Two weekends ago I was in London for an espresso trip, with the objective to have some inspiration for the espresso scene in Antwerp. I had prepared a list with some bars I definitely would liked to see and I would be asking people over there which places they like. This is like a little report of what I have seen.
Friday morning I had a meeting with Cameron McClure at Milk bar. Cameron McClure is one of the partners of both Milk bar and Flat White. These two really set a standard for other businesses in the landscape. They are doing a great job in educating the people about great coffee, what is a very important statement in the coffee world today, this is also something I’m noticing in my own business also. The more you educate them the more they get enthusiastic and start spreading the word.
The interior of both Flat White and Milk Bar is nicely alternative with a very good lightning and musical vibe. This musical component also give the place immediately a vibe when there are some people in the bar.
The next stop on Friday was the Square Mile Coffee roasters, I had a meeting with James Hoffman to get an overview of how they see coffee roasting in London and what there business is like, and of course to bring back home some coffee. It was nice to have a chat with this WBC camp, and have a little hint on what path we still have to follow to get to this kind of experiences in Antwerp. It’s still a long way to go but I’m sure we will get there.
From here on the real espresso hunt started, after these two visits I had a lot of places to visit so lets go crazy on caffeine..
First stop was the Monmouth stand on Borough Market in the area of London bridge. This is a market shop where they sell coffee in bags (grinded or in whole beans), you can choose here out of an impressive selection of 15 coffee’s. (They do like 15 tons of coffee a week) Not all single origin due some beans are recovered into a blend. But still this is impressive to see for the first time. Besides the coffee in bags the do a lot of drip coffee and some espresso and milk based drinks. For the drip coffee they use a couple of Ditting’s 1203 grinders set on the right grind setting and used to grind just one dose for a paper filter bag, which goes into the drip holder on with hot water is poured, a fast and effective system for drip coffee. Here I had a Fazenda Canta Galo out of Brazil, a Gethumbwini Estate out of Kenia and the Monmouth espresso blend.
After visiting the market shop I had a quick look at the bar at Borough Market but this was so crowded with people that I just took a shot and went on (they were queuing like for an attraction on a holiday park, quit unbelievable), but a nice, little old fashioned style with a lot of brick and wooden elements, a very warm atmosphere.
From here on I went to see a place called “Taste of Bitter Love” this is the smallest espresso bar I have ever visited. But really cool, a lot of old and second hand furniture.They also use coffee from Square Mile and this already sets the expectations high. They served me very short shot that was almost a triple shot ristretto, so lots a acidity and almost noting else than crema, a new experience to me, but as I would notice later on, this is a practice they do more in London. Most of the shots I had were like triple ristretto shot with a very high level of acidity.
Next day I started with the original Monmouth shop at Convent Garden.
Here again the impressive number of different coffee’s. This shop has also a little consumption area, where you can sit down and enjoy your espresso out of a ceramic cup ( I can tell you, a single shot espresso in a paper cup, just tastes like paper, noting you would like to have..) Here were also some communal tables, with the notice to not use your mobile and be social, same at the ordering place! Here I had two times the espresso from the house blend which compounds of Fazenda Barreiro (Brasil) as the base of the espresso, added with Grupo Asociativo Quebradon (Colombia) for high notes and complexity and Finca La Perla (Guatemala) for cocoa notes this gives a blend which can be described as toasted almonds with smooth body and balanced fruity acidity.
Next stop was “Bea’s of Bloomsbury” this is not what we should call a hardcore espresso bar but more a patisier that does some coffee on level.
In the back they have a open patisserie area where you can see them making the beauty full cakes and sweets. Besides the bar there is an area where you can consume the things they make, and I can tell you it’s quit impressive. If there is someone in Antwerp with this skills, I’m in for an adventure on the coffee site. Last but not least about Bea’s of Bloomsbury the have an impressive La Marzocco 4 group, what a machine! More on the machines in the next bar which is the “Fernandez & Wells“espresso bar. This bar is located in Soho and is near to Flat White. A very warm atmosphere by the use of a lot of wood. I really had a good time here, the guy working at the bar did an excellent job.
They use an incredible nice machine, the Synesso in a 3 group version. I think this will be the new standard of machine for an espresso bar within the next 5 years. They have like different pumps for each group, two boilers, possible to set different temps on different groups, possibility to do different pressure profiling and so on ( La Marzocco is also working on this kind of a machine, they call it the mechanical paddle version, available as an option)
Unfortunately they where both closing so I didn’t had the chance to taste their shots.
On Sunday I did the last bars of the weekend and this where “Climpson and Sons” which roast their coffee themselves, here also a triple ristretto shot with a high acidity. something you have to learn to drink.
I tried to bring a visit to the WBC champ from this year Gwilym Davies but I missed him on the flower market on Columbia Road, what a pity. On the way back however I encountered a cycle café (LOCK 7) what was really cool in concept; Bikes, Bagels and Coffee.
After this it was time to head home again and start to do something with this inspiration I had on this marvellous trip. However I have some general thought about espresso in London:
- They tend to serve espresso’s with a high level of acidity
- The serve a lot of triple ristretto shots
- Impressive quality of machines, only La Mazocco or Synesso (something to work on here in Belgium)
- All bars are take away oriented, so only small area for consumption
- A lot of bars are roasting themselves (very interesting)
- Some nice crossover concepts of coffee and …
- High level of service to clients
If you are visiting Londen and you want some good coffee places, these are definitly worth visiting! Spread the word..