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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

I know it’s been a while since I posted, I’m preparing something a little different. Until then, check out this blog that writes up details of every farm they visit, and the taste profiles and specs of the beans they get. This is traceability. (It’s also Nordic origin, which I also enjoy.)

Eastbourne is known for two things: the air show and retirees. What it is not known for is quality coffee. WIth such close proximity to Brighton, and the sub-culture of Lewes down the road, Eastbourne is strangely drained of delis and food establishments of note. However, I am not one to shy from a challenge. In the heart of the town, just off the main high street is Urban Ground, a new coffee shop that has made the best of an old grocery shop to provide a busy atmosphere, and a bit of a local hotspot.

The attention being paid is partially due to the location, and partially to do with the cakes. The above photo shows a selection of the Urban Ground cakes. The brownie I had was absolutely superb. Made by the owner’s wife, it was the proper amount of sweetness, gooeyness and the occasional crunch. Regular readers will know that I am particularly picky over my brownies and that I hold it as a good spirit level for the quality of the rest of the food counter. The brownie did not disappoint! But the coffee was not as impressive, unfortunately. The coffee was overextracted, and I think the beans were just poorly roasted (though the coffee was from an independent roaster). This was quite unfortunate, but really, I think not enough effort has been put into making coffee a real focus.

The milieu of Urban Ground is pleasant and the lunchtime traffic was high, which is a positive. Eastbourne is showing a real interest in good coffee shops and I think the audience is there. This is the audience that Urban Ground is seeking to attract, but I think it stops short of the mark in educating people about top quality single origin coffee, and the art-like culture that accompanies it.

 

Notes
http://www.urbanground.co.uk/
@UrbandGroundEB

This may seem a bit out of my remit, as vineyards provide us with neither coffee nor cycles. However, I thought this trip would be of interest to readers and might, I hope, also shape the way I see people should see coffee. Wine is traditionally held to be the quintessential tasting beverage. It holds a symphony of flavours, at many levels of the palette. I always agreed with this and don’t see wine tasting to be a stilted or necessarily pretentious activity. What I also believe is that wine-tasting holds a great model for coffee (and beer/ale too), and that a great coffee can be enjoyed like a great wine, and that there is a way of teaching ones taste buds to recognise more flavours within an espresso cup.

Biddenden is a well known name, especially in Kent. The vineyard is famous, particularly for its high quality, authentic cider. Biddenden’s cider is served at a high percentage, and without bubbles–the old fashioned way. Despite this orchard branch (!), the premises are primarily dedicated to vines and producing respected English wines. Superbly, they offer free tours of the vineyard and bottling plant, along with a free tasting following. These tours are at set times, so make sure you view the website for details.

The tour was very interesting, and I think it’s great that they are doing this to increase the awareness of English wine. This has traditionally been a wine surrounded in farce and comedy due to the climate and soil types in Britain that are unfavourable conditions compared to other countries. However, there are some very drinkable wines produced here that are trying to break into the mainstream with new techniques of growing grapes. It is to this end that Biddenden runs some very important tours around their vines, showing the care and attention they show the grape. Like coffee, it also requires a passion and expertise to make it truly great. The pictures show the tour in more detail, but it changes depending on the time of year (this tour was ‘pre-harvest’ and showed the vines being prepared).

The first part of the tour centres around the vineyard, and the second on the bottling process. This second part is where cider lovers will be captivated, by the methods of pulping as well as the great vats that are used to store the cider until it is ready to drink. After this, there are a few bottles on tasting. But don’t think you’ll be getting tipsy on it! The tastings are just a drop, but give you a good idea of the flavour of the ciders and wines on offer. On the wine side, I tried the Ortega wine: this is their bestseller, but I found it a bit too bitter for my taste. I also tried a red, which I found much more palatable. Rich and cinnamony, it almost tasted like a mulled wine. Being a lover of cider too, I couldn’t help but buy a small bottle of their classic vintage. Biddenden’s cider.

The cider is really smooth, and very strong for something that goes down so easily. With no bubbles, it may surprise those who have not tried it before, but I hope you’ll agree it holds a charm and flavour that you miss with an overchilled, overcarbonated cider.

 

Notes
Biddenden Vineyards
@BiddendenVine

I was brought up in Folkestone, and circumstances have led me here again for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, I have never had much respect for the town, and sneered at recent attempts at regeneration. To some extent, I am still cynical, but the attempts have certainly been valiant. The ‘Creative Quarter’ as it has been dubbed has seen loca entrepreneurs stump up the money to reinvigorate an area of Folkestone that was once among the most run down. Fuelled by art and crafts, this Creative Quarter has recently seen many shops spring up taking advantage of the new market for independent, artisan goods that this infusion of culture has created. The Old High Street is now full of small shops, displaying local art, and coffee shops and patisserie. Further into the Harbour, the new restaurant, Rocksalt, is trying to introduce gourmet to the Folkestoneian palette.

Even as a cynic, I do admire the scope and quality of the regeneration that has so far occurred. Moreover, I do appreciate the hard work that these locals have put into the area. But behind every ounce of progress is several ounces of coffee. Having been away for some years, I had discovered Googies Cafe through a friend who had recommended it for its food. The food is indeed of a good quality, and one day I will write something about the boldness that it assumes in bringing an eclectic mix of food to Folkestone. However, as always, I like to concentrate on the coffee at hand.

Having been thoroughly impressed when Folkestone gained its first Starbucks, a development that cultivated my interest in coffee as a teenager, I was fully expecting the situation to be the same now. Where would one go for good coffee? I shouldn’t have been so skeptical. The coffee at Googies is fantastic, and roasted by Alchemy, a small roaster I’m unfamiliar with. They provide drip, espresso and aero press (!) coffees, and have regular quality blends on filter, as well as house blend for espresso. The passion that goes into these coffees was obvious, as I spoke with the barista about various methods of preparation, and how he likes to fiddle with all aspects of the brewing, from temperature to the glass its served in (see pic). The coffee, straight from an aero press, was a beautiful Chiri Ethiopian that increased in flavour as it was left to stand. The thick citrusness of the bean was clear and sharp. The taste wasn’t harsh on the tongue, though was by no means sweet either. It had a balanced, rich taste, but had an overall sharpness which told of quality, rather than distaste.

The ambience of Googies is interesting. It’s somewhere between an aboriginal feel and a belgian bistro, with European beers lining the walls, and a bicycle downstairs. It also holds regular live music events too. For those of you who haven’t been to Folkestone, it’s difficult to convey how indicative Googies is of a development in the town as whole. I hope it lasts. But if not, I hope Googies is there at least until I move away again so I have somewhere nearby to get proper coffee.

 

Notes
Rocksalt Restaurant
Alchemy Coffee
Googies Cafe
@GoogiesArtCafe