Places and Faces

London 2009: 200 Channels and Nothing But Cat

About a year ago I went to London, primarily to attend a Square Mile “Taste of …” event, but I also used it to do a tour of some of the recommended coffee shops. I left impressed and jealous in equal measure. As the interim year passed, my envy increased with the reports, the pictures, the videos, the newspaper clippings. The London map, it seemed, was becoming increasingly speckled with exciting, new, quality-driven cafes. This year, my superficial reason at least was to attend an Ultimate Bartista Fighter event, a latte art throwdown with costumes, again at the Square Mile roastery.

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In the time between landing in London and the evening’s festivities I made my way to Dose, The Espresso Room, Lantana, Kaffeine, Nude, and Present (that’s present as in “let me present something to you”, not present as in “let me give you a present”). Taylor St Baristas was too busy, and Taste of Bitter Love had closed by the time I darkened their door.

Four of the six I did get to served me Square Mile’s Autumn Espresso Blend, which I hadn’t had until the first of the day in Dose, and which by the end of the day, I felt I knew intimately. Lantana and Nude being the exceptions that served coffee from (I think) Monmouth. I gave everywhere a fair crack of the whip, ordering a single espresso and a short milk drink (cortado, gibraltar, flat white etc), and contrary to my mixed experiences of the previous year (most notably in Sacred), these were near universally excellent. If you blindfolded me, I don’t think I could tell the drinks from Dose and the Espresso Room apart, while Kaffeine maybe just eeked a fraction more body out of the espresso blend (which seemed to be quite light in nature). The shot from the Victoria Arduino lever machine in Present was perhaps my favourite, shorter, stickier, more intense.

Lantana, sandwiched between the Espresso Room and Kaffeine, served a much heavier (in terms of mouthfeel and body) shot, with a sweet orange note, perhaps lacking the clarity of the Square Mile blend, but was nonetheless very pleasing. Nude, served the least satisfying shot of the day, coming across as slightly bitter in comparison to some of the others. I am nitpicking though, as it was certainly drinkable, even enjoyable, and their milk in the accompanying Flat White was superb. If any of these cafes opened tomorrow in Dublin, they would raise the bar.

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My Simpsons’ reference at the top, is not a snipe at the prevalence of the Square Mile blend, though the lack of a guest coffee at Dose on the day did magnify the scant variety. Rather it is an observation at the absence of any filter coffee on the menus. You have this group of cafes, and several others I could not visit, who are incredibly quality focused, passionate, inspiring, and they all, with the one exception (that I am aware of) of Monmouth, serve only espresso based coffee drinks. No french press, no chemex… nothing. You can forget your Kiamabara AA by hand poured filter cone, never mind Finca La Fany or Sidikalang in the press pot, don’t even think about Kilimanjaro Natural in the aeropress

I don’t know if it’s the much lauded Antipodean influence. I think that it’s a bit of a cliche and a also bit patronizing to suggest that Aussies and Kiwis don’t have palates that expand beyond espresso drinks. Maybe the customer needs to demand it, maybe it’s one of those “commercial reality” things that I don’t really get. What I do know is that next June, London becomes the centre of the coffee universe for Caffe Culture, the SCAE, the WBC and the other coffee competitions. The industry will decamp, luminaries will descend. London’s cafes will become the world’s cafes. How does London want to show the world what it considers to be the very best in coffee in 2010, what it considers the very best the UK has to offer in 2010?

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4 thoughts on “London 2009: 200 Channels and Nothing But Cat

  1. For a while now John Gordon and I have been talking about a filter brew bar, it would probably have to have an espresso machine there as well – if it was only an economical function of being able to serve enough drinks in a day to keep the business ticking over.

    One of my favourite shops in London is Tea Smith, I just love the long bar and sitting down, talking about the teas and trying new things from the menu. Imagine this done with coffee, 10 on the menu from around the UK (roasteries) and a range of brew methods.

    I know this can be done, I guess it’s just about price point – will consumers pay £6 for a vac-pot of coffee because its unique?

    A venue offering this is the next step for me. Someone do it and I promise I will buy a coffee a week from them.

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more! We’d desperately love to see more brewed coffee being served across London. Things are starting to change, and I know more people are interested in doing it and just need to jump some logistical hurdles. James at Dose now offers aeropresses of various coffees, Taste of Bitter Love will do individual press pots and I know Gwilym really wants to do more brewed coffee too.

    The whole brewed coffee things is one of the main inspirations for us opening a retail location in the next year. I really want to present coffees in a variety of ways, and as it is my favourite way of drinking coffee it would likely be my favourite way of selling it. I agree you’d need an espresso machine in there too – espresso drinks are great, fast and versatile – but I’d very much like a brew bar where things are a little slower and you can have as much or as little coffee geekery and information as you’d like.

    Back to the other bits – glad you had some great espresso. Personally I love the range of shots served by the different cafes, and I can totally understand how people become enamoured with lever machines – they do do something different, but they aren’t the easiest things to work!

  3. Whiilst in London a month ago I did partake in a similar tour, I enjoyed many varied espresso based drinks. Being extremely partial to a filter coffee I ordered one along my route…..a mistake I was shocked at its quality. I’ve got to say given the queue in front of the espresso machine, they obviously had a great offering from the groups! I’m not saying that you could pick up anything better in Cardiff, I suppose I just assumed that quality and a broader selection would be available!
    I am most definatly looking forward to my next trip!

  4. Pingback: can my coffee be better? // The Other Black Stuff

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