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.
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.
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?