Who sells the best coffee?
Coffee is really interesting, no I mean it; it really IS interesting. Although I’ve been in this business for more years than I can count I still find it fascinating that there are so many different ideas around how a good cup of coffee should taste.
I was recently in London on a short break being a tourist in this extraordinary city and visited far too many cafés and restaurants for the good of my credit card. I pick three cafés out not because of the wonderful coffee I had but more because of the different taste profiles they were serving.
The first café that came in for scrutiny is situated beneath the Cutty Sark ship in Greenwich. My first observation was one of sympathy for the sole member of staff expected to take orders, make coffee and serve. It’s a sign of the times that so much pressure is put on so few.
I ordered a “flat white” more out of curiosity than anything and was delivered something tolerable with an attempt at a latté art heart. The coffee was one of those dark roasted varieties that seem to be all the rage at the moment. Overwhelming as an Americano but does the job when softened with some reasonably well steamed milk. There was probably some very sensible story around sustainability etc. but it’s a reminder to those of us in the industry that sometimes there can be too much story and not enough thought given to the delivery. Not giving marks out of ten as this style is so prevalent and to be honest extremely boring.
Another coffee stop found me opposite the Lyceum Theatre in a small Italian family run café. I avoided the two coffee chain stores just to have something different. In appearance the café is very unpretentious and the coffee they serve is an unfamiliar Italian brand. Why do people think that coffee roasted and packed in Italy is somehow more authentic? They don’t even grow coffee!
I used the word “authentic” because the one thing I would say about many Italian brands of coffee is that there is a very definite “house” style. It’s so distinctive that I reckon I could pick out this coffee style blindfolded. It’s interesting though that Lavazza, the leading “Italian” brand seems to have abandoned its house style in favour of something much more darkly roasted: trend followers rather than trend setters these days.
All the above said, I returned to my coffee of choice, a black Americano. The coffee that came had that interesting classic bitterness of so many Italian brands; they hadn’t abandoned their roots. It was also blended with some Robusta coffee which, rather than making a disagreeable beverage, actually made it more distinctive and more “Italian”! I’m not sure whether I liked or disliked the drink, it’s probably a little more challenging for me as someone who doesn’t have sugar in their coffee but that aside it delivered the taste profile I expected from the branding on the cup.
Finally, I visited the extraordinary development that was once Battersea Power Station. Thankfully there is still a green space called Battersea Park. Concrete and brick can be overwhelming on this scale. In the park there is a quirky café that goes by the name of “Pear Tree café”. I warn you now that the toilets don’t work at the moment because they are apparently waiting for the council to fix the drains. Surprised they’re still allowed to operate, but hey this is London not Jersey! Coffee is all sold in “to go” cups and they politely ask you for your name when you place an order. I wish I’d thought of something wittier than giving my real name although I did notice that some people refuse to give their name unless, that is, they are called “flat white with oat milk”; this is London after all.