“The British capital won’t be a coffee capital,” I wrote in April 2009, “until the taste for excessively milky coffees recedes and the best coffee shops look beyond espresso to filter- and siphon-brewed coffees. I’d also like to see more coffee shops sourcing and roasting their own beans.”
One year on, those conditions have been met and the wishes of the growing legion of local cafenatics has been granted: London’s great coffee moment has come.
First, London’s best baristas are successfully weaning coffee-diluting delusionists off their morning bowls of warm milk to richer espresso drinks in progressively darker shades of brown. The 4-step programme advances from latte to flat white to cortado (aka gibraltar) to macchiato to espresso. The national chains have taken notice. Costa launched a flat white in January with great fanfare, not so much by improving the quality of its coffee, predictably, but rather through a campaign of hype: The search for the perfect coffee will soon be over with the arrival of the Flat White to Costa.
Secondly, the number of great London coffee shops which roast their own beans has increased by 50 percent. Nude Espresso has joined Monmouth Coffee and Climpson & Sons in this select group. Others tempted to do the same should by inspired by the recent opening of Caravan, the first restaurant in the UK to roast its own coffee.
Thirdly, filter coffee is at last a brewing trend. Tapped & Packed, a superb new coffee shop and espresso bar in Fitzrovia, Central London, showcases 3 of the best methods for preparing filter coffee – Aeropress, pour over (cone filter) and the attention-grabbing siphon, a two-chambered vacuum coffee pot that resembles some glass apparatus in a mad scientist’s lab. The new location of Taylor St Baristas in the City of London adds a 4th method, French press (cafetière). Even Gwilym Davies, a Londoner whose espresso-making skills won him the World Barista Championship, is brewing lowtech coffees through either an Aeropress or a pour-over cone.
Beyond these developments is the coffee buzz I am both feeling on the streets of East London and Soho and seeing overseas. In London you see new indie coffee shops opening all the time. In New York or Los Angeles you might spot the dragon logo for the influential London roaster Square Mile either on the company’s stickers or, sometimes, a bag of its beans acquired through transatlantic trades. (Baristas don’t exchange shirts, as footballers do. They swap coffee beans.) Tell an American coffee geek you’re from London and he or she will ask you if you’ve ever had a coffee made by Gwilym, whose reign lasts another two months. He’ll part with his title in June at the 2010 World Barista Championship, to be held in that great new coffee capital, London.