Category Archives: London Cafes

First Flat White of 2015 @ the Ampersand Hotel

As a treat to the family to end our two week long holiday in London, I decided to take up an offer of two-for-three at a lovely looking boutique hotel in South Kensington called The Ampersand – in case you are wondering what that means an “ampersand” is the official name for the & sign. So that’s your English lesson for the year. Now to the coffee.

We checked in on the first day of the years, 1 January 2015 – obviously and I was kind of worried that to celebrate the beginning of 2015 I wouldn’t get a decent cup of coffee – others wanted champagne but for me it’s coffee of course, love. So after checking in I noticed a cafe like setting adjacent to the checking in lobby, a nice pretty place for English Tea and cakes, and spotted…. a La Marzocco Linea 2 group machine (ahhh!). I naturally got excited and after quizzing the poor young Australian waitress about if she knew how to make good cup of coffee, I decided to take the plunge – she kind of retorted with “I’m Australian, so I know a good cup of coffee”. I’m not sure if the pressure from moi (coffee snob) was too much but her colleague, a waiter, decided to make the coffee and I could see in the background that he was really taking his time, et voila

1st Flat White of 2015

1st Flat White of 2015

 

Naturally, I was impressed as I won’t be blogging about this experience and I told the waiter afterwards that it was  a good flat white and he was really happy. So, first lesson of the year “don’t misjudge people based on your own bad experiences and always give people a chance”.

So, I came to find out that their coffee beans are from a new London coffee roaster group, called “black sheep” and to top it off, the use pure robusta – they are supporting an Indian coffee farm to bring you the best. See here for more info http://www.leavetheherdbehind.com

I had a couple more tasteful experiences which showed me that the waiters/waitresses had been trained properly – very important.

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Also, it was a great hotel to stay at, very well located for the museums, near the South Kensington tube station and if you are stuck in this vicinity looking for good cup of coffee and a hearty avocado filled breakfast, pop into the Ampersand on 10 Harrington Road for a quick cup – they also have take away cups if you’re really in a rush.

 

 

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A Flat White, An Espresso and An Espresso Macchiato in London

As some of you know, my real job, working for one of the United Nations (UN) Agencies, gives me the opportunity to visit different parts of the World a few times a year, and usually I’m lucky enough to connect through London, which means a day visiting cafes and shopping. So, just last week (21 April 2014), I was in London again and decided to try a couple of different cafes that I had never been before, so here goes a summary of my experience.

A Flat White

A Flat White

A Flat White

Nominated for the 2013 European Coffee Shop of the year, I had to visit New Row Coffee, located on 24 New Row, London, WC2N 4LA, in the Covent Garden neighbourhood. It was a bit of a trek from nearby Leicester Square underground station, as I was dragging my hand luggage, but it was worth the wait. I was early enough to avoid any queues, gape at the array of delicious cakes on show, but sadly I had just stuffed myself with food at the BA arrival lounge and can’t wait to visit again to taste some of these treats.

 

Treats @ New Row Coffee

Treats @ New Row Coffee

Anyway, back to the coffee. Their espresso blend hails from Union Roasted and unlike most of the reputable coffee shops in London, have a darker roast. I ordered a flat white as I hadn’t had an espresso milk based drink for a week.

It had hints of caramel, which turned out to be more pronounced for at least 30 minutes after I left the shop, developing into dark cocoa and toffee syrup, YUM! especially on a brisk Friday morning manouevring through the theatre land of London. So, if you visit London and happen to be in the theatre district and need a great coffee fix before your show and prior to eating out, where most probably they won’t serve great coffee, then check our New Row Coffee.

An Espresso

When you’ve only got a few hours in London to drink coffee and shop (my new past time, but one of my previous career dream was to be a fashion designer for men’s clothes), then you know that you may be pushed for time to sit down and divulge your taste buds in London’s exciting and very diverse culinary delights. So, when I entered Foxcroft and Ginger at 3 Berwick Street, Soho, London W1F 0DR, off Oxford Street in the West End, I initially wanted to have a quick lunch, but looking at my time, just after 2pm, knowing I had to be at Heathrow Airport at 5pm, I decided a delectable lemon syrup cake and of course a double espresso.

An Espresso

An Espresso

It took longer than I expected, almost 10 minutes before my cake and coffee, so I didn’t waste time “being Italian” gulping my cake down (sugar rush to help speed around the shops) and an espresso (because I like coffee). Now back to that “Italian” thing. An espresso – this was probably the best “Italian” style espresso I’ve had, like how they should make espresso in Italian restaurants and why do I say this ? Because, it looked like a typical Italian espresso, using darkly roasted beans but on this occasion, the espresso had the right consistency of crema and had a sumptuous nutty syrup taste, which lasted long after I had left the shop – not bitter at all and a right digestive and pick me up for the afternoon, well done Foxcroft and Ginger. On the location, don’t get intimidated as the shop is located on a busy vegetable and fruit market part of Berwick Street, not far from a few famous restaurants like Polpette (an up and coming Italian restaurant) and famous restauranteur, Alan Yau’s Yauatcha. The good thing is that they are opened until 10pm every night, except Sunday and Monday, so again if you have a great meal in the area and want to finish with a great espresso, visit Foxcroft and Ginger.

 

An Espresso Macchiato

I was rushing to the airport and thought, I’ve got to make a stop at my favourite coffee shop in West End London, Workshop Coffee, located at 75 Wigmore Street, around the corner from the World famous Selfridges Department Store. I thought, would I prefer to get to the airport 2 hours before departure, as opposed to visiting Workshop, drinking coffee and buying a bag of expertly roasted coffee too – hmm ! well, you guessed – of course coffee won. I was truly rewarded with probably the best espresso macchiato I’ve ever had, wow.

An Espresso Macchiato

An Espresso Macchiato

a little heart that packs a punch – silky, syrupy, buttery sweet caramel, toffee macchiato – the milk was just little enough to lift the other elements front he espresso. An of course I got a bag of coffee too.

That was me done for the day. Three great coffees at 3 must-visit coffee shops in London.


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…


@ Taylor St Baristas – Canary Wharf

Have you ever….

Been to a coffee shop that has two 3 group espresso machines

Been to a coffee shop that has a 2 group Synesso Cyncra espresso machine just for guest espresso

Been to a coffee shop where the staff interact with one another like they’re one happy family that they make you feel at home

Been to a coffee shop where the loyalty card rewards you for your custom by giving you your fifth cup free

WELL ! I have and lucky me and you could be just as lucky too, so just head down to Taylor St Baristas on the South Colonnade in grand Canary Wharf, London, the seventh branch of the company.

I had never been to a coffee shop owned by Taylor St Baristas (run by 3 siblings originating from a small town in Australia) before and this was one of two firsts, as it was also my first time in Canary Wharf (sorry! but it’s like the Dubai part of London) – all newish, well cut roads, clean with well groomed gentlemen and ladies walking about in a hurry, that is, until they walk into Taylor St Baristas. Ah! yes “finely crafted coffee for serious coffee drinkers”. Although only opened since early December 2011, it’s as if there was a petition by the inhabitants of Canary Wharf to only allow a serious coffee shop within their midst and they got one, making the shop one of the busiest coffee shop in London. Subsequently, the suits and posh skirts of Canary Wharf don’t seem that bothered waiting for a good cup of coffee, with millions of dosh to make back at work – that’s a great achievement because at my caffe in Cape Town, take-out customers tend to be in very much of a hurry, even though we position the espresso machine in a way that they can see that making a good espresso takes time. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see the high flyers of London wait for a great cup of coffee. However, I do have to add, that common to their other busy spots (I went to 3, Canary Wharf, New Street and looked inside 125 Old Broad Street) Taylor St Baristas have scored a point with quick delivery service by (i) using at least 2 three group machines per shop, complimented with top of the range grinders (Mazzer Robur E, Anfim Super Camiano) in the ones I visited and (ii) having a dedicated staff member to take orders from customers whilst they queue, as opposed to waiting for them to get to the till to place their orders and wait even longer. Well! it has to be said, if you do sell more than 500 cups of coffee a day (and I have a sneaky feeling it’s much more than that), it’s great that the waiting time for the good stuff is reduced as much as possible, so thumbs up to Taylor St Baristas.

At Canary Wharf, space is at a minimum, because the shop is geared to serve the best – meaning that space has been allocated for staff to focus on preparing coffee, food and serving csutomers and for displaying a tantalising display of snacks, sandwiches, cakes and pastries. Plus, the inside space has been designed to make the decor more authentic than the surroundings outside with paintings, dark wood, writings on the espresso machine, hanging lights and blackboards and seventies style chairs.

I visited their Canary Wharf branch twice in 3 days and was lucky to have had both my flat whites made by Andrew Tolley (one of the owners).

Is this news ? Well, I thought so, as Andrew Tolley is also one of the UKs Barista Competition judges. Taylor St Baristas have a  bespoke Rogue Blend (roasted by Union Hand Roasted), but also offer coffee from the UKs top roasters, namely Square Mile Coffee and Has Bean. I had one guest espresso (roasted by Has Bean) prepared by Andrew using their Synesso machine at Canary Wharf and had another one roasted by Square Mile at their newly opened 8th coffee shop, about 10 minutes walk away at the Royal Exchange, where I met Laura Tolley (the second of three siblings that own Taylor St Baristas). I also stopped very briefly to meet older brother Nick Tolley at their New Street branch (opposite Liverpool Street Station), where I was tasted a very unusual aromatic filter brewed coffee – can’t remember the name, but I think it was roasted by Has Bean.

I still believe that in order for you to serve the best you need to serve it with heart and that’s why for me, Taylor St Baristas is one of the best coffee shop experiences I’ve ever had. They are really expanding fast, already on their 8th shop and are probably the highest quality “chain” like cafe in the World to by knowledge, with Andrew, the coffeegeek part of the team, visiting if not all, the vast majority of the shops everyday to ensure that quality is never compromised. I wish them the best of luck.

Find out more about them, their shops and their services at http://www.taylor-st.com/