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Monthly Archives: January 2013

I get more excited by coffee things now. This morning, on the train up to London, I got inappropriately excited at a tweet I saw from @StoreStEspresso saying that they were stocking Coffee Collective coffee. Regular readers will know that I am half-Danish, and studying Scandinavian Studies, so the prospect of trying coffee from the most prominent roaster to come out of Copenhagen was enough to get my taste buds oscillating.

I’ve already written a post about Store Street Espresso, my most visited coffee shop in London. But this is about Coffee Collective, especially as their bags are a rare sight in the UK. The coffee is directly traded, and they adhere to all the hallmarks of a great roaster: single origin filter, small batch roasting etc. But the proof is in the pudding as they say, and my appreciation of them so far has only been theoretical.

First of all, a nod to the Store Street baristas. The consistency in their coffee is excellent, even at busy times. The Coffee Collective guest pourover they have is Columbia El Dissarollo. Light and complex, the coffee’s flavours are subtle and requires searching from the tongue. Straight away is a light sherbet flavour, this was then followed by a drier and less obvious Earl Grey note. The finish is clean and gives the drinker time to identify all the flavours in the complex body of the coffee.

It’s impossible to judge a roaster on just one cup of coffee, but if I were to judge based on this cup, the marks would be high. This coffee was bold in its quietness, which showed a trust in the drinker to be able to appreciate the deeper aspects of the coffee. The El Dissarollo impressed me, and if the Coffee Collective achieve this quality of coffee consistently, then they could well stand up with the best of London coffee. Coffee Collective is at Store Street for a limited time, so catch it before it’s gone.

Notes
Coffee Collective
@CoffeeCollectif
Store Street Espresso
@StoreStEspresso

Every now and again, I think that a coffee shop can’t surprise me, hubris overtakes and I think I have nothing left to learn. The coffee gods’ way of putting me in my place is by revealing a coffee shop that shifts paradigms and breaks concepts. Prufrock on Leather Lane is one such coffee shop.

Why rhapsody in this way? At this stage, it’s not enough to just produce good coffee, and good food is an interesting, but unnecessary aside. Something that makes Prufrock stand out as a coffee shop is its overarching concept. It has been designed from the ground up with one thing in mind: coffee. The first thing that struck me upon entering was the space. I had just previously been enjoying a wonderful coffee in a much smaller space, and walking into Prufrock was like standing in the centre of a football pitch. The room itself is fairly big, but this is compounded by the minimal amount of tables and chairs, and further accentuated by the brightness and cleanliness of the shop.

But the concept builds past mere decor, into the very structure of the room. Whilst coffee paraphernalia (everything from on-sale V60s to vintage roasters) line much of the walls, a good proportion of it is dedicated to space for the baristas to practise their alchemy. A customised Simonelli brings art to the front counter, whilst the rest of the workspace is taken up by various pieces of brewing equipment. Aeropresses, Woodnecks and chemexes are scattered around in organised chaos and an Uber boiler (tap with temp control and scales, especially designed for making filter coffee) majestically awaits. Prufrock is a temple to coffee.

And as such, the coffee was blessed. Naturally, Square Mile is used, and I firstly tried the Deri Kochi, through V60. It was a clean taste with a slightly unusual flavour too. The real magic came when the barista brought it over, poured a little in the cup and started to explain the flavours to me and the roaster it had come from. This was one of the paradigm-changers: barista as sommelier. Ready to explain and support your journey; a sort of midwife to flavour experiences. The second coffee I had was through a woodsock: a modern take on a traditional cloth filter, served in a beautiful chemex-like carafe. The flavour here was very clear. A nice easy start, but with a very potent spice present. Tasting like nutmeg perhaps. A little late for Christmas, but extremely complex nonetheless.

The Michelin guide awards two stars to somewhere that is ‘worth a detour’ and three stars to a restaurant that is ‘worth a special trip’. There is no Michelin guide for coffee, but I have no trouble recommending Prufrock as worth a special trip. For the coffee lover, a visit to Prufrock is not so much a trip as a pilgrimage.

 

Notes

Prufrock Coffee
@PrufrockCoffee
Square Mile
@SquareMile

As my Auckland series of posts draws to a close, I’d like to write something similar to ‘Seven Lessons Learned in Paris’. This should help visitors to the city make fewer mistakes than I did in finding good coffee, because some of the things they do there are done differently to London/UK. In order to do this, I’m going to use two case studies of cafes that I didn’t think measured up in terms of coffee. These cafes were admirable in other ways but coffee was not high on their priorities. Reuben and Quay Street Cafe.

Now, I want to stress that both of these had good points. Reuben had a deliciously melting brownie, and the food at Quay Street cafe was the finest ingredients put together in a really interesting way. The locations and design of both were very good, and both have, justifiably, received very positive reviews.

Both coffee shops also use Allpress Espresso. In London, the quality of the coffee used by the best roasters is fairly assured. Few coffee shops would get in Monmouth if they were just going to use it in caramel spice lattes or whatever. Similarly, Square Mile are very discerning in who they let produce their product. There is no such parallel in Auckland. I have had some very good Allpress coffees, as I have had some very poor ones. The difference is the effort and training that goes into making the coffee itself.

In a similar, but more interesting area, both coffee shops use La Marzocco machines. In the UK, the presence of these hallowed angels of the espresso machine world is a very good indicator that a good coffee will be served. In Auckland, a Marzocco indicates only that coffee  of some sort or other will be served. I think this is because the status of Marzocco is more readily appreciated by the general population, and so getting one in is a must. Even in the good coffee shops, there was rarely deviation from this norm. Cafes with less emphasis on coffee are thus astute enough to get one in in order to attract knowledgable customers.

The flat white is a flexible drink at the best of times. In NZ, it was my drink of choice. I found that in Reuben I was asked (and it became a familiar question): what size would I like my flat white? Surprised, I replied ‘as small as possible’. Part of my understanding of a flat white is that it must be a certain size cup. In Auckland, there is no such restriction. And the choice of cup sizes is far more varied. In other shops, people appeared to be drinking their lattes in what I can only describe as soup bowls (this appeared very popular). The tendency that has grown in the London coffee shops is to have one-size menus (flexible for lattes and caps, but this is mandatory for flat whites). But this is presumably a new trend.

It’s lastly worth noting that, even beyond the lacklustre coffees of Quay Street Cafe and Reuben, coffee shops don’t do filter coffee. It is, of course, possible to find filter coffee, but you really have to work for it. Your best bet is to visit the roaster’s and try them out at source. And, in fact, variation in roasters is hard to find: there are plenty of roasters around, but the monopoly seems to belong to Allpress. If you go hunting for other beans, be prepared to travel to isolated areas of Auckland and you may be able to find more interesting habits, but the coffee in the centre is very monotone.

Auckland does have very good coffee, but it can also be bad. And, as the case studies demonstrate, there’s no surefire way of telling the difference between the two. I’m sure word of mouth is more useful than any rule I could come up with. One thing I would say is that if a place advertises its coffee on the outside of the shop in some way (stickers from the roaster, signs from the roaster etc.), it’s likely they have a lot of time for coffee. But even as I write this, I think of several exceptions.

Notes
Allpress Espresso
Quay Street Cafe
Reuben on ViewAuckland.co.nz

The Metro in Auckland produces a yearly top 100 for restaurants and cafes, and though the opinions on how reliable the Metro is seem to vary, I thought I should try out the ‘Supreme Winner‘ of their cafes list. Takapuna Beach Cafe.

The first thing to note is that it’s not really a cafe in a conventional sense. It’s much closer to a restaurant, and the atmosphere is surprisingly formal when you consider it’s styled after a beach respite. This isn’t a bad thing, but don’t expect to just pop in like you would a coffee shop. You may well be waiting for a table, alternatively you might prefer to take away (and pick up some quality ice cream from the adjoining shop as you do so). Still, the ambience is relaxed and the waiters and waitresses are knowledgeable, even if they are sometimes a bit absent during busy periods.

The food is really quite good, and I tried their fish and chips, which I had vowed to do before I left Auckland to see how snapper (NZ’s pride fish) measured up to cod when placed in batter. When the waiter said that the fish in their fish and chips wasn’t snapper, he was very quick to offer the snapper as an alternative. Something I appreciated, and that I knew I would get a freshly cooked piece of fish. Actually, snapper measures up surprisingly well, and it had been battered with an immensely tasty beer batter. The snapper itself is soft and flakes very easily, making it perfect for fish and chips. The chips (a measure for any restaurant) were tasty, and substantial, keeping much of the potato and not getting rid of all the skin. I did find some of the chips hadn’t quite cooked through and so felt a little hard in the centre, but this is a problem for many thick chips and it did not detract from the eating.

A Marzocco greets you upon entrance. As, interestingly enough, does the Allpress sign.  Takapuna Beach Cafe sells a blend called ‘Rangitoto‘ named for the towering (but extinct) volcano that is visible through the windowed walls of the cafe. Like the view, the blend is excellent, raw and rugged. It was a well pulled espresso, with only slightly over stretched flat white milk. The Rangitoto flat white is what New Zealand is all about: sophisticated, yet pure, with more than a hint of nature.

The cafe sits on the beach (as it would), on the North Shore of Auckland’s harbour. It’s not particularly central, but is definitely worth a visit. Takapuna itself is one of the more lively areas of Auckland, but to the lover of big cities they may find it lacking. From what I could see, the cafe would be the main reason for going to the area. The praise of the beach cafe sets the sights high, but Takapuna Beach Cafe does admirably in keeping up quality.

Notes
Takapuna Beach Cafe
Metro NZ
@MetroMagNZ
Allpress

I originally thought I would review the small coffee roaster/coffee shop inside Ponsonby Central market, but I think this would be missing out too much information about this wonderful area. Ponsonby Central is an area for all foodies to mix in a modern environment. Situated in the middle of the fashionable, hipster area of Auckland, Ponsonby Central adds to the coffee scene, whilst providing several more restaurants and a food market.

The food market itself deserves a whole post worth of coverage. The fruit and veg takes up the largest area, but an extensive butcher, and fresh fishmonger are notable for the sheer rarity of them in Auckland. Another gap that Ponsonby Central fills is the baking industry. There is a bakery/cafe next to the fruit and veg, which looked promising, but you’ll have to come early to find any bread left at all. Everything is done to traditional specs, but with modern twists. Red brick is joined by steel in the decor.

There is a large coffee shop/bar which sells Three Bean coffee. I tried the little coffee vendor in the main food area. You are treated to watching the beans be roasted as you wait for you coffee to be made. The coffee is sold/roasted by Eight Thirty, a small roaster that also has a shop up on K Road and if you live nearby, you can get the beans delivered by push bike… and why not? The espresso I had was very drinkable, sweet and sour. This roaster is quite a small batch producer, but that seems a shame because the quality was high, especially for Auckland. They also produce beans for filter, and I’d be very interested to try.

In addition, there’s a couple of kitch shops, and some interesting looking restaurants, but the real appeal is the fresh veg, bakery and coffee. It’s not something that readers from the UK will find particularly unusual, but in Auckland it’s a rare find. It’s characteristic of the now fashionable area of Ponsonby, with its swish coffee shops and little boutiques and well worth checking out for those in the area.

 

Notes
Ponsony Central (not much to see on this website)
Eight Thirty Roaster

I mentioned in my last post that it’s very difficult to come across a good website for many coffee
IMG_0354
shops in Auckland. Dizengoff, in Ponsonby, has no website, no Twitter and it’s Facebook presence appears to be privacy protected. Nevertheless the small coffee shop/eatery on Ponsonby Road was the busiest on a road with many good coffee shops. The Ponsonby area is easily the most enjoyable I have been to in Auckland, and seems to be the most in tune with coffee and fashion innovations in the rest of the world. You can find more Marzoccos here than on any other stretch of road in Auckland.

And there’s one in Dizengoff, where the coffee served is an IMG_0356Allpress espresso blend made especially for this coffee shop. This isn’t always a positive thing, and they can sometimes be the blends with less character that make it to coffee shops but this wasn’t the case with the Dizengoff espresso beans. The flat white I had was punchy and detailed, with a long tail; it developed long after swallowing. It was a good example of what you might find in an antipodean cafe in the UK.

But the coffee may not be the reason you’d first come into Dizengoff. The place is known by locals for providing simple yet interesting food. Breakfast looks like the speciality, but I had the Chicken Pasta. It sounds boring, as all the food on the menu does, but it was a real mix of flavours. The sauce reminded me more of a seafood sauce than the usual overly-tomatoey embellishment you find on most Italian-IMG_0359derived recipes. The mixture of spices in the food is original and you won’t regret going here for your lunch. The breakfasts looked just as good.

The greatest hint at the concept that unites the marketing void, dry-sounding menu with imaginative food and drink at Dizengoff comes from the decor. A few paintings adorn the walls, but the rest is ceramic tiles. All white. The place looks halfway between a greasy spoon and an operating theatre, and the sign hanging over the entrance resembles a disused cinema. No frills food. Just quality ingredients mixed in an original way. The concept is reminiscent of other ideas that you might find in Spitalfields or Victoria, but in Auckland it feels entirely fresh. From the outside it looks run down, and on the inside it seems trailblazing.

Notes

Dizengoff Facebook
Dizengoff on CoffeeSecrets.co.nz (includes address)
AllPress NZ

IMG_0348It struck me after visiting Dellows that perhaps I missed a great amount of what there was to see. The website – a rare thing for a coffee shop in NZ to have – puts a lot of emphasis on the food, the recipe, the chef etc. I can’t comment on any of this, but I can still find worth in talking about it because of what it added to my study of Auckland coffee.

The majority of coffee shops either sell Caffe L’affare (a general brand) or Allpress (the artisan brand most commonly found).Dellows Kitchen serves ‘Kokako‘ coffee. This coffee roaster, named after a bird native to NZ, is a bit more difficult to come across than the others, but the sparsity of it adds something to its magic. When I saw the subtle blue bird sticker in the window of Dellows, I knew I had to try.

The cafe itself is very bright and clean-looking. I was greeted with a friendly smile. And then told there was a ten minute wait for coffee. This mildly surprised me at the time. Not because of the length of time – I’m sure I have waited much longer for coffee in the past – but, instead, that waiting time was given for coffees. It’s since something I’ve come across again here in Auckland, so it must be part of the culture. Still, I had a wander in Herne Bay before coming back to pick up my flat white.

The wait took nothing away from the crisp sweetness of the flat white. After the more brutal finish of IMG_0351the Allpress blends, the Kokako is a bold, but hazlenutty flavour. It’s definitely worth a hunt if you tire of the more conventional coffees in Auckland (also worth noting that Kokako roast a couple of single-origin filters that I haven’t tried yet). The coffee was very well made, and seems to reflect the mantra of the shop, which is attention to detail and attention to flavour.

Their machine (pictured-correct me if I’m wrong) was a San Remo, and so I had a good confidence in the quality before I went in. In the quality coffee shops in Auckland, anything but a La Marzocco is a bit of an oddity. I have a feeling that the San Remo fits more with the decor than anything else.

 

Notes

Dellows Kitchen
Kokako
@KokakoOrganic