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There are few names in London’s speciality coffee scene that mean as much as Association. Hidden away in the heart of the city of London, Association is a true bastion of great coffee in the middle of big business, finance and fast food outlets. The inside is studded with suited characters, and the occasional big beard, flannel shirt. The huge bar should eat into the rest of the room, but the space is so large and economically used that there is large amounts of seating, and it feels uncluttered. This is good, because Association fills up fast, especially with the delicious food selection tempting on the bar.

The staff at Association can only be described as elite. The focus is entirely on the coffee with the equipment needed to get the best out of the coffee. The overall atmosphere is one of quiet reverence: the staff are unpretentious, but industrious. The food is an aside, ancillary to the main purpose, but this doesn’t diminish from the quality of it. The sandwiches change regularly and are made from quality ingredients: and they aren’t small either. One of these should easily set you for lunch.

The coffee is provided by Square Mile, but I know that they regularly have guest roasters on their roster. Aeropress is available for filter, but the coffees are switching round regularly. In addition, a Synesso is set up to pull the espresso: this machine isn’t a guarantee of quality, but it is always a good sign, and looks gorgeous too. My double espresso was delightfully sweet and flavourful: the Dummerso single origin espresso from Square Mile is something unbelievably special. It’s rare that an espresso reaches such a clarity of flavour, but this is a mix of strawberries and a floral bergamot flavour. This gives it an almost earl grey-like aftertaste. I tentatively claim that the Dummerso, brewed by Association is an espresso even non-coffee drinkers could enjoy.

I also had the Monte De Oro Ladera, Red Catuai. This is one of two coffees that Association were brewing for Aeropress: the other was the Monte De Oro Ledera, Yellow Catuai. The two coffees are both Square Mile and from the same farm in Guatemala. The sole difference is the variety of coffee used, so you can, if you choose, try them next to one another. I just went for the Red Catuai variation and was impressed by the flavours that they brought out. The coffee had a sweet, nutty body, like almonds. It was followed by a long drawn out grapefruit aftertaste.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding Association, and it’s surprising it took me so long to get down to it. However, it was worth the wait, and I was not disappointed by either coffee served. It stays close to the speciality coffee roots, without closing its doors to the commercial world that surrounds it. This has led to a unique convergence of cultures inside the walls, all brought together by a want for good coffee.

Whenever there are exotic coffees around, I like to get over and try them. Regular readers will be familiar with my trips to Store Street Espresso to try their regular international guests. Recently, they have been providing me with the Nordic masterfulness of Koppi and the Coffee Collective, but this (as far as I know) is the first time they have had a guest coffee coming in from outside of Europe. There are reasons why London has to be satisfied with UK and European coffees: cost of importing is a big one, but there is also a danger to the quality of the coffee. In short, it takes cahones to import coffees from, say, Detroit where Anthology coffee started.

Anthology began as a one-man band, making coffee for wholesale. After this initial boost, it picked up pace and Anthology began expanding into pop-up shops around Detroit. There are plans to open up a permanent shop soon, but these guys are really the definition of a small-batch company. All the coffees produced are single-origin, regardless of whether they are for espresso or filter. What’s important to them is getting as close to the flavour of the bean as possible. That means no blends, even for espresso. There’s a lot of passion going on here, and impressive that such a company can develop. Josh, the founder, replying to my email asking for more details about them spent a couple of lines on Anthology’s history, and a couple of dozen lines on the coffee! The caffeine runs deep.

DSCF3844The Anthology coffee Store Street are showcasing is an Ethiopian Kochere. Notes of black tea, and a strong marmaladey finish. It was a surprisingly bold flavour for a washed coffee through a pourover. I really enjoyed the originality of this coffee, and it makes me really excited to try some more of Anthology’s produce. The full mouthfeel was extremely morish and so I felt like this was a pretty good representation of the raw coffee, which was refreshing as sometimes washed coffees can feel a bit over-processed. The Ethiopian Kochere at Store Street is also available there as an espresso and cold brew. The cold brew is new at Store Street, but tastes beautiful (pic of cold brew). Many say that coffee tastes its most natural when it is cold, and the character of a filter often changes as it cools down. The Kochere tasted very bright as a cold brew, and was delightfully refreshing. Served in a beer bottle, and over ice, it really felt like it was a drink that was designed to be consumed ice-cold.

Notes

Store Street Espresso
@StoreStEspresso
Anthology Coffee
@AnthologyCoffee

Last night I was lucky enough to be in London for a free event at Look Mum No Hands, celebrating coffee and cycling. There’s a great crossover in the Venn diagram for ‘coffee people’ and ‘cycling people’ and so it seems like a natural partnership for a series of talks. Being a geek and a fan of lectures about all subjects, the opportunity to be in a whole room of people being generally geeky about a general selection of things seemed too good to pass up. The event was hosted at Look Mum No Hands, and organised by CycleFit (my gratitude to both!).

 

I’m going to be woefully unfair and give far too little space to the cycling portion of the evening (this blog isn’t ‘no bicycle left behind’ after all!). The talks were given by James Hewitt and Phil Cavell, very passionate and knowledgeable people who work at CycleFit. These talks ranged from the techie – where an assistant cycled whilst the pressure on the saddle was being relayed to the projector, allowing the audience to see how different shaped saddles suit different riding styles – to the visceral: including a heated discussion with audience members about the utility (versus the sentimentality) of steel as a material for bikes. Very interesting, even for only an amateur cyclist like myself. It was so refreshing to see people with the kind of passion I have for coffee, but around a different centre (i.e. cycling).

But anyway: to the coffee! The first speech was by Stephen Leighton of Has Bean, well known for his profile in the coffee community. He gave an interesting talk about the different ways of buying coffee in from other countries. The three ways he spoke of were using an importer, using an exporter and direct trading. Commonly held is the idea that direct trade is the holy grail of coffee buying, and the other two are ‘evil’ in greater or lesser degrees. Stephen’s point was that these methods are not intrinsically good or bad, but rather they can be made good or made bad dependent on the circumstances. He gave a list of examples where each of these methods had been good for Has Bean, and also good for the farms; but also an example where the method had been bad for the farm or for Has Bean. I think his talk was accentuated too by the knowledge that last year Has Bean got seriously burned by taking the direct trade route, and so it was interesting to hear Stephen’s nuanced discussion of the pros and cons of different methods of import.

The next coffee oriented speech was by a chap called Dan Webb. He’s the owner and head roaster of Crediton Coffee in Devon. They specialise in something that is increasingly rare: in-store roasting. However, Dan explained, this had been problematic from an environmental point of view: the roaster pollutes (and not in the good coffee smell way). The clean-up of this involved installing a carbon filter and electrostatic precipitator, basically a way of filtering the air. The technology is at the forefront, and far exceeds the amount of carbon they are actually producing in case they ever need to expand. The technical nature of this talk was certainly a good level, and I learnt things about the environmental output of a roaster that I didn’t know before. It was also good to hear a roaster putting ecology first: Crediton use enviro-packaging to further limit their impact.

The final coffee talk was by James Hoffman, WBC 2007 champ and owner of Square Mile, and general ambassador for the UK speciality coffee industry. His talk ‘the Hidden World of Well-Brewed Coffee’ was well pitched: everybody could take something from it, so long as they liked drinking coffee. James enthusiastically persisted that ‘making good coffee was easy’, something I thoroughly agree with, but that we need to give consideration to the things going into the coffee. First, he asked, “who owns a pepper grinder?”. Everybody owns a pepper grinder! “Who owns a coffee grinder?” And far fewer people raised their hands. A grinder is essential for well-brewed coffee; and a burr grinder even better. Second, water forms the vast, vast majority of the coffee, and yet our tap water that we use everyday is full of impurities, and dissolved solids that can alter the flavour. Filtration in coffee shops is a huge investment, but without this investment, the espresso machine would clog up within weeks from all the impurities within the water. “Water is the enemy.” At home, a filtration system is hardly plausible, but a Brita filter is an easy way to improve your coffee. Bottled water, even better, though there are still solids that affect the coffee. Lastly, there’s the actual coffee itself, and how you’re brewing it. Only the first 20% of the coffee is tasty, after that bitter flavours start coming out. If your coffee is too bitter, it’s possible that you put too much coffee in, but, more likely, you’re getting more than the first 20% of the coffee out. To combat this, grind a little coarser, and you will extract less bad flavour from the coffee, getting you closer to that 20% mark. Similarly, if your coffee is under-extracted, just grind a little finer next time. This, James maintains, will improve your everyday experience of coffee and allow the beans of speciality roasters to taste as good as they should.

Notes
@CycleFitUK
@1ookmumnohands
@jimseven
@CreditonCoffee
@hasbean

There’s a real trend at the moment towards guesting international roasters. Coffee shops across London are showcasing coffees from all across the world next to their standard roasters. And they definitely should be providing this, as some great coffee is being roasted outside of the UK and it would otherwise be difficult to get hold of without the coffee shops acting as importers. What has really been a hit is the best of the Scandinavian roasters. The culture in Scandinavia is strong, and these countries have a great modernising attitude towards speciality coffee. Previously I have taken a look at the Coffee Collective, from Denmark, this time I was able to taste some Koppi.

 

Koppi was founded by two Swedish barista champs, Anne Lunell and Charles Nystrand, and is one of the pillars of Scandinavian coffee. The coffee I tried, a Honduras Los Pinos, prepared by the top baristas at Store Street espresso, was a great example of filter I have tried before from Koppi. A characteristically fresh and clean flavour, more towards the dry fruit flavour, this coffee was very subtle and light on the tongue (previous Koppis I’ve had have struck me as apple-y). It left me with the distinct aftertaste of a grassy field. The taste is consistent through the cup, and did not change greatly as it cools. As a gross generalisation, I would say that this coffee is quite indicative of a Scandinavian feel: light and nuanced, resulting from a tendency towards fully washed beans.

Notes
Koppi
@koppi_anne
Store Street Espresso
@storestespresso

Highlights
Ozone Coffee Roasters
Alchemy frozen Cascara
L’Accademia di Cimbali

 

The annual London Coffee Festival is the culmination of the charity-driven UK Coffee Week, a celebration of coffee. It’s not just speciality coffee and, unfortunately, there aren’t huge amounts of independents there. It is, at its heart, a trade show and so for every coffee stand, there are a few tea, chocolate or beer stands accompanying it. The Festival takes place in the upstairs of the Truman Brewery in the depths of, now hipsterfied, Brick Lane. It really is a perfect setting for this, though the people lining the bar, listening to a live singer/songwriter are distinctly fashionista rather than hipster. It’s another sign of coffee becoming more than a cultural niche.

There was so much going on that I will just focus on the speciality side of the festival. In particular, the roasters that had stands there. This was not, by any means, the biggest London roasters, though they are playing a part in taking control of the brew bar at various points this weekend. One of the most interesting chats I had was with the people at Volcano Coffee Works, who were putting their coffee through some Rocket Espresso machines. Volcano are an up-and-coming roaster in West Dulwich, who are new to the scene, but making strides. The espresso they made was a very consistent taste, drinkable from start to finish, with smooth floral after-notes. Their barista informed me that they supply a lot to bars and restaurants that take coffee seriously, as well as some coffee shops around London.

The Festival had an entire room dedicated to makedecentcoffee.com, a company that demonstrates how it’s possible to brew great filter coffee at home, an idea that I always try to push. They had several members of staff making Chemex, Cafetiere, V60 and Aeropress for people who could come along and see how easy it is. Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed with the coffee itself, and I really felt that this would have benefitted from good beans. Everything was measured and timed properly, but the coffee lacked any flavour. If anything, this would achieve the reverse of what it intended, with people going away and thinking that it was impossible to make coffee to the same standard as you can get in a coffee shop.

Allpress Coffee started in New Zealand 25 years ago, and then spread to Australia. Their antipodean way of making great espresso blend has recently made a foray into London, with a new UK Allpress opening in Shoreditch. They are attracting a whole lot of wholesale. The barista pulled a shot of espresso to try. It was quite characteristic of Allpress, not for the fainthearted. A sweet, but bold taste that calmed down as it got cooler. The Allpress space was a cool, laid back area where you could chill out on a sofa for a bit. Not that I could sit down after so much caffeine.

Several important trade exhibitors were there, including La Marzocco (the industry-standard espresso machine) and Marco, who make boilers. Their most ground-breaking product is the Uberboiler that provides the barista with all the tools they need to make the perfect filter coffee. Hario importers, Brewed by Hand, had a massive selection of cool brewing tools, ranging from V60s to some bizarre looking siphons. Also, industry-leader Coffee Hit were selling anything tea or coffee related. La Cimbali were also there, but not in a trade capacity. Their stand was designed to show how espresso machines have changed over the last 80 years as pressure profiling has changed. The ability for an espresso machine to control how long the coffee is left to soak before the pressure starts pushing through can have a huge impact on how watery the taste is. Modern technology has enabled much more control and understanding of how pressure can affect espresso.

The Alchemy stand was serving both espresso and cascara (a tea made from the cherries of the coffee seeds). Alchemy roast great coffee but also pride themselves on experimenting. To this end, I was served a cascara, which provided a huge caffeine hit, and then I was given what can only be described as a slushy. It was cascara that had been put into a slushy machine, and mixed with a touch of elderflower. The effect was remarkable: caffeinated slushy. Cascara has a good deal of caffeine in, so the buzz was real, but it was from something textured like a solero!

However, the real pinnacle was the coffee that Ozone served up. Two excellent filter coffees, brewed to perfection. One was balanced and spiced, whilst the other was floral and just exquisite. The complexity of the latter coffee was beyond belief and unlike any coffee I’ve ever had. I’ve not yet written about Ozone coffee in full, but after this experience I will be. Ozone had a really cool bar at the festival, where they were serving both brews and espresso. This was definitely the most enjoyable coffee I had that night, though my preference for filter my have skewed this! Despite the commercialness of the Festival, there are some real gems to seek out, and either way it’s a fun event with loads of free stuff to be had and new companies to discover.

The London Coffee Festival is open this weekend and tickets can be bought on the door. If you’re around today or tomorrow, be sure to check out the True Artisan Bar, which has some of the best roasters in London pouring espressos. Also, the UKBCs are on, where you can see baristas from around the country fight it out to be crowned the UK Barista Champion.

 

The London Coffee Guide is pretty well recognised as the premium list of coffee shops in London. Published annually, the 2013 edition came out a couple of weeks ago, along with, for the first time, an app. As a promotion, in connection with UK Coffee Week, the app is £1.49 (saving you a massive 50 pence toward your next coffee). There are other app offerings for less, so I downloaded it to see if it was worth the extra wonga. Currently iPhone only.

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The first thing that strikes you about the app is how smooth it is. The design is clean and beautiful, as well as intuitive. Flicking through the map, and finding your own, small existence amongst the multitude of coffee houses is easy. As is standard with most London coffee apps, you can choose to view in list mode or map mode, and sort coffee shops by distance to your location. So far, not so different from other apps.

But where this app really shines is by channeling the immense wealth of well-researched material into a small, bite-size chunk. Each coffee shop is ranked, and a detailed description of everything you need to know, from the ambience and owner, to the more geeky specs, such as the beans on bar and the espresso machine. But what makes this the app for the connoisseur is the inclusion of ‘alternative brew equipment‘ details: it tells you whether the coffee shop sells filter coffee! Hallelujah. It’s worth the extra few pence for this alone!

There’s also an interesting facts section, that lists coffee roasters, as well as giving a brief history of coffee, going back to Classical times. I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s certainly not something the other cheaper apps have. Also something worth noting is that the ‘rating’ system, giving coffee shops marks out of five for ‘coffee’ and ‘overall’ is a bit unhelpful. The lowest ranked coffee shop has a rating of 3.75, so most of the coffee shops are over 4. It may be that all the coffee shops are amazing (I wouldn’t be surprised), but it seems a slightly pointless exercise.

But I think those tidbits are unimportant. The ease of use and the attractiveness of this app, matched by a big body of research means this app is well worth the money. What’s more, even though there are doubtless some great coffee shops missing from the app, the professional nature of the London Coffee Guide means they won’t be missing for long.

The London Coffee Guide App is on offer this week, and can be found on iTunes, or on the Apple website.

Kaffeine is a well-respected name around London, and puts an emphasis on providing quality coffee. The influences are obviously Australasian, both in the interior and the staff, who are fantastically friendly. The space inside is pretty small, and at lunch can get a bit busy, but as we approach summer there’s a lovely area to sit outside as well. Great Titchfield Street is full of other interesting independent shops, and so getting over to Fitzrovia is well worth the journey.

The coffee on bar is Square Mile, and I was a little disappointed to find out that there was no filter coffee available. The lead barista, Shaun Young, is award-winning, but he made his name originally in the Aeropress championships, so I had hoped to try an awesome filter. Instead I had a flat white, well made with a beautiful colour to the espresso. The coffee made the most of the Red Brick blend, which comes through with quite an earthy and full flavour.

Overall Kaffeine is very reminiscent of some of the original independent coffee shops with the influx of coffee-mad Australians, and focus on pulling the best espresso possible. The ‘Coffee Philosophy’ on their website goes into a lot of detail about what they regard as important to their craft and demonstrates the passion that goes into their cups. In retrospect, I would have liked something more, but maybe that was provided by the outstanding, tattoo-clad staff.

Notes
Kaffeine
@KaffeineLondon
Square Mile
@SquareMile