Category Archives: Bean There – Cafes

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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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.


Prufrock Coffee: The Standard

Well ! I promised a followed up post on just Prufrock alone and here it is. Dare I say it, but I think this is probably the best coffee destination in London. I have been tracking the success of Gwilym Davies since he won the WBC in 2009 and after tweeting back and forth that I was coming over, literally off the plane and after freshened up in the BA Lounge (that’s another story), I headed straight for Prufrock Coffee on Leather Lane. It seemed like a lifetime getting there because Prufrock is located in the legal district of London and more specifically on a market street and as it was a public holiday, the streets were dead. I was even beginning to wonder if they were open, but of course they were – serious coffee drinkers never sleep.

On the outside, there’s this:

Not sure what it is, but in the window display, there’s a bike and some exclusive looking coffee gadgetry – you have arrived.

Walking inside, it comes across as a bit bare, there are some stairs leading downstairs on your right (more on that later), some chairs and an old paino, but as you get further in and glance to your left, there it is, the “the brew bar” – loaded with a 3 group Nuova Simonelli Aurelia (courtesy of WBC 2010), Robur E, a prototype grinder, hario V60, aeropress, a slow brew gadget (see below)

 a chemex, a woodneck, an Uber Bolier, the WBC award, a manual espresso machine and I’m sure I’ve missed something. There’s also a wooden retail shelf, stocked with Square Mile Coffees.

Now, we are talking coffee. In short, there’s almost every gadget known to coffee geeks, to make good quality coffee at Prufrock and if you think they are there for show, take a sit and let them educate you, but make sure you have the time and a clean palate to take your taste buds on a twirl.

So, what did I do ? Well, of course as a WBC champion to make me an espresso. After that, I had a piccolo from another barista. On my second visit – I had to go at least twice in 4 days – I asked Jeremy to make me an espresso, using the exclusive to Prufrock (roasted by Square Mile Coffee Roasters) Pomorroso – Single Estate Colombian Arabica. I have to say, this was probably one of the best espresso I’ve ever tasted – creamy, wrap around your lips, nutty, fruity and soothing to the tummy (stomach for non-Brits).

So, on the stairs leading downstairs, Gwilym showed me their future barista training academy, equipped already with a nice looking La Marzocco Linea 3 group, the Penny University Brew Bench and other bits – would love to train there one day.

They are just beginning to find their feet, but I think the idea is to grow into the space. This is pure coffee nirvana, so don’t expect anything to eat, even though they tend to have the occasional delivery of cakes. They’ve also got some books – I bought the latest London Coffee Guide book and some coffee equipment to buy. I think they may roll out more stuff later, but pay them a visit on Leather Lane, if you love coffee and if you are curious, walk in, learn and drink.


Bean There… Espresso Lab, Cape Town

I had the opportunity last week to spend time with, David Donde, formerly of Origins Coffee Roasting and he showed me a new cafe, Espresso Lab Microroasters, located in “becoming trendy” Woodstock. Espresso Lab is located at the Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, which seems quiet during the weekday but on Saturday mornings becomes a bustling market place, with Cape Town’s middle class jostling to buy organic fare, art and delicious food. OK ! back to the coffee. Espresso Labs has a really unique concept, living to its name by appearing like a lab, with coffee signs displayed like ES for espresso and AM for Americano, but the bags have longer names like ESP for espresso

Espresso Lab is run by Portuguese origin Capetonian, Renato. They’ve got a La Marzocco GB5 and their coffee roaster is located at the back in a clean looking space. On my second visit, yes ! I went twice, I decided to try what seems like their signature drink, a CO or a Cortado, made using a double espresso with about equal portions of frothed milk – check out the beautifully poured rosetta heart.

So it is really for those who want to taste their coffee with just a topping of frothed milk, as is a bit obvious from the pic below, where you can see the clear separation/layers from coffee, through milk and froth at the top.

It was really nice, especially for someone like me who ideally prefers a really strong cappuccino as opposed to the usual espresso, third milk and third froth – the official description of a cappuccino. Before I left I got a couple of bags of coffee to sample but of course, but more on that next time. So, when in Cape Town, check out Espresso Lab Microroasters and check out their website too, http://espressolabmicroroasters.com/.


London Stopover: A Flat White & A Double Espresso

The final leg of our journey was in London and as soon as I could, I rushed over to Flat White Cafe in Soho, flying through the door and spotting Cameron, the main owner of Flat White, I practically belted out, “A flat white please…” For me, it was like – I haven’t had really good coffee for almost 2 weeks and I need it now and wow ! wasn’t it worth waiting for – almost too good looking to drink.

A flat white @ Flat White, Soho (London)

A flat white @ Flat White, Soho (London)

A beautifully poured “rosetta” on my flat white. Even Cameron was impressed by the very kind lady who poured this beautiful rosetta (I’m so embarrassed I didn’t get her name so that I could have mentioned it on this post, sorry !), and here it is one more time, up close and personal, so that you can almost taste it.

After my “flat white experience”, I rushed off to have a quick lunch and of course I needed a good espresso to finish off my lunch experience and no place better than Milk Bar (Flat White’s second shop), still in Soho. As there wasn’t much time to catch our flight, I ordered a double espresso in 25C heat outside, took a picture to share the experience and gulped it down.

To finish off, I took a picture of their custom made Black La Marzocco FB70 espresso machine. What a nice stop over in London to satisfy my espresso cravings.

Ciao !


Coffee @ Woolworths Cafe, Cape Town

As a follow up from my last post on drinking coffee in Mauritius. you’ll be pleased or jealous to know that our way back to Europe, it was just too tempting not to stop over in my favourites foodie city of the moment, Cape Town, to delight my palate (OK ! another word for taste buds…), so I gave into temptation and we stopped over in Cape Town for a very short while. On the day I dedicated to the family, we stopped over in a massive mall, about 20 minutes drive from downtown Cape Town, Century City. Of course, after the usual late lunch, I was not scanning the place for a decent cup of coffee and after pacing up and down past numerous places offering coffee, I decided to try my luck at Woolworths, which has no resemblance to the UK Store that went bust last year or the US version of a bargain hunters paradise. No ! Woolworths in South Africa is almost a spitting image of Marks & Spencers in the UK or the equivalent of decent high quality clothes store, which offers food of really high quality. So in summary, they should not compromise on anything food related and they haven’t to an extent. I actually first visited Woolworths Cafe in the summer of 2006, when I spotted a La Marzocco FB70 machine in the store in another city, Durban, but the coffee wasn’t that great. However, since then, Woolworths have put more effort into their coffee venture, by first sourcing organic and fair-trade coffees from within the Africa continent and secondly by paying closer attention to the training of their baristi (plural for barista – some Italian lessons), so much so that in 2009, one of their baristi won the South African Barista National Championships – not bad, plus of course they seem to only use La Marzocco espresso machines, hmmm !

So on approaching the Woolworths Cafe next to the food section inside the store, noticing a La Marzocco GB5, I went up to the barista and after introducing myself, asked him if he knew how to use a GB5, he looked at me amusingly like “what kind of coffee machine nerd is this” and said “Yes !”, so I told him, I was a bit of a coffee expert (well aspiring to be one between me and you) and I ordered a double espresso, sat down and watched.

Not bad – the crema was present, the coffee a bit bitter and slightly hot, but not bad for an outfit that doesn’t offer coffee as its primary product. I’m also going to go out and say that this is the best espresso I’ve tasted in a mall, for what it’s worth. In any case, being a place that strives to offer high quality food, I was tempted to try a piece of cake, and went for a Pear and Almond Tart, delicious and worth every crumb.

So in summary, if you’re shopping in a mall in South Africa that has a Woolworths Cafe in it, or there is one near by and you need that coffee fix and don’t know where to get it, try an espresso, a filter coffee or a cappuccino @ Woolworths Cafe.


Drinking Coffee in Mauritius

I was lucky enough to go on our family holiday this year to beautiful Mauritius. With the current financial crisis all over the “richer” part of the World, there are deals galore to dream destinations and Mauritius is definitely one of them. OK ! my second job is not a tour operation so I’m going to get to the bottom of the cup on this – what coffee experiences did I have, because you know that wherever I go I’ve got to have some sort of coffee experience. We stayed at this really nice hotel called Le Touessrok and all coffee served at this top hotel happens to be sourced from Illy.

So every breakfast and every dinner I had Illy coffee. Now to be fair to Illy, sometimes it’s not about the coffee, it’s about how it’s served and sometimes it’s about the type of machine, which for a hotel that was voted the 7th best in the World, should be the best. However, to avoid libel (or being sued), I’m not going to comment on the machine below, as I don’t know what it is.

From my current experience, lots of top hotels and restaurants boast about providing you with the best food, etc, but when it comes to coffee, there’s a bit of compromise. OK ! it was good to be asked what coffee you would like every morning.

OK ! this is a bit exaggerated on the foam, but on another occasion the froth was a bit flatter.

However with views like this from the breakfast table, you can forgive the barista.

Not to be confined to the hotel, we did manage to explore a bit of the Island and headed up to the north-west of the Island to Grand Baie, where I managed to find Cafe La Fournaise on “Sunset Boulevard” named I guess because it is one of the best places to watch the sun set. The location of this cafe is right on sunset Boulevard and has a very French Riviera feel to it – you can easily think you are in a fancy  European beach side resort. In any case I ordered an espresso, snapped away and gulped it down before our ride back to our hotel, some 1 hours drive away.

Coffee was okay, but the location is a real people watching place, so I can imagine it being a popular place with rich locals and tourist alike. So, that’s my bit of sharing my coffee experiences in Mauritius, au revoir.