Category Archives: Bean There – Cafes

Drinking Coffee in Leicester, England


I assume by now you know how to pronounce the word “Leicester”  as LESTER, because if you watch English football, the team that won the premiership, against all odds in what I call the year of the “underdogs” came from this city, which also happens to be the city from where I studied economics at undergraduate level, many moons ago at the University of Leicester. Assumptions aside, on our annual visit to London this summer, I decided to take my family to the city where I attended my first stage of university studies for a day out. As a coffee lover, prior to boarding the train from the gloriously renovated St Pancras train station; it was obvious that I had to research the best places to drink specialty coffee in Leicester, but of course.

 

As we toured my old university, with some of the buildings looking and feeling exactly the same, like the lecture halls and one of the catering halls, I was baffled that the old student union building was completely different, with glass exterior walls and wait for it, a Starbucks. You will be glad to know that I didn’t’ fall into temptation and succumb to satisfy my caffeine pangs for a cup of coffee from Starbucks, but decided to wait for our trip into the old city. I must confess, the pizza I had at the new, well to me at least, student union cafeteria, was one of the best I’ve had, taste and value wise. I had to fight off my wife and kids, who had boringly settled for burgers.

 

In addition, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the library, where I often used to hang out 


(notice, I didn’t say study all the time, but hang out), had been revamped and was opened by none other than Her Royal Highness, the Queen of England.

 

St Martin’s Coffee Roasters – St. Martins Square, 2-6 Saint Martins Walk, Leicester LE1 5DG, UK

 

After visiting the Leicester City Football Club – my son insisted – we headed into town. First stop was St. Martins Coffee, which I’m sure must be the most specialty coffee venue in the city, complete with two floors. As you enter from one side, you are greeted with a La Marzocco Linea and lots of coffee roasted on-site to choose from (more on that below). 


They’ve also got delicious looking English style cakes and other drinks on display for non-coffee drinkers, like specialty teas (well their full name is St Martin’s Tea & Coffee Merchants) and soft drinks. The downstairs is decked with your usual comfy leather sofas, steel and wooden chairs together with some cosy spots on the other side of the stairs too. 


As it was a very sunny and warm day – the summer in England was tops this year – it was about 25C; there was also an abundant of chairs, European style, outside.
Heading upstairs, there are more sitting spaces, but the main focus is the roastery, with lots of sacks stuffed presumably with green beans, waiting to be roasted. 


I met the head roaster (I’ve forgotten his name… sorry!), who just graduated from Leeds University but decided to head back home to Leicester – a very young and impressionable chap – he wasn’t even born when I used to live here and visit this space – which was my favourite Italian restaurant in the city (Joe Rigatoni). He shared with me their philosophy to introduce his city to “real” coffee, not compromising on quality and his expansion plans – in fact they are beginning to grow out of their space and plans are to move the roaster to another space to roast more so that they can accommodate an ever increasing number of customers from the food industry too – great!

To test their milk frothing skills, I ordered a cortado – something I don’t usually do in the middle of the afternoon when its 25C outside, but on this occasion, it had to be done. It went quite well with my lemon drizzle cake. Impressed with their offerings, I took two bags of coffee to test at home on my return to Vienna.

 

I found out later on their website that St. Martins are like the go-to-people for coffee in Leicester – by this I mean, they do everything from barista training to selling and leasing espresso machines. If you want to set up a coffee shop in Leicester or in the midlands, they are your guys. They can even develop a blend for your coffee shop if you want and assist with branding and packaging – wow! They are a small family business committed to serious coffee and if you want to find out more, check their website here http://www.stmartinscoffee.co.uk/

So, I’m going to commit myself and say this is probably the best place to get specialty coffee in Leicester with their focus on sourcing and roasting the best beans they can and just being a cool place to hang out too – it’s quite well located in terms of its location, but as it’s just off the main market, you might need google maps or a well-placed local to guide you.

Gourmet Coffee Bar and Kitchen, Leicester Railway Station

So, after my coffee exploits, we had to make a dash to catch our train. Arriving earlier than usual, I decided to test this little coffee spot with another La Marzocco Linea espresso machine, which I had noticed upon our arrival a few hours earlier. Placed right in front of the station exit and as my wife got distracted buying football magazines for our son, I made a dash for it and ordered an espresso to go. 


Not bad, slightly bright but I’m not sure if the paper cup had anything to do with it, but recommended for your way in or out from Leicester nevertheless.

 

So, there you have it, two coffee spots to check out in this smallish city (population of 330,000 based on 2011 census) – If you don’t know why the English call a place a city, then let me inform you thus – in England any place is automatically called a city if it has a cathedral in it – like a big church with an archbishop, no matter what the population or surface area is. For my postgraduate, I went to an even smaller place, Exeter (population of 124,000) but was baffled when it was referred to as a city and that’s when I learnt that it’s the cathedral that makes a city a city.

So, enough of cities for now, if you are feeling adventurous and want to pop out of London for a day trip – it’s only about an hour by train – then check this city out for some medieval landmarks, shopping that’s cheaper than London, Indian food and of course a good cup of coffee.


Coffee: The rule is, there is no rule


I know that sounds like a paradox and I’m sure some of my followers are like “what is he talking about” For many years, Lameen, that’s my real name – has been saying adhere to the golden rules – measurement, temperature and volume, to name a few. BUT, the main reason I’m writing this, is that occasionally I’ve strutted into a place to dictate how my coffee should be made, and on more than one occasion this year, I’ve been pleasantly stunned by coffee served to me without the rules I hold dear.

Don’t teach an old dog new tricks with Espresso

That’s the pic at the top of the blog. So, after not having espresso for about 5 days, I strutted into the airport lounge and spotting an espresso machine, asked for one naturally. As soon as the barista started making the espresso, I said “la!” i.e. no in Arabic and asked if I could make it. So, I clean the very filthy group head, flush it and ask for the coffee. To my horror, it’s pre-ground espresso, stored in a drawer and although there’s air condition inside, it’s like 40C outside. For a coffee geek like me, my mind is “oh no the moisture, the crazy unstable temperature will affect the coffee, which has already been pre-ground and for how long has it been pre-ground”. Resigned, I’m like, okay, here’s how to tamp. I attempt to tamp with wait for it,  the bottom of the glass, because the tamper is not large enough to cover the porta filter “aargh!” – this means that although some of the coffee will be pressed, the coffee on the border will not. OK!, so I now attempt to make an espresso – flush the group head and place my porta filter inside the group head and brew – what a disaster – the coffee is all over the place and the coffee resembles…. I’d rather pass.

The barista and his colleagues detecting deep disappointment on my face, then resorts to pull an espresso for me – I watch him and the only thing he does differently, which makes me feel happy, is that he cleans and flushes the grouphead before he pulls the shot and guess what – it looked a lot better than my attempt. So, how did he break the rules;

  • he used pre-ground espresso, as opposed to grinding on the spot
  • he didn’t measure the coffee, as opposed to using about 18-22 g for a double
  • he didn’t really tamp, as opposed to the rule of 30 pounds of pressure
  • the espresso machine was really hot – I’d guess close to 100C, as opposed to about 93-94.5 C

And that’s what I could see. So how did it taste. Not bad and above my expectations given the rule breakers. So, to conclude, the rules were broken but a decent shot ensured.

 

Never buy pre-ground coffee

Okay, on this occasion, the coffee was bought for me. Whenever my colleagues travel and buy coffee, they bring it back for me to brew and serve them, which I try and do every Friday when I’m not busy – a rare scenario of late. If ever they ask me “whole beans or ground” I always answer, “whole beans”. On this occasion, a colleague brought me this bag from Kenya, apologising for having not brought back beans. I casually looked at the bag, Java House , Kenyan AA arabica, which looked well presented and was even more taken aback by the tasting notes of grapefruit, blackcurrant and lively. Again, sceptical I brewed it using my french press recipe of 60g to one litre of 95C water. Wow! guess what? There was a bloom on top of the coffee (a sign of fairly fresh coffee) and more importantly of all, I tasted a grapefruit acidity with a hint of blackcurrant. 


Okay, so that rule was broken.

 

Espresso is always brewed at 9 bar pressure for about 22-25 seconds

So, just this week, after Ramadan, I headed to my fave cafe in Vienna, Balthasar to check out their new espresso machine a Slayer Espresso machine. Otto, the owner, had been telling me for months that it was coming and he was so excited. In fact when I met him on Wednesday, I should have interviewed him as he relayed to me for about 4 minutes what the slayer could do. The gist was that you can brew at different bar pressures and for as long as you want, so I ordered a fruity espresso. In short to get a fruity espresso, it is brewed at 3, then 9 and then 3 bars of pressure over about a minute !!! what ? Usually, espresso is brewed at 9 bars of pressure for about 22-25 seconds with about 18-22 grammes of freshly ground coffee yielding about 25-30ml of espresso.

 So, what has changed ? The whole game with this type of espresso machine – the rule is, there is no rule, because you can now brew espresso how you like, like a recipe ordered to your preference “fruity, nutty, low acidity, high acidity….?” carry on.


 A really fruity cup with over medium acidity.

 

Just one more thing

Well! I’ve got to redeem myself somehow – we can’t just give up on the rules, ion not there’ll be anarchy.

So, as a prelude to my first experience, way back in January this year. I ordered a cappuccino at a top hotel in Zimbabwe (Meikles) because I spotted a La Marzocco GB5 machine, BUT. Watching the barista, I saw he used pre-ground espresso coffee, didn’t flush the group head, didn’t clean the group head, didn’t tamp with any real pressure, didn’t measure the coffee systematically, frothed a foam mountain and didn’t appreciate the kind of machine he was using. So, I stepped in and he was so willing to learn but on this occasion I didn’t touch the machine – I just guided him from across the counter. In the end, I got a good cup, with thick crema and although no latte art was present, it was along the lines.

 

To top it off, the barista was excited by what he had just learned, he was going to access youtube to learn more skills and watch latte art being poured. Yay! a job well done.

So, yes sometimes the rules can be broken and you may succeed but in general, adhere to and know the rules before you tamper (sic) with them.

 


Fashion & Coffee in London

   
 If you follow me regularly on Instagram, then you’ll know that I’m also into fashion. In fact I’ve even toyed with the idea of setting up a purely dedicated blog on fashion but time does not permit. Nevertheless, although I know far more about coffee than I do about fashion, the first career path I wanted to choose after being a pilot, was a men’s fashion designer. I digress a bit, but when I visit London, I find it to be if not the best, then one of the best cities to combine my passions for coffee and fashion.

Before and after treading up and down, checking out the latest fashion and sartorial stuff on offer, I’m always looking for coffee. So, if you visit the epicentre of fashion shopping in London, Oxford Street, during the Retail Sale season there’s plenty of coffee spots. My favourites are:

Workshop Coffee Fitzrovia, located in St Christopher’s Place – located parallel to Oxford Street and near Bond Street Tube Station on the Central and Jubilee Lines. I’ve written about Workshop before but, in essence they are one of the premier London-based coffee roasters with a few locations dotted around London. On offer is great coffee (espresso, filter), teas, hospitality and small bites.

  
Origins at Selfridges – Voted the best store in the World, I’m pleased to report that Selfridges now have a great coffee roaster, originally from the South West End of England, who roast and prepare coffee the artisan way.

  

 They’ve got all the gadgets

  

  And a special blend for both espresso and filter on offer. So, when shopping in the best store in the World, you can also grab a great cup of coffee – life’s good.

Still in the Oxford Street area, walk down or take the tube to Oxford Circus, and head to Carnaby Street to check out the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs spot in Lowndes Place. Delectable cakes, sandwiches, filter coffee and well-pulled espresso shots await the Soho shopper. There’s lots of space downstairs, so you can bring the kids too.

  
At the end of Carnaby Street, by Boots the chemist, turn right onto Kingly Street to be greeted by Soho Grind. Complimentary wi-fi is on offer in a dimly lit, but cosy looking funky coffee spot with seating downstairs too.

  
If it’s raining, then there’s only spot to go to in Central London, Westfield Shopping Centre, located at Shepherds Bush Central Line tube station. There’s tons of the famous shopping brands and in the section called the Village, all the premier brands await you too from Louis Vuitton, Boss, Hacket and Mui Mui. In other parts, there’s  Zara, Top Shop, Apple, as well as a multiplex cinema and huge food court, but where’s the coffee ? Head to the ground floor for Sacred, located next to Apostrophe, also with a La Marzocco Linea. Sacred are stocked with female baristas, who pull a chocolate based espresso shot, which goes well with milk.

   
 So, that’s it from me for 2015, here’s to a more pleasant and fulfilling 2016 with more coffee discoveries on the horizon.

  


Vienna’s New Coffee Guys: KaffeMik and Zamm Good Coffee

Cortado at Zamm Coffee

Cortado at Zamm Coffee

Kaffemik

To change a culture, you need passion and commitment and you can quote me on that, so when I heard that some guys who were fed up with drinking bad coffee during their coffee breaks/lunchtime decided to open up a small café near their office, so, that they could at least have a decent cup of coffee during their breaks, I was impressed. This is the story behind Kaffemik, located on Zollergasse 5, of Mariahilfer Strasse – one of the main thoroughfares in Vienna. Craving the thought of experiencing their coffee and concept, I passed by for a flying visit one lunchtime. It’s small, reminiscent of a place where you know the focus is coffee, pure and simple, so it’s dominated by a La Marzocco Linea 2 group and an unassuming brewing station.

Kaffeemik this way

Kaffeemik this way

Also available are light pastries to accompany your coffee and a shelf displaying coffees on sale as well as other coffee geek gadgets, like aeropress and Hario V60s and accessories.

La Marzocco Linea

La Marzocco Linea

On offer, they have a house blend espresso, roasted by Rosterin (i.e. Vienna School of Coffee) and every month have a guest espresso and filter to sample or purchase on-line.

A great place to get a good coffee when shopping on Mariahilfer Strasse and I’m glad to report that they’re open on Saturday too.

https://www.kaffemik.at

 

Zamm Coffee

Welcome to Zamm

Welcome to Zamm

About a quick 10 minute walk towards the Burgasse end of Zollergasse  and a few streets over is another place driven by passion, Zamm Coffee on Kirchengasse 35, owned and run by Max. A pleasant young and talented guy – his café also poses as a mini-art gallery, which also displays very hard to get creative magazines like Folk, Cereal, Caffeine and Longberry – if you’ve never heard of these magazines, then you’re either not a serious caffeine lover or a graphic designer – if you’re curious, then head down to drink great coffee and read trendy magazines. In any case, Max gets his coffee from different roasters in Europe and has a simple menu, recognisant of the original Prufrock Menu by Gwilym Davies many years back. So there an espresso, espresso with some milk (i.e.Cortado) and with more milk (i.e. Cappuccino) but if you really want more milk, then he can make you a classic cafe latte too. Also on offer are various pour overs methods, aeropress, copper encrusted Hario V60 and Syphon, especially on Fridays. Ask Max for which filter coffees are best brewed on what.

Gadgets to droll over

Gadgets to droll over

I’m not entirely sure what drew Max into coffee – I was rushing as his café is not near my office at all, but he just got back from a “barista bootcamp” in Europe with leading figures like Jim Hoffmann of Squaremile. I expect he learnt a lot and must now be breaming with new brewing ideas. Check this Zamm “good” Coffee, where you can buy coffee gadgets, coffee, magazines and art.

https://www.facebook.com/zammcoffee
Well done Vienna – I don’t have to hold my coffee breath anymore for trips to London to taste and appreciate great coffee, made with passion.


Breakfast, Lunch & Coffee in Cape Town

You’ve got a few hours to spend in the Mother City (so called, because being a seaside city, the pun is that it takes 9 months to get anything done here) and you want something good to eat and of course some coffee too, so here’s my tip, from my previous abode of 2.5 years.

For breakfast, you’ve got to try DEAR ME, situated on 165 Long Market Street, just off the main artery of the CBD, Long Street. They’ve got a cool decor, an award winning chef, a good and cheerful barista, home made condiments in a well stocked pantry and a commitment to sourcing top ingredients, as witnessed on their menu, so why not go. I was kind of spoilt for choice on looking through the menu – there was Turkish Eggs, Truffled Scramble Eggs, Eggs Benedict and more, so I just asked the chef, Vanessa Marx, and she recommended the Eggs Benedict with smoked trout…

delicious brekkie

delicious brekkie

 

and yes, it looks and tasted delicious – a great choice to warm up my tummy as it was a cloudy and cold day in CT (that’s what the locals call Cape Town). After having a chat with the cheerful barista, Nash, of course, I went for a Cortado – the signature drink of Espresso Lab, where they get their coffee from.

Cortado @ Dear Me

Cortado @ Dear Me

Dear Me Larder

Dear Me Larder

It may seem strange but although I’ve known about Dear Me for ages – they opened about a year after I opened Escape Caffe, I never had the luxury of time to eat there as they only open on Monday to Fridays from 8am to 3:30pm, but I kind of knew that on my 24 hour visit thus time around, I wasn’t going to miss out, so here.

 

No for lunch and keeping it simple with another eatery that stays true to classical well-sourced ingredients, I tried Birds Boutique Cafe and no! it has nothing to do with birds. The name has been kept by the new owner as the previous ones, hailing from nearby Namibia, have left and had a thing with birds, even serving you on crockery painted with birds, etc. anyway, again, I was looking for somewhere that wouldn’t disappoint and soaking up the very relaxed decor with wooden benches and an exposed and lively but not noisy kitchen, I went for the specials of the day – sweet potato soup and a cute feta and tomato quiche.

Quiche Delish

Quiche Delish

 

For a stop over, knowing that you will be flying for over 11 hours (journey time from CT to London) later in the evening, a light well prepared quiche does the job for me. You don’t want anything too heavy, but just right, using fresh ingredients served in a relaxed atmosphere, where you can catch up using their free wi-fi and relax. So, whether you’ve got days or hours to burn in CT, I recommend stopping over at Bird Boutique Cafe on 127 Bree Street for a quick, light and well prepared lunch.

 

Well, to finish off, and as you know, coffee has to play a role, so where better than the self-styled and hyped up, Truth Coffee, situated at their “HQ” on 36 Buitenkant Street. They proudly boast that they were called “the best coffee shop in the World” by a recent Condenast Traveller writer. OK! I have my reservations about this as I think being called the best depends on what drives you to drink coffee in the first place. That said, it may be one of the mosh unusual places to drink coffee anywhere in the World. Co-owned and the brainchild of David Donde, who, if you’ve been reading my blog since 2007, was behind the first artisan coffee roaster in Africa at Origins, also in CT. In any case the new “Truth Coffee” looks like no money was spared in turning this old warehouse into a steam punk haven for coffee, together with staff uniforms – expect waitresses to be dressed in shorts, leather waistcoats and natural afros and waiters to have top hats, with feathers protruding and all that fanfare.

Funky Cafe = Truth CT

Funky Cafe = Truth CT

The back of the cafe is like a warehouse dominated by a massive coffee roaster – perhaps a 60kg version with coffee bags strewn all over, whilst the front of the cafe has baroque style dark leather couches and two or was it three espresso machines.

Big bad roaster

Big bad roaster

IMG_2786

It definitely has a buzz and was unusually packed for a Friday afternoon – trust me, eateries are not packed anywhere in CT on a Friday afternoon, whether its winter (too cold to go out) or summer (hey dude, where’s the beach?). Now, to the coffee – as it was after lunch and I had literally 20 minutes before my ride to the airport – naturally went for an espresso to test the barista skills.

Pricey Espresso

Pricey Espresso

 

an espresso well-prepared with fruity notes underlying your tongue but and I have to say this, that relatively speaking (yes, I’m an economist) at R25 this is probably the most expensive espresso I’ve paid for in a cafe – you expect this at a restaurant but not at a cafe. Would I recommend another visit ? Yes, in that you’ve got to see it to believe it, but brace yourself for an expensive coffee experience, but nevertheless an experience… well done David Donde for adding another uniqueness to Cape Town.


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…


London Coffee Scene 2012: My Diary

Not the ideal time to pop to London in the middle of winter 2012, but I was tempted by a few opportunities just a couple of weeks back to visit London again – my fave city and my fave city for coffee of course. If you know me by now, you won’t be surprised to learn that my first stop was at Prufrock Coffee Shop on Leather Lane again, – well ! I had to take a look at the new Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine and drink coffee from it didn’t I ? Sadly, I forgot my camera at the hotel, so no pics of this beauty from me, but I can say, surprise, surprise that the flat white I had was good as usual. After my staple of Prufrock coffee, I went almost around the corner to St Ali, Clerkenwell, for lunch and coffee (again). The beetroot salad was delicious but I decided to spoil myself by ordering the Colombian Gaitania on an aeropress – naturally sweet, medium acidity and very pleasant to drink.

I decided to finish my day with a place that I’d dreamed about visiting, Tapped and Packed on 26 Rathbone Place in Central London. The vibe was English cool and although there were only two staff at the time, Louise, the main barista, managed to handle the small crowd that was pouring in at about 4pm. I sat down on a bench inside the cafe, flicked through the British newspapers, dug into my double stacked very English Victorian Sandwich Cake, spilling icing sugar onto the floor, washed down with some water, before savouring my 3rd Wave coffee, an El Salvador Finca La Fany, prepared on the Hario V60, roasted by Has Bean Roasters. I enjoyed my caramel sweet coffee.

Day 2 was a bit of a disaster on the coffee side, as after almost 4 hours of 1 interview, I didn’t get to taste coffee until 4pm – ahhhh ! now that’s a long time for me, but my coffee pangs were satisfied with a 150ml flat white at Speakeasy Espresso & Brew Bar, Coffee Smiths second shop, on 3 Lowndes Court, just off Carnaby Street in Central London. I also had the pleasure of having a nice Brazilian coffee (forgot the name), using the Filtro Brewer offered by the owners, Chris and Tim – thanks! Speakeasy decor is similar to most of the new coffee shops, but they’ve tried to arrange the seating in a manner that allows you to “speak easy – ily”, so most of the customers appear to be having meetings in hush hush tones – for a quieter meeting, there’s a downstairs seating area in the basement, airy and not stuffy at all. As with all the new age cafes, they’ve got a selection of coffees for you try to go with a handsome selection of cakes and pastries – all the lunch sarnies had gone.

From then on, I was kind off free to visit and sample coffees from different cafes, but I must confess, I confined myself to places that I had missed on my last coffee tour in April 2011.

Day 3, I headed off to unknown territory, Canary Wharf – Yes! after so many years of living and visiting London, I had never been to Canary Wharf. I must admit,it seemed a bit surreal – like Dubai in a way – new and straight roads with new buildings and skyscapers, BUT tucked in there was a superb coffee shop, who never compromise on quality and who seem to be raising the standard, in a tough city like London, for the expansion of high quality coffee and this can only be….

That is long for Taylor Street Baristas and NOT Taylor Saint Baristas (I thought it was the latter when I first saw the name). A very short history – Taylor St Baristas is made up off siblings, Nick, Laura and Andrew and have been operational for 7 years. Their first shop was in Richmond and they have just have opened their 8th shop (Exchange Tower in South Quays, about 10 minutes walk from their 7th shop in Canary Wharf). I was lucky enough to meet all three of them and I must say they were really friendly and warm – naturals. I think their characters together with their knack (English for talent/gift) for getting excellent locations, serving great coffee and their vision means that they have a long way to go on the road to more success. I promise a separate post on their Canary Wharf branch, which I went to twice.

I finished off Day 3 with a visit to Notes, Music & Coffee second shop, 36 Wellington Street in Covent Garden (I went to shop 1 in April 2011). The decor and ambience was reminiscent of a Parisian cafe and I told the owner Fabio that, whom I met for the first time – call it Continental cool. Well, they’ve been consistent with the gear here as they also have a La Marzocco Strada together with all the other stuff you’d expect as well as a selection of coffees. I could resist the temptation to order the Brazilian Capao (my favourite coffee of 2010), roasted by Square Mile Coffee Roasters, prepared on the V60. Although I enjoyed my coffee, I detected that this seasons’ harvest (probably from 2011), wasn’t on the same level as the 2009/2010 one, which completely blew my mind. I got an added bonus by bumping into Mr London Coffee Celebrity himself, James Hoffmann (Square Mile Coffee) after meeting with the UK operators of New Zealand outift, Ozone Coffee Roasters (Liz Bain and James). Slight digression, but Ozone Coffee Roasters are quite big in New Zealand and are planning on opening their first international shop this March in London, located at Leonard Street, just off the Old Street Circus bordering Shoreditch/Clerkenwell/the City.

For Day 4, it was off to the West End in Central London to do some shopping for the family and for my palate, so I stopped off at newbie Sensory Lab – sister shop of St Ali. Sensory Lab is on 75 Wigmore Street, just off St Christophers Place in the direction of Selfridges Department Store.

Sensory Lab is well kitted out with a Synesso Cyncra espresso machine, Uber Bolier to help accurately prepare aeropress, V60 coffees et al. They have a coffee menu with a selection of coffees. It is easy to be intimated by the decor as you enter the coffee shop with the rows of coffees, coffee equipment and blue grey walls, but all this will be softened by the attendant, friendly and knowledgeable staff. I went for my usual milk based morning drink, Cappuccino, made with St Ali’s Cult of Done Espresso.

With a nicely laid out stash of coffees, I couldn’t but, grab a bag of the Colombian Gaitania, that I had had earlier in the week.

took some pics and left for lunch on Australia Day at…

Kaffeine – where I enjoyed my scrumptious lunch “bufala mozzarella, spinach and chimichurri retro baguette (this was my second attempt, as it was sold out the day before), finished off with my best espresso of my trip, Square Mile Coffee Red Brick Espresso Blend – yum, full on. I really wanted to take a pic but Kaffeine was so packed, I barely got enough arm room to eat my sandwich. The staff, including Peter Dore-Smith (the owner), were completely swamped with customers queing and pouring in and out of the cafe.

After all the pics I’ve seen of the place, I had to make the trek to finish off my London cafe expedition with a visit to finally meet, Sang Ho (aka Korean Barista) at Tapped and Packed 114 Tottenham Court Road. Full as ever, from what I read, there was no space to sit down. The decor is brown, with a mirror used to list their coffees and prices. As you enter, all the seating area is along the windows dotted like a square shape. Next to the till, they have a coffee recipe for third wave coffee, where I was treated to an “on the house” Brazilian Capim Branco prepared on the Hario V60 by Sang Ho himself (a day before he was crowned barista champion in the South East England heats).

Next to the V60 station, there’s the uber cool, copper water tank, where regulars know this is where you get your water from. The pic at the top of this post is located just outside their shop, but I couldn’t resist snapping away at these flat whites, waiting on the side, prepared by their custom made Nuova Simonelli, with wooden porta-filters and trimmings.

After a brief chat with Sang Ho about coffee I realised that it was the end of my coffee tour. As I walked down Tottenham Court Road towards Oxford Street, I noticed lots of coffee shops, but if people knew about Tapped and Packed, near Warren Street Station, I don’t think they’ll compromise on their taste buds to buy coffee at the coffee chains and pretenders nearby.