong, you won’t get the consistency you want. All the people I’ve mentioned here make my coffee in slightly different ways but the bean, chocolate and their individual skills brings it all together. I’m not taking anything away from the other guys but I know what to expect from at least 8 baristas in one shop and they what I want and how I want it, that in my opinion is a win.
Is this about all Benugo outlets? No, I haven’t been to all of them so this is about Waterloo station. I’ve been to the one in St Pancras hoping to relive the experience but that didn’t happen so I hope they get to read this. I’ll visit a few more and let you know in a future post maybe.
Have they got competition? Sure they do but that depends on how much you care about your coffee. Before they opened I got my morning fix from Costa but I wouldn’t put them in the same league. No disrespect to Costa, they have come a long way from burnt coffee of yesteryears but even with their improved training and better tasting coffee they don’t come close. Starbucks? Seriously? Only Carluccios could be considered serious competition with their two blends of coffee bean and exceptional chocolate. They haven’t quite mastered the art of blending the two at the Waterloo branch and aren’t that geared up for the takeaway market probably due to their location but Benugo would do well to take note. Carluccios are my fallback option.
So if you find yourself standing in the queue at Waterloo waiting for your coffee and feel it isn’t worth the wait, trust me, it is.
Benugo Waterloo are located upstairs on the mezzanine in Waterloo Station – look for the big clock. They are currently running their summer picnic promotion and if you really twist their arms we might get iced frappes with crushed ice.