Three cups of coffee! Richard Johnson lives dangerously in Lavenham

The rich and elderly come to the 15th-century town of Lavenham in Suffolk to retire in comfort. Some call it God's half-timbered waiting room. The place has been lovingly restored, and there's not a TV aerial nor telegraph pole to spoil the view. The only problem is that the front doors of the houses open directly on to the street. I heard about one local fellow who popped to the shops for a pint of milk and returned to find an American family sitting round his dining table waiting for afternoon tea. What with Lavenham being Lavenham, he probably just smiled. And put the kettle on.

The rich and elderly come to the 15th-century town of Lavenham in Suffolk to retire in comfort. Some call it God's half-timbered waiting room. The place has been lovingly restored, and there's not a TV aerial nor telegraph pole to spoil the view. The only problem is that the front doors of the houses open directly on to the street. I heard about one local fellow who popped to the shops for a pint of milk and returned to find an American family sitting round his dining table waiting for afternoon tea. What with Lavenham being Lavenham, he probably just smiled. And put the kettle on.

Lavenham was once a wool town and its residents made their money by raising the nap with teasels. The houses they built still huddle together hugger-mugger – bulging, sagging, leaning in different directions and looking as if the Big Bad Wolf could easily blow them down. They're painted in authentic, muted tones – not black and white – and beautifully complement the countryside from which they came. They even have their original overhangs, and doors wide enough to take a loaded pack animal – ideal for when I'm trying to get Neris's overnight bag into the hotel reception.

The Swan is no cookie-cutter hotel – it's a collection of listed buildings, alive with flickers and shadows. But there's a deal more to this place than wattle and daub. I wasn't surprised to learn that, in winter, a member of staff is employed just to tend the hotel's 12 fires. Or that one regular guest loves the place so much, he likes to bring his budgie along with him and leaves the bird in reception. And now that the chintz has finally been replaced with hessian and linen, The Swan really does merit its five-star reputation.

I like to take my coffee in a nook or cranny. King Gustav III of Sweden wouldn't have approved. He was convinced that coffee was dangerous. But he needed proof, so he sentenced a convicted murderer to drink coffee until he died. As a control, he ordered another convicted murderer to drink tea. Unfortunately, the doctors in charge of the experiment died before the prisoners did. And then Gustav was murdered. The tea drinker made it to 83 before finally dying of natural causes, leaving the supposed toxicity of coffee in doubt – and the coffee drinker alone with his latte.

According to The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug, Gustav was right. After all, a typical lethal dose of caffeine is just 10 grams. An espresso – or a double cappuccino – has 100 milligrams. So if you suck down 100 shots, you could be heading off to that big café in the sky. But I'm choosing not to listen. And I suggest you do the same. I recommend three cups of filter coffee and a small plate of shortbread fingers at The Swan. I figure it's a gamble worth taking. E

The Swan, High Street, Lavenham, Suffolk (0870 400 8116; fax 01787 248286). You can e-mail Richard Johnson at drinkwithrichardjohnson@yahoo.co.uk

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