“ Coffe Chain. „
Although I;m not a big fan of coffee, I am a big fan of AMT. Firstly, the drinks they sell are both organic and fair trade, which to me is a winning combination (all they have to do now is provide low fat stuff and recycled packaging!!), so it's worth the cost. As I've only ever seen them at train stations such as Nottingham, Birmingham New Street and in London, you're going to be paying higher prices for everything anyway so it may as well be great quality. Some AMTs have seating and others don't - it all depends on what station you're at. They serve a range of sweet and savory snacks such as cakes and biscuits, sandwiches, panini, melts etc. These aren't cheap - you can expect to pay over £2 for a cookie and £3 for a sandwich, and to be honest I'm not the biggest fan of the food. The drinks however are a different story. They sell a range of coffee and tea, and also more original things like 'Yogushakes', which I'm yet to try. The main reason I love AMT though, and the only reason I'm so obsessed, is because of the milkshakes. The milkshakes are absolutely out of this world and at £1.95 (gone up in price from £1.75 three years ago), they are in a medium sized plastic cup. You can choose from a range of flavours including Cherry, Caramel, Coconut, Almond, Chocolate and many more. I love them all, and go through different phases depending on what I feel like. I have to say I do love milkshakes and I try lots of different places, including specialist milkshake shops where they grind up everything from Crunchies to fruit to put in. None of them are as good as AMT milkshakes, which are lovely and creamy and full tasting. They aren't sickly sweet, nor do they have weird grainy bits. You get about the right size cup as well, and they are nice and refreshing. They mix them up for you when you ask for one, but it only takes a few seconds. Overall, I'd say AMT food is overpriced, the service is generally average - so just go for the milkshake!
Back in the Eighties, when I was little, the only women who hung about in the station were... um, 'Ladies of the night'. Luckily for us all, railway stations (the larger ones, anyway) are brighter and more charming places now. Last Tuesday, The Boyfriend was on a work course in Bristol being made to frolic about and undertake ice-breakers with people hell probably never meet again. Im sure we all know where hed rather be and thats picking me up from work. Instead I had to trudge through the sleet (well, light drizzle) to the station and catch the train back. Arriving in Reading, I realised that instead of hopping on a bus home I could wait for him and be there with open arms when he got off the train. I whipped out my little phone and casually listened to the ringing on the other end. I briefly dared to plan the conversation in my head its ok darling I would say to his protests, well miss neighbours together. Instead I got a short and distracted yeah, ok and half his conversation with someone else. So, what to do while I waited? Now the promise was made, I couldnt leap on the bus and curl up in front of the telly. I needed to fill an hour and compensate myself for his ungrateful attitude. And so, I returned an hour later and £20 lighter having come via Boots and Claires Accessories. The perfect way to round off this shopping trip (the fact that I was waiting had been forgotten) was with a nice hot drink. I looked around the station, bags in hand and remembered a fondness for Costa Coffee in the dim and distant past. This was devoid of staff and anything which looked appealing and as I left empty handed I spotted AMT. AMT, with its little square self-contained stand, looks like someone has plonked a big block of chocolate through the high glass of the station roof. The counter faces away from the main doors and its actually quite easy to miss. Theres one on the other side of the ticket barriers which I often longingly look at as I pass it for the train to London. Here was the perfect opportunity to try it. So, what do they sell? Primarily an assortment of coffee, tea and some very nice looking non-caffeine drinks including fresh orange juice. The menu board on the front shows an impressive selection from Earl Grey to something called AmTea (geddit?) Approaching the stand I noticed an incredible range of snacks which had been carefully stacked and merchandised to best effect. This in itself struck me as no small achievement towards the end of the rush hour. There were all kinds of chocolate, healthy options from dried mango slices to fresh fruit and flapjacks and my favourite Pandoro. Pandoro is an Italian cake filled with chocolate and according to the sign, they served this hot or cold. I was deliberating these delicacies when a disembodied voice barked something at me. I looked around, not seeing anyone. Then it came again Yes, Please? There was a tiny Chinese lady behind the stack of munchies. I peered over and asked for the most delicious looking thing on the drinks menu, Spiced Apple. This was made up and lid stuffed on it a flash and she sweetly took the time (despite the sudden appearance of the queue behind me) to remind me that it would be hot. This impressively large cup of steaming juice set me back £1.20, which seemed reasonable. However, they dont take cards which threw me a bit. As I was digging in my bag for cash I noticed a sign that said they didnt accept cheques. You have been warned! The prices compare favourably to Costa Coffee and Starbucks nearby and I happened to notice that a cuppa here works out cheaper than in Burger King, Subway or Upper Crust. They have all the trappings of the upmarket coffee shops that seem to be heading for world domination lately, with vanilla and cinnamon shake on toppings, different kinds of sugar and fancy serviettes. As I wandered away, trying to balance shopping, loaded up slouch bag and a very hot cup of Spiced Apple, I realised the main disadvantage was that no seating area is provided. This is understandable though; AMT stands appear nation-wide in airports, train stations and places you can generally find other seating. I could always sit at the sticky Burger King tables, if the staff dont come out to remove rubbish from these, theyre not going to come out to tell me off. These handy little AMTs are designed as takeaway stands to prevent your poisoning at the hands of Great Westerns super revolting excuse for drinks. Carrying a hot drink to the platform is a safer bet in my opinion than struggling through a rocking train to a distant and crowded buffet cart to spent £2.50 on a vastly inferior version. As I meandered across the station, humming something along the lines of where is my boyfriend to the tune of the Pixies under my breath, he shot through the ticket barrier and grabbed me. Whats that? he demanded, detecting the smell of the Spiced Apple. I told him it was still too hot to try, which it was. The look on his face suggested that he wanted to take back the comment hed made on the phone about coffee being *free* if he waited until he got home. (And there speaks the man who drank twelve cups of coffee a day in Prague.) We ambled companionably across the forecourt and outside to walk the ten minutes back to his work and the van. Steam drifted off the Spiced Apple and as he was carrying the bags I warmed my hands nicely on it. By the time he pointed out his new workplace (which looked weirdly like a cottage in the middle of a car park) and showed me his desk through the window, it was only just starting to cool enough to try it. Sat in the van, warming the engine up, we tasted it for the first time. It had all the taste which the smell of apples and cinnamon hinted at. It was sweeter than expected and almost like cider (think Magners, not White Lightning or Ace.) The only slightly offputting thing was the bits swilling in the bottom when I removed the lid. And so, an addiction was born. I returned to AMT the following morning and was served pleasantly enough by an abrupt lady who looked very much like she might be the mother of the woman whod assisted me the previous day. She enlightened me by offering the option of ice to cool the drink down now thats thoughtful! AMT not only have reasonable staff and a nice selection of well priced drinks and snacks, they are the first national coffee company to go fairtrade. Fairtrade is something I theoretically approve of (if only the chocolate wasnt so dark and bitter) as it gives farmers a fair price for their crops as opposed to driving them into the ground to provide bigger profits for the multinational companies. You can see the AMT logo at http://www.amtcoffee.co.uk/, but thats about it as they appear to have a site under construction at the moment. Looking on CatererSearch(http://www.cater ersea rch.com/Articles/2006/10/13/305 047/top-coffee-shop-grou ps-2006.htm), I have discovered that AMT have only 34 outlets in the UK compared to 506 for Starbucks or 261 for Café Nero. Im pleasantly surprised by these low figures, I seem to be surrounded by coffee shops every way I turn at the moment. So, I think the moral of this story is; if youre lucky enough to stumble across an AMT, give it a try.
One day whilst walking through the Gatwick Airport train station I noticed a small golden coffee bar near to the ticket desks, drawn by the nice smells of coffee amongst other things I asked for a large latte (I later learned that they only do one size which is fairly large anyway). I paid £1.50, slightly cheaper than my usual caffine hit at redhill station each morning which is £1.60. I was surprised when the girl behind the counter asked if I wanted chocolate, Cinnamon or nutmeg on top, I've never usually had anything on top of a latte, to be given 3 choices was quite exciting! Well kinda, I was boring and went for chocolate. The drink itself was no different to any other latte that I had tasted, although the chocolate was a nice change. Over the next few weeks I grew to love the little bar, I have since tried all toppings deciding that nutmeg is best :o) They have an extensive menu for such a little place, and all at priced 10 or 20p cheaper than other places, and let me tell you now, their shakes are to die for! Hazelnut or chocolate especially and again, only £1.50 (well, that may sound expensive, but wait till you taste one, they're worth every penny!). There is also a nice selection of buscuits, cake, pretzels (the heeauge bread ones, not the crispy things) and other snacks and the staff are always friendly and know exactly what they are doing. Ooh, another novelty that I forgot to mention, fresh orange juice, squeezed while you wait....it doesn't come any fresher than that! All in all, I realise that most of the time if you want a cup of coffee, you're stuck with whatever outlets are available...but if you have the choice...go to AMT Espresso!!