Who would have thought that a mid-nineties TV series about love, life and lattes would be the catalyst for a global consumer phenomenon? Before “Friends”, most Londoners would have identified a barista as someone who kept gangsta rappers out of prison and wouldn’t have foreseen the unstoppable rise of a coffee culture in the capital that has changed not only our leisure habits, but also the way we work.
World in a Cup
Coffee is the ultimate cupful of aspiration. Like tea, it can be infused and combined with an endless selection of flavours and like wine, it attracts knowledgeable enthusiasts who can effortlessly differentiate between Ethiopian Harar and Sumatran Sintong. Everyone, from the casual drinker, to the total coffee geek will find something to love at this year’s London Coffee Festival which opens at the Old Truman Brewery in ultra-hip Brick Lane. Featuring competitive demonstrations from the nation’s top baristas along with workshops on the roasting and brewing processes that go into artisan varieties, the festival seeks to point visitors to places in the capital where the coffee drinking experience is a cut above the high street chains.
Here are some independent cafes around town that will take your daily caffeine fix to a whole new level:
Nude Expresso has branches in Shoreditch and Soho that are well worth seeking out. The vibe is a friendly mix of Kiwi energy and London mateyness, which goes down well with the trendy clientele. The service, which is as impeccable as the coffee, won them the 2010 Independent Cafe of the year award.
Free State Coffee in the West End is set to become “king of the student hangouts”, the eclectic furniture and abundance of sunlight being a welcome tonic for people who need a break from sweating over their doctorates. An ever changing list of guest expressos will keep coffee nerds happy while the atmosphere is pure Lower Manhattan.
If you desire a good cup of coffee without having to learn a whole new language, then head for Ginger and White in the heart of Hampstead Village. Here, you will served a traditional flat white in the time it takes to say “Skinnysoyafrappucino”. British to the core, this establishment also serves home-made beans on toast and deliciously squidgy fish finger sandwiches and is a massive hit with the locals who also rave about their excellent Chelsea buns.
The Troubadour is one the great survivors from the fifties and sixties, when coffee houses were part and parcel of London’s exploding counter culture. Located on the border between Kensington and Chelsea, it still wears its boho credentials on its sleeve in the shape of a basement bar that once played host to the undiscovered talents of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Jimi Hendrix.
An overly bitter aftertaste is not part of the true coffee drinking experience. Notes coffee shops take great care not to over-steam their milk or over-roast their beans which are the two most common factors in the production of poor cup of coffee. Apart from outlets in Fleet Street and Covent Garden, Notes operates specialist Coffee Barrows in and around the Square Mile.
Full Steam Ahead
These old-fashioned carts/stalls give you the chance to see up close and personal, one of the things that may have made you fall in love with the whole coffee thing in the first place; namely the hissing, gleaming wonder of an Italian Expresso machine in full flow.
For those of us still fascinated by these marvels of beverage production, the London Coffee Festival has a whole area dedicated to La Cimbali, the world’s largest manufacturer of espresso and cappuccino machines.
Our Favourite Local Coffee Shops
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