I was in a café in the North East the other day, not far from Newcastle, that thriving and exciting city. I ordered an espresso and when it arrived, in its beautiful little white cup that clinked on its beautiful little white saucer, the woman behind the counter said ‘Is that all you get? It doesn’t seem like very much!’ and it was then that I realised that Barnsley was the thriving and exciting place because nobody has said that phrase to me in Barnsley for ages. Why would they? We’re a sophisticated place, tha knows.

It wasn’t always like this, of course. I’ve been a fan of the espresso for years, ever since I sipped one at a pavement café in Paris when I was a young man. I like the fact that it’s tiny and strong, I like the ceremony of letting it cool down before you glug it down in one and I like, as I hinted earlier, the beautiful little white cup and the beautiful little white saucer. The thing is, a few years ago you couldn’t get an espresso for love nor money in Tarn. Indeed, the idea of anything that wasn’t a mug of Nescafe took a long time to catch on. I know that’s hard to believe in a world of lattes and cappuccinos but it’s true: ask your grandad.

Mind you, when I was first going out with the girl who’s been my wife for many decades we had a meal at the Co-op restaurant and I tried to be a bit swish by opting for the cheese and biscuits rather than a pudding and I asked the waitress what cheeses they had and she disappeared for a while and then came back and said ‘Red or white.’ I chose both, of course, and a slice of Mother’s Pride and spoonful of Branston Pickle. Sometimes history almost but not quite repeats itself: a few years ago I was at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield and I asked the waiter what the Soup du Jour was; he said he’d go and check and came back and said ‘It’s Soup of the Day, sir.’ Of course I had it. With a slice of Mother’s Pride and a spoonful of Branston Pickle.

But even when the lattes and cappuccinos gained a foothold round here, the espresso was very much out of the equation. As far as I remember, the first place I got an espresso was in the old Aroma Café in the Arcade and when I ordered it they always used to say ‘You do know that’s a small back coffee, don’t you?’ and I’d always reply ‘Yes, I know that, because I’m a man of the world.’ Gradually, the espresso began to spread across the borough; it espread, if you like. Now a couple of cafes did them, now one or two more. The long-gone café in the Civic did them, and you could get a good one after your carbonara in the late-lamented Pinocchio’s.

I still got looked at in some establishments as though I was a bit daft for asking for one, partly on the grounds (grounds: get it?) of the volume/price interface. In other words, you don’t get much for your money, but that’s fine by me. Staff said things like ‘Tha dun’t get much, does tha?’ and ‘Is that all tha gets?’ and I would nod and smile. A server once said to me ‘I think the machine’s brok because this is all that came out’ and I had to tell him it was ok and I liked it like that. His shrug spoke volumes. That was then: this is now.

We’re getting there, we’re getting there. Nowadays when I order as espresso in Barnsley nobody says ‘You do know that’s a small black coffee, don’t you?’ and nobody says ‘I don’t know how you can drink that: it looks like sludge’ and nobody says ‘Are tha sure tha dunt just want a nice cup of tea?’

No, the espresso has come of age in Barnsley, and that’s a good thing. Let’s face it, you can’t move for coffee shops round here and the clinking sound of those little white cups on those little white saucers is music to my ears.

I don’t even mind when people call it an expresso rather than an espresso because that’s just language change, and there’s nothing we can do about that.

Single espresso, please. And a slice of Mother’s Pride. Eeee, I’m sophisticated!