January, or Veganuary as it’s exclusively known as now among the vegan community, has been a great month for product and menu launches in the last couple of years, with 2020 seemingly bringing the most exciting announcements yet. I took a trip to Costa Coffee to try out their brand new options.
For under a fiver, you can get a toasted sandwich, hot or bottled drink, and packet of crisps or fruit, which I thought sounded very reasonable compared to Costa’s usual fairly steep prices. I’d wanted to try both the new vegan sandwiches, but sadly the Vegan All-Day Breakfast Panini was sold out by the time I got to the Costa in Oxford city centre at 1pm, so I just picked up the ‘ham and cheese’ toastie. There’s also a new vegan chilli pot made with mock mince if you’re looking for a healthier option. The queue was long and noisy and the whole experience was fairly stressful – I’ve found this to always be the case at Queen’s Street Costa and in fact most other branches, but at this kind of chain sadly I wouldn’t expect any different. Still, the queue moves quickly so we weren’t subjected to too long of a wait.
A ham and cheese toasted sandwich is something I would literally never have ordered prior to going vegan. I don’t like eating white bread, I don’t like sandwich-filler style ham, and I would only eat cheese sparingly grated onto pasta, never a slab of it like this. So this was pretty much new territory for me, but I have to say I was really impressed. If you don’t take my word for it, take the word of my brother and sister who both ventured out on the same day and are toastie fiends, or the word of my non-vegan friend who came along for lunch and said this would probably be his lunch every day for the next month (admittedly he’s attempting Veganuary and he hasn’t quite figured out what he’s going to eat yet). The cheese was properly oozy and melty, it did have that slightly stick-to-your-teeth texture of vegan cheese but it wasn’t too bad compared to most, and the taste was much better than many brands. The Quorn ‘ham’ added some smokiness and made this a truly satisfying sandwich. I’d also picked myself a tasty innocent smoothie and packet of crisps of the shelves, and between them this was a really satisfying lunch.
We also picked up a couple of sweet treats to try, and it’s so great that most mainstream coffee shops have something tasty available now! Costa have a new vegan croissant, filled with strawberry jam, which is definitely sweet enough to solve any sugar craving you might have. The filling in the one I had was very generous, although the pastry isn’t quite as buttery and flakey as I expect a croissant to be (I’m not sure how it compares to Costa’s own non-vegan croissants though as I’ve never tried them). Still, a great on-the-go snack if you’re passing by. Tom got the vegan rocky road and asked a couple of times ‘are you sure this is vegan’? It’s packed with crumbly biscuit and soft marshmallows, and every chocolatey bite was deliciously indulgent.
The point of this review isn’t really to explore the ‘dining’ experience in Costa as we all know what to expect, but I just had to include it. There were so many fruit flies hanging around the cake display, sitting on the walls, and flying around the tables while we ate, which was super offputting. I don’t know if just this particular Costa has an issue but next time I’d opt to take my food away rather than sit in their fairly unpleasant environment. Clearly they like to ration cutlery and napkins so we had to go back to the cash desk multiple times to ask for various things which was annoying when the queue was long. I asked the guy behind the till for a knife and he gave me a fork, with literally no acknowledgment that he’d given me the wrong utensil and with enough confidence that I walked away questioning myself whether I had in fact asked for a fork. I don’t blame him, he was super busy and seemed flustered so he probably just misheard. The staff there are doing their best in a pretty thankless job at peak times. Lets also not talk about the fact that my friend had a rogue piece of tomato in his toastie that definitely wasn’t supposed to be in there, which brings their production methods and the real likelihood of cross-contamination with non-vegan products into the forefront of your mind. It’s a chain coffee shop and we’ll all undoubtedly have a similar experience. But the fact that a leading high street brand like Costa has such an abundance of vegan options, making it so easy for consumers to make a more conscious choice – or even unconsciously pick up the vegan toastie without realising 😉 – is surely to be applauded. Costa have also currently waived their extra free for non-dairy milk in hot drinks, so let’s hope they continue that beyond Veganuary too!
Where is your favourite no-fuss place to stop for lunch or a snack in town? Are you a Pret or Caffe Nero lover instead? Let me know!