Charcoal Coffee

Tastes like Charcoal

Pret a Manger has been named the worst of the high street coffee shops in a test that suggested its coffee tastes ‘thin’ with hints of burnt charcoal.

The damning verdict will be bad news for the successful chain, which makes much of its claims to be an ethical retailer using the finest natural ingredients. Consumer champion Which? brought in Giles Hilton, a tea and coffee merchant with Whittard of Chelsea, to carry out a snapshot taste test of coffee from Pret, Costa, Starbucks, Caffe Nero and the cafes at Marks & Spencer.

He bought both a simple black Americano in each outlet and a cappuccino, which is the nation’s favourite lunchtime coffee shop choice. The Pret Americano was the cheapest at £1.70, but it did not represent value for money in Mr Hilton’s test. ‘It’s the cheapest, but Pret’s tasted plain thin, with too much water and it smelt of burnt charcoal,’ he said. Pret uses only a single shot of espresso in its drinks, while most of its rivals have shifted to a stronger two-shot formula as standard.

Its cappuccino was also cheapest at £2.10, but again failed the taste test. ‘This was served with too much milk, which was over-heated by the steamer – this makes the milk taste caramelised,’ said Mr Hilton.

Profits at Pret soared by 17 per cent last year, but it has come under fire for its reliance on cheap young foreigners to man its tills. Some 80 per cent of staff in its 323 outlets are foreign-born.
The test suggests that coffee lovers get what they pay for.

The most expensive of the chains, Caffe Nero, topped both categories. Mr Hilton said he loved the ‘body and density’ of its Americano, which had a good depth of taste.

Pret played down the significance of the test. A spokesman said: ‘Pret appreciates all feedback.
‘Our coffee is organic, Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance and we take enormous trouble blending and roasting. This is a single test and we are sorry he didn’t enjoy his coffee.’