Finding great coffee outside London is a task no matter where in the UK you live. It’s even more challenging in small towns like Deal, that’s why I’m always pleased when a shop pops up in the way Pop-Up Cafe has done. It’s still young, and has only recently converted from a genuine pop-up to something more permanent, but the coffee passion is here. A genuine coffee passion too, one of perfectionism and a desire to learn and share knowledge.
First, a note on the feel of the place. Despite having a small shopfront, Pop-Up cafe has a spacious inside with two floors of seating. Bright decor and a mismatch of chairs and tables reminds me of the tea rooms I used to frequent in York. The service is at-table – famously difficult to achieve in coffee shops – but the staff are very friendly and helpful, and most certainly attentive. There is a food menu, which is brief, but of very high quality. I enjoyed a sandwich with chorizo, cheese and onion, with a lightly dressed salad. Nutritious, healthy (ish) and the perfect size for lunch. The food is warmed, but balanced for a filling, yet light, lunch. Other dishes were similarly well portioned. This is simple cafe food done with attention to detail.
Enough of the food, let’s get onto the geekery. Nude Espresso. A Marzocco Linea. A Mazzer grinder (Super Jolly, I think?). The Nude Espresso coffee has seen a bit of a revival recently, as they have diversified and started to really develop their single-origins. This means that although their espresso is as good as ever, their filter coffee is beginning to be very worth making a trip for. Ben was really excited to share a new coffee he had just got in, which he was trialling: Nude’s Costa Rican Las Lajas. It was brewed in an aeropress, which Ben said he was new to, but I’m not sure I believe him as it tasted unbelievably good. The Las Lajas is a naturally processed coffee, but this isn’t immediately obvious from the flavour which are a cacophony of earthy and clear tones: both fruits and aniseedy tones come out. As the cup progresses these even out into a starburst opening, followed by a woody, smoky finish. The complexity of this cup is not subtle, or nuanced, but laid bare to confuse, and stimulate, the taste buds.
Impressed with this offering, and eager to try more, I thought I’d see what sort of espresso would be coaxed out of an old, but apparently reliable Marzocco Linea. Nude Espresso’s ‘East’ blend is well-known and used often, representing the pinnacle of antipodean influence in London coffee. The Australian roots of Nude Espresso means that the coffee has been designed to sit at its best in milk. The flat white I got served was truly one of the best examples of the East blend that I have tried. The sweetness was pronounced, and complimented the sweetness of the milk perfectly. I got tones of digestive biscuits, and a fruity distillation in the tail. The milk was textured to the point of butter and the art (as if such things mattered) was well executed.
I tried some of the cake, which was a flavour sensation, a mixture of dark chocolate and marmalade. And with it, I decided to try some more of the coffee, hoping for something equally impressive to the Las Lajas, especially as Ben has more experience with pourover than the aeropress. Unfortunately, this coffee, also a Costa Rican from Nude, was lacklustre compared to the previous one. I have a feeling that this was due to the grind setting being still set for aeropress, which would cause the pourover to come out under-extracted. It was a shame, but I can certainly empathise: Pop-Up Cafe doesn’t have filter officially on the menu yet, so it’s very much a work in progress on this front. Most customers will be satisfied with the excellent espresso-based coffee, and it will take time to develop a base for filter drinks.
Despite this, the overall quality of Pop-Up Cafe was excellent. Far more than one would expect from Deal. And this is part of the excellence that Pop-Up Cafe represents: if this can happen in Deal, it can happen anywhere. For a coffee industry that focusses on London, it needs to realise that the battle for independent, speciality coffee won’t be won in the cities. The real evangelicals are those that have the courage to bring superior quality coffee to small towns and small cities and are willing to create a market for their product as they go.