Caracoli, Alresford in Hampshire

May 28, 2012

This weekend, liquidjolt and the accomplice fled the oppressive, clagging heat of the city and headed down to my place of origin, lovely Hampshire. Never one to pass up the opportunity to get some coffee down the hatch, we headed to Alresford, a small town of great beauty and calm near my parents’ home. Alresford is a town of two main streets, terraced Georgian houses jostling for space with a range of independent shops catering for the denizens and visitors who come for the watercress and steam trains. Idyllic is a pretty obvious choice of adjective. And amongst this, the accomplice and I, with my dad making up the trio, found ourselves in Caracoli on Broad Street, a self-styled melding of coffee shop and food retailer in one space.

Caracoli’s coffee is not as good as it thinks it is.

CaracoliThe set-up in the shop is very pleasing, with a large counter showing a variety of delicacies and artisan sandwiches, though the prices are pretty steep (London, even). I queued to order for the group. And queued, and queued. Eventually I was able to place my order, and we sat. And waited. And waited. When something simple takes around fifteen minutes to order and make, you hope greatly that it’s been worth it. So I was excited when my coffees eventually turned up (I had ordered both an espresso and a macchiato, so as not to be on my feet waiting for the second half of proceedings). Dad had ordered a latté which he seemed reasonably pleased with. My espresso was fairly well-made, but although the crema was thick with promise the brew was too hot and this resulted in an extraction which was too bitter and acidic past the first mouthful. The macchiato was dolloped and though the milk was well enough made, as attested by dad’s coffee, it did not ameliorate the underlying issue of the shot. The roast is based on a Brazilian bean from Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza which is a fantastic, sweet bean and, if it were left as a single origin, would be glorious. The addition of a Costa Rican from Naranjo probably over-eggs the acidity, but without tasting the roast in cupping, before the barista and the machine get their mitts on it, it is hard to know whether the weaknesses stem from the roast or the technique of the barista and the set-up in Caracoli. My instinct is to go for the latter though, as I fear the heat of the shot betrays one of the major problems. All in all, pretty disappointing.

Caracoli

Which, in itself, is a shame, obviously, because when you purchase something you want it to be yummy and enjoyable. But the added issue here is that Caracoli thinks really very highly of itself. There is a slight smugness to proceedings which reminds me of the Espresso Room in Bloomsbury. The difference is that Hampshire is not a saturated market as far as coffee houses are concerned. You can claim to be the best around and you won’t be found out because there’s really nothing to be compared with. Caracoli as a food retailer is actually quite superb, as attested by several awards, and the scotch eggs they sell are sublime. I just worry that qualities exhibited and advertised in one section of a business can be assumed to transfer to other sections, without the commensurate effort and knowledge. In other words, Caracoli sell an interesting, expensive but well-assembled variety of foodstuffs. That doesn’t automatically mean their coffee is drinkable. And if you keep hearing that you do certain things very well, and there is no competition to keep you on your toes, you start to believe your own hype. The pressure of competition in London keeps the good places striving to improve: they know that another shop is just round the corner, producing quality cups and attracting interest, and if they don’t up their game, they’ll suffer. No-one is doing the same in Alresford, and possibly not in Hampshire, which means that Caracoli can wallow in a self-satisfied isolation which prevents them from improving.

During the session, the accomplice, the Dad, and I talked about service, and about how the best customer service, whether it is in coffee or book shops or anything else, is motivated not by a desire to engage artificially with a customer, or to set out to connect a corporate entity with a customer by gimmicks, but by actually caring, by actually loving what you do. You can’t manufacture a connection, you can only grow one by being friendly and knowledgeable and by being excited to sell what you’re selling because you value it and you want the customer to value it too. That is why even corporate coffee shops can produce this effect if their staff, at a shop level or an individual level, are like that, but it stands to reason that one is most likely to find it in smaller, independent shops. Irritatingly, Caracoli seems to feel like the customer should be grateful for its existence, and not the other way round. Sadly, I doubt it will ever have to learn differently.

Caracoli, 15 Broad Street, Alresford, Hampshire, SO24 9AR

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @caracolistore

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4 Responses to “Caracoli, Alresford in Hampshire”

  1. Jak Haughton Says:

    Totally agree. We bought some cakes which we had to take back. The arrogance was staggering! Never again! I’m glad they’ve been found out!

    • liquidjolt Says:

      Sadly, you’re not the only who has commented to the same effect, which is a shame. Thank you for reading and responding; it’s greatly appreciated.

  2. Paul Lewis Says:

    My experience of the Winchester branch is totally different. The head barista Dhan shares his love of coffee with his customers, makes as perfect a drink as I have tasted and inspires his staff to great service.

    • staggeredhermit Says:

      Paul,
      Thanks for your comment, and that’s great to hear. Next time I’m down I will be sure to check it out and I’ve no doubt it will live up to your billing!
      Best,
      Alex


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