Flat caps and flat whites
In every chic London ‘village’ there is now an independent coffee shop. This signals the arrival of the bearded tweed capped tight trousered mafia. It’s an ageless trend that must send shivers down the corporate spines at Gillette, Braun, Wilkinson Sword and Starbucks. Unless you’ve spotted one of the few females following this fashion, it’s likely that losely attached to the beard is the tweed cap, the tastiest Northern import since Staffordshire Oatcakes (more on them at a later date). I looked for a ‘newsboy’ in New York ten years ago. Hoping to find one styled in the 70’s, seen in portraits of Coppola or Paul Simon, I had no luck. I had to wait eight years, then I spotted a great hat shop online http://www.hatshopping.com/. This German shop even have a hat of the week, it’s the ‘Hervester’ straw trilby today, it must be high summer in Munster. They’re efficient and have a huge range, including the Stetson brand, a favorite, almost collectable if I had the cash. The ‘Hateras’ is reliable, not too wide and floppy but not too lawn green bowling ‘Kangol Tropic Ventair’ either. The cap has really seen a surge this year, the rotten weather has helped and there are a few shops like American Classics, 20 Endell Street now selling good brands. Other hats don’t seem to get much of a look in, other than the beanie, the ultimate bad hair day hat. Will this trend last? I doubt as long as the coffee shop explosion.
I can’t be alone in pondering when the momentum of the new coffee revolution will ever slow? The first proper coffee shop apparently opened in about 1652 by a Greek / Armenian. Then it was brewed over a hot wood fire, nowadays you’re likely to find a once bronzed Antipodean tamping away at a La Marzocca Strada, a Synesso Hydra or even a Kees van der Western. Rosee, the original coffee shop, advertised coffee as having medicinal qualities. Doubt if that’s a reason many drink it now, so why are we? I think we’ve learn’t how to appreciate good coffee, it’s created the demand. But we should look back, as I think the recent explosion started in the early 90s when so many wanted to join Jennifer and co for a chat and a pout in a NY style shop. Starbucks followed us home with our discount Gap Ts, but we actually dreamt of Dean & Delucca’s thick rimmed mugs, not cardboard cups. Enough came home yearning to sit on sofas and drink huge overpriced mugs of milky liquid to make Starbucks think there’s money to be made in the UK. But I think this new wave of coffee drinking is in part due to a quiet backlash against those huge comedy menus. After an insipid American style ‘beverage’ the New World version is a very different animal, wilder, deep, dark and with a real caffeine kick to boot. Now we choose from a few well chosen ethical blends and styles, based on strength and taste not just huge or massive. I’d rebel in the most pathetic attempt to overthrow the system and ask for a medium coffee, rather than grande or vente which sound more like something connected to the automotive world, than a coffee cup. We have to thank the boys and girls from Aukland and Sydney for bringing what they learnt on their travels to our little streets.
There are some quaint similarities with the 17C. Then they were frequented by people looking for ‘enlightenment, good fellowship and intellectual conversation.’ Now it may be through Twitter or Linkedin, but we still like the sociability of sitting with others who are also working away from home, or not. People seem to crave the silent colleague, not chatterboxes (take note). Most sit behind a gently glowing apple, many wear unsociable and bulbous headphones. We don’t go to avoid foul drinking water as then, but to join others, share with them in the enjoyment of some of the best coffee you can buy. I’ve witnessed some real nerdiness, bearded college leavers, timing the brew and making iPad apps to calculate the best times, that’s nerdy. It does mean that the quality is now ridiculously high. These obsessions, like adjusting the brew pressure and temperature during the coffee drippage (?) helps toward this being a golden age for London’s coffee drinkers. I bought a decent one in Honiton Devon www.bostonteaparty.co.uk/cafe/honiton recently. It’s still surprising how the likes of Square Mile and Tamped & Packed roasters have stayed within the M25, hopefully this desire will surly spread from the city, not unlike the pestilence of the 17C .
It’s an easy list, so I might as well add it. Places I’ve supped at while reading the news, in order of mls of caffeine consumed. Monmouth in Monmouth Street, Covent Garden or the popular Borough which is best when not so on a Thursday http://www.monmouthcoffee.co.uk/. Shoreditch Grind, Old Street, the round building on a roundabout, great for round people watching. Tapped & Packed at 26 Rathbone Place and 114 Tottenham Court Rd, still the best? http://www.tappedandpacked.co.uk/. Nude in Spitalfields, sit next to the magnificent Turkish roaster and breath in, situated in a car park off Brick Lane. Notes in the West End, next to the ENO St Martin’s Lane where you can buy some classical CDs and watch an obscure 70s German film while supping, unique, also at Wellington St http://notesmusiccoffee.com/. Ca Phe Vn Broadway Market, watch it here, the chairs are for little tiny people and standing up after this amount of caffeine can cause severe giddyness. Giddy Up coffee cart in Fortune Street Pk, a cap with a take away Thai curry from one of the nearby vans in Whitecross Street nr Barbican, is a perfect way to lunch in the sun. Princi’s in Wardour Street, must be the best pastry shop and serve an authentic Italian lunch in modern Milan style cafe. The Towpath cafe, 42 De Beauvoir Cres is my local, right on the canal, a brilliant place with the best toast & homemade jam which seems to be featured in the Sundays every week. Careful of the cyclists as they zip past, enjoy the company and the occasional swimming dog. The new kid on the blog is Ozone Roasters 11 Leonard St, near Old Street roundabout. Not only is the coffee superb, mine had a nice chocolaty nutty tone and they also unusually have a good selection of hot grub too. http://www.ozonecoffee.co.uk/blog The loud drone of the 1975 roaster from the basement adds a touch of coffee class to this joint, which has an older sister in New Plymouth NZ. I’m hoping I can join a tasting evening sometime, they call it a ‘cupping class’, but I’m sure it’ll be fun and informative.