Now don’t get me wrong, dear reader, I do like London, really. Just because I moved as far north as I possibly could as soon as I was able to, and just because I’ve never spent more than a couple of days there since, and just because I have temper tantrums and panic attacks every time I have to pay something there – doesn’t necessarily mean I hate it. Some of my best friends are Londoners! My friends, however, do not live in the particular area of London that I am concerned with today. I don’t know anyone who does. We are not fashionable enough, it seems.
Running Doctor Coffee’s Cafe (and thus, trying desperately to promote the business) gives me justification to immerse myself in the world of Social Networking for what feels like hours every day. Doctor Coffee can be found on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as this blog, for all you cybergeeks. Thanks to one or other of these sites, I get regular updates from James Hoffman at Square Mile coffee, the 2007 World Barista Champion. Since I can actually claim I’ve at least met the guy, I clicked on it, only to watch this little clip on Youtube:
Independent Coffee Shops
This Really Really Annoyed me. I can’t rationalise my reaction, but the footage in this does fuel my dislike of London. ALL the coffee shops featured in this film are inside central London, with Square Mile and one other being the furthest out. The whole video tries to suggest that gourmet espresso, and independent coffee shops are on the rise, and also that us Brits are becoming more accustomed to drinking excellent coffees. I’d like to think that is true; there is certainly a (small) backlash against chain coffee shops, and I do think people are becoming more aware of what is available. However, this clip merely demonstrates that people within a few square miles (ahem) in the capital know what a flat white is.
To be fair, the accompanying article in the Guardian does venture outside the M25… the nearest independent coffee shop to us worth mentioning is apparently in Scarborough. Or Edinburgh. (although, as has been pointed out to me this morning, Edinburgh is just another London borough given you can fly there in less time than it takes to get across London on the tube. And yes I am well aware I’ve just pissed off an entire nation!). Nothing about the wondrous Gusto Italiano in Sheffield, nothing about Pumphreys in Newcastle, Java in Whitby…. Apparently the whole of Wales is devoid of coffee as well.
Aside from the Londoncentricity of the Guardian colomnists (and let’s face it, that shouldn’t really be a surprise!) the other striking thing in these pieces are the type of coffee shop owner featured. All are, at a guess, about my age – late 20s. Does this mean no-one over 35 makes coffee anymore? Far removed from the image of the aging moustachio’d Italian master roaster. Also, a number of the places featured are run by Australians and New Zealanders. Obviously the original Flat White’s has spawned clones. (In case you are wondering, a flat white is just a latte without so much foam, or cafe au lait made with espresso, or, in fact, coffee with milk!). I also have another article from the London Lite paper: HERE that frequently mentions the “triple ristretto” – another Australian custom, or so I am told by the Geordie Barista trainer, that uses just the first few seconds of the espresso shot, so even a triple is not much larger than an espresso. Very very strong tasting, but sweeter as you stop the flow before you get all the bitter notes. Implying that Australians, and presumably now us Brits as well, prefer sweeter espressos than the ‘traditional’ Italian, longer, more bitter equivalent. We had ‘Ristrettos’ on the menu at Caffe Nero. I NEVER had to serve one in this entire time I worked there. The new assistant manager confirms that, as memory serves, she has only made one in the 18 months she’s worked there. I haven’t bothered with them for Doctor Coffee’s, and no-one has complained, or even noticed. Proof enough, maybe, that this ‘new’ love of gourmet coffees hasn’t yet reached Darlington. Again though, this is nothing new. Another fellow blogger points out the rise in Ozzie and Kiwi owned coffee shops in London, in 2008.
Did you put garlic?: Independent Cafés/Coffee Houses
So, who exactly are these Londoners, clustering around the few gourmet, antipodean coffee shops, swigging flat whites and triple ristrettos? Are they even the newly-coffee educated British, or are they all Australian ex-pats? Whatever I write, I am at risk of stereotyping. From personal experience then, I visited TomTom and Monmouths coffee shops when last in London. Monmouths offered truely excellent coffee, but it was difficult to assess their clientele because of the enormous queue and the fact that their Covent Garden shop only does take-out. TomTom, in Victoria, fitted the above descriptions exactly. Run by a chatty, friendly Australian, they served me possibly the best coffee I’ve ever had (although I insisted on drinking filter, rather than anything espresso based, so the quality was in the coffee’s origins rather than in the barista’s skill). The small shop was full of, to my mind, London stereotypes. I chatted to a bloke working ‘in Sales’ who was a little concerned about visiting a client ‘south of the river’. I kid ye not. There was also a very loud bearded bloke, mid-30s,brandishing the Guardian, talking about growing his own vegetables and house prices. The woman next to me bemoaned having to leave her cats alone for a few days while she went to Hampshire for her sister’s wedding. Outside the shop were a line of commuter-scooters and even a GeeWhiz car. Hopefully this gives you the general idea. That said, I am the right age group, I don’t wear designer glasses or flannel shirts or beards (often), but I do own and love my commuter-scooter, I do read the Guardian, I do grow my own veg, I do appreciate good coffee and have (just) enough disposable income and the sort of job that allows me to languish all day in posh coffee shops. I am, in short, horribly middle-class and British. And a part of me does wish there were some of these places near where I live. Sometimes stereotypes ring true.
A friend and colleague, and fellow coffee geek at Sheffield believes that one of the main customer bases for this type of shop are “hipster cyclists” – the incredibly trendy, fit, young “trendy eye-glass wearing, flannel shirt sporting beardos”, (his words, not mine) – concientious local commuters, couriers and messengers, needing a caffeine boost to get them around central London on two wheels. Indeed, this idea is reinforced by the film, which mentions one of the new coffee shop owners cycling out of his way to visit Flat White in Soho, on route to Islington. Given these coffee shops are all clustered in such a small area, we thought we could design a ‘Great Hipster Cycle Route’; a trail around London encompassing all the new coffee shops. It wouldn’t really be a long trip!
As I do not yet have the GIS skills required to map the hipster-coffee-cyclist’s usual commute, and my geographical grasp of London Above is severely limited (London to me basically doesn’t make sense unless you are underneath it) – I have started with a cropped tube map. The “unfashionable parts” of London have been cut off the map. Why would anyone be interested in Hounslow, Ickenham, Canning Town, Epping, Upminster or even Wimbledon or Richmond, when there is obviously no coffee there? I doubt the fixed-wheel cyclists dare venture to these far-flung areas.The coffee shops are marked as numbers, then listed below. I aim to go Darn Sowf soon and research this further (while, of course, sampling coffees from all these places.) An updated, London-Above map and full cycle route will be available soon! Watch this space, grow your beard, remortgage your house and get pedaling in preparation!
1 – Square Mile Coffee Roasters
2. Monmouth’s Coffee Company
3. Ginger and White
4. Dose Espresso
6. The Espresso Room
7. Fernandez and Wells
8. Climpson and Sons
9. Bea’s of Bloomsbury
11. Tina We Salute You
12. Flat White
13. Taste of Bitter Love