Coffee Tasting in London – October 2012

Seems natural to me…. Give me 2 days of work and I’m off to London to meet family, friends and COFFEE of course. The highlight of this trip was therefore my 3 hour coffee tasting marathon at the laboratory of coffee itself, Prufrock Coffee on Leather Lane.

We were hosted by Jeremy – don’t ask me where he’s from, because I’m still trying to figure out his accent – down at the dungeon or their BRAT or Barista Resource And Training centre. On show, were bags of coffee from non-other than Square Mile Coffee Roasters and two other specialists (I forget their names). There were literally bags of information (excuse the pun), but in summary, here’s a list of the extra stuff I learnt;

ONE. pH balance in water makes a big difference – In short if it’s around 7 then the water is quite pure and if its below 7, its acidic (the bad stuff not the coffee related acidity of course) and if it is heading towards 10 it’s alkaline based. This is very important for when you are tasting coffee because, as we all know a cup of coffee is basically 90% of water, so bad water equals bad coffee, no matter what type of coffee it is or machine or barista, etc. The real eye opener however was that London’s tap water was closer to 7 than some of the bottled stuff they sell off at a premium.

TWO. Coffee roasted in small batches like on a sample roaster will rarely give you a full profile of the coffee, as opposed to roasting a batch on a 12kg roaster for example.

THREE. Aida Batle’s Kilimanjaro Washed (El Salvador), roasted by Square Mile is a killer – fantastic coffee but some of you already knew that. I bought a bag to take home of course.

FOUR. The more coffee you taste the more you can develop your taste buds – naturally, so taste away.

FIVE. A taste wheel really helps novices like me to describe coffee like grassy, earthy, etc. It helps you to focus on what you are really tasting and helps to accurately describe all those sensations on your tongue.

SIX. I learnt the purpose of blooming your coffee when preparing it on a Hario V60. In short, C02 (or carbon dioxide) doesn’t like water getting through. So, when preparing a V60, you pour a bit of water (say 50ml) to wet the grounds and you see it bloom with all these colourful bubbles – by doing this, you are making it easier for water to pass through when you finally complete your pour. The cup we had tasted of dry strawberries – now that’s unusual.

I’ve been to few coffee tasting session and even ran one at my caffe in Cape Town (Escape Caffe) BUT a 3 hour session at Prufrock takes the prize. Highly recommended and great value for money, but don’t get intimidated by Jeremy – if he goes to fast and gets too technical, stop him and ask him lots of questions.

So, where else did I go…

To the City and the East End.

Espresso at Association Coffee, 10-12 Creechurch Lane, London EC3A

Nice spot, owned by Sam (a man) with head barista, David Robson, formerly of Prufrock, Association have a strong focus on both espresso and third wave style coffee with all the gadgets to play with – so, don’t expect to have a slap up meal or heavy laden sandwiches and sweets. This is a city spot to grab a great cup of coffee and “real” snack to bite on. Although located in the city, Creechurch Lane, has a quiet feel about it, and Association seem to have captured this serenity with their decor, warm lights and wooden floors – a real great spot to hold “real” coffee meetings.

Curators Coffee @ 9a Cullum Street, EC3M

Just around the corner literally (say 3 minutes walk) is Catherine Seay’s new spot, Curators Coffee. For those who don’t know, Catherine is the former head barista at Kaffeine. She ceremoniously left Kaffeine last year and most people thought she’d never go back into coffee, including her, but she said, like one of those specialist “I didn’t want to go back to cofee, but I was dragged back in”. Well! we are happier for it. She really welcomed me to her place, prepared a piccolo for me and rushed back to serve customers in a personal style that ensures you want to return. I asked her about her choice of colours on her La Marzocco Strada and she said Turquiose gives it a difference – I must say, it blends in really well with the decor and adds colour to your life, especially when it’s grey in good ole’ London.

Grind Coffee Bar, Westfield Shopping Centre, Stratford – really East London

And the prize for probably the best place to drink coffee inside a mall, goes to Grind Coffee Bar, located next to Waitrose in Westfield – Stratford City, right next to the London Olympic Stadium. I was really impressed with their set up and boy, were they really busy. So much so, that even at 2pm, they were sold out of non-meat sarnies and 2 hours later, the only food they had were pastries – I missed out on their tasty looking lemon polenta cake, but settled for a croissant instead. In any case, I had heard so much about Grind, that I made sure that during this trip, it was on my list. With my brother staying not too far and with the latest James Bond Movie, Skyfall, on at the mall, it was an opportunity not to be missed. Highly recommended for anyone going to the Westfield shopping centre (they have 2 other locations at Putney and Battersea – see their website, www.grindcoffeebar.co.uk

Workshop Coffee, Marylebone, 75 Wigmore Street, W1U

BUT, of course I can’t leave London without visiting some old faves. My first cup of my trip was a short black (short Americano) at Flat White on Berwick Street and my second and last literally was at Workshop Coffee, on Wigmore Street, where I had my best espresso milk-based coffee of my trip, a flat white – the silky caramel wrapping around your tongue right at the end. As usual the staff were friendly and my brother, friend and I were really relaxed, just sitting enjoying our coffees. This was the only place on this trip that I went to twice, so well done on those flatties.

Goodbye London, Londra, Londre…

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