I really like coffee. I don’t profess to know everything about it, I don’t own some machine that resembles the inside of the Delorean from Back to the Future, and I’m not averse to the odd latte from a coffee chain. But given the choice I would always take a well made coffee from an independent artisan coffeehouse. Black.
When visiting an unfamiliar part of the capital I’ll often look up nearby independent coffee shops that have some kind of hard-earned reputation for serving exceptional coffee. And quite often I’m disappointed. Once I’ve got over my image problem and come to terms with the fact that I’m not hipster enough for most of these establishments, I’m often faced with an espresso that’s comprised of 30% plaudits and 70% acid. I know I’m meant to think it’s a thing of beauty, but I rarely do.
For a while I’ve been wondering if I like coffee less than I thought I did, or if I’m missing something. So I found this article by Jay Rayner really helpful. First of all it reassured me I’m not alone. And secondly, it helped to explain why so many of the artisan coffee-shops of the moment are serving coffee I don’t really enjoy. Rayner took a guided tour of some of London’s top coffee shops, on a quest to understand the changing tastes of coffee making. He writes this:
With me is Salvatore Malatesta, founder of the highly regarded St Ali’s coffee in Melbourne, itself regarded as one of the world’s great coffee cities. He runs 11 outlets in Australia and is now looking to open a new venture in London, after an abortive attempt a few years ago. London, he says, is now “a place with lots of opportunity for serious coffee”. I’m trying to be cool, trying to understand the complex world of coffee connoisseurship with its language of aero-presses and single-origin beans, pourovers, flat whites and roasting profiles. Finally I crack. What the hell has been done to my beloved espresso?
Malatesta, a short, stocky Australian never seen without a hat, nods sagely. “It’s to do with the roast. You like the flavours of a long, dark roast. But modern coffee aficionados now like to emphasise that it’s the seed of a fruit. So they roast it for less time and that, in theory, gives you access to all the fruitier, fresher flavours.” I stare at him. You mean it’s actually meant to taste like this? He nods, with a wry grin. “It’s intentional.” Oh dear.
The whole article is well worth a read. If you’re a Londoner it will give you an idea of some places to try (or avoid) and if you’re not from the capital, it will still help you understand the various philosophies of coffee-making.
Whilst some may consider it staid, my money’s still on Monmouth. By a long shot.