A quick post to show you all some photos I took at the tasting for my most recent article for Caffeine Magazine, the UK’s only consumer-orientated coffee magazine and a damn fine one to boot.

I looked at coffee subscription services and here are pictures from the tasting session with the fantastic Chris McKie from The Coffeesmiths Collective at Speakeasy W1, who kindly offered the services of their brew bar for a massive filter knees-up.

Thanks to all concerned, and check out the new issue of Caffeine at all decent coffee shops.

The Caffeine notebook.

The Caffeine notebook.

Brewing.

Brewing.

Product.

Product.

Filter.

Filter.

Always make notes.

Always make notes.

56 St James, Walthamstow

February 13, 2014

The espresso.

The espresso.

Things appear to be stirring in Walthamstow. There’s no doubt that the area can appear, ostensibly at least, to be a bit grimy and down-at-heel, the area is also a vibrant community, centring around a strong market and high street. Walthamstow benefits from that rarest of qualities, a blend of long-standing residents who give a place character and feel, and a sense of excitement brought about by newcomers, including plenty of artists encouraged by the available studio space and now ten years old E17 Art Trail. Despite this, Walthamstow also has escaped the mass influx and corresponding ‘gentrification’ (dirty word) that often robs an area of its established character.

As I have remarked often, though, new artisan cafés often herald this change. Should we look at the opening of 56 St James as a harbinger of things to come?

The straightforward answer to that is god alone knows. If it does, though, it is fair to say that the newcomers will find an excellent coffee shop when they arrive.

56 St James is, despite being only a month old, already well on its way to being an excellent coffee shop. They serve Nude Espresso, and the double shot I kicked off with was all dark chocolate and warmth, sweet to the dregs. It was well made with a thick crema and not too oily, a smooth mouthfeel to the finish. I then had a piccolo, which I discussed with the barista; he was keen to make it how I wanted it rather than just serving up what he figured it was, an approach I really like. He then came over to check that it was good, which it was, the dark chocolate of the Nude roast mingling well with the milk to create an almost mocha-y taste with none of the over-the-top sweetness that drives me away from that sort of drink. If I had one criticism, it would be that the milk was a fraction hot, but this is a minor quibble and it didn’t detract from the quality of the drink; a minor adjustment would merely make it sweeter. Both drinks came in at £2, which is also very reasonable, with flat whites and such like at a standard £2.50.

The National Geographic, excellently present.

The National Geographic, excellently present.

Creating great coffee is tough; creating a great atmosphere is arguably even more of a challenge. 56 St James is pleasingly low-key, from its retro office interior to its long, shared table which dominates one side of the café. The music is relaxed and low enough not to impede conversation. A young woman knitted quietly to one side and there were already clearly a few regulars who engaged the barista in chatty conversation, another good sign for a new place. 56 also already has an active social media presence, which further demonstrates both their outgoing nature and the strong potential of the area: the café is clearly already a bit of beacon to the Twitterati of Walthamstow and indicates a potential for strong growth in a location which has clearly been missing a genuine artisan coffee shop. None of this, of course, would work if the venue fell short on quality, but it does not.

Who doesn't love an owl?

Who doesn’t love an owl?

56 is also clearly popular with young parents, but a smaller downstairs area allowed them to mingle without it detracting from the experience of quieter coffee drinkers looking to read or, as mentioned above, knit. There is a blackboard wall for drawing on, a small but pleasant touch, and although the venue isn’t enormous, it didn’t feel cramped despite being busy in a way that many cafés can when swamped by prams and children.

All in all, Walthamstow may or may not be ripe for a property surge and there’s no doubt that with train or tube lines into Victoria, Liverpool Street, and out towards Gospel Oak, the area is very well connected without feeling like it’s right on top of the city. I can never quite be sure if there is a corollary between cafés and gentrification: my instinct says yes but whether they are a sign or a symptom (if that’s not too emotive a term), I don’t know. I suspect that a quality coffee shop will flourish whether it happens or not. For this reason, I reckon the future of 56 St James looks very bright.

56 St James, St James Street, E17

Also on Twitter

Writing about coffee is writing about people. It has been a central tenet of this blog that the human interactions that cluster around a cup of coffee, of its buying and selling and consumption, are what make a place good. The overall quality of coffee is so high these days in the independent sector that, to stand out, you have to bring that quality of personality, of care, to the sale of coffee.

With this in mind, I have decided to set the blog off in a new direction, alongside my traditional interest in venues and the brews they sell. I have decided to speak to the people in the coffee business, from baristas to café owners to roasters to people running coffee subscription services.

So here goes…

Andrew and Nick Tolley are two of the three siblings behind the Harris and Hoole chain of coffee shops. They started Taylor Street Baristas in 2006 having moved from the coffee-rich culture of Australia, and quickly saw that they could help introduce quality coffee to London. I sat down with them in the Cannon Street café we talked coffee, business, and that Tesco thing.

The brew bar at Cannon Street.

The brew bar at Cannon Street.

Both Andrew and Nick have been in what we might call the new wave of artisan coffee in London from the outset. As both observe, the demand and availability of good coffee has exploded in the last few years. Part of this is, in their minds, down to the impact of the big three, as Andrew explains: “High street chains have introduced espresso-based coffee to a bigger market”. He sees this boom as being the inspiration for a wider and deeper coffee culture: “If you look outside of London, in Leeds, Bath, Brighton, there is quite a high density of very good cafes.” Nick continues, “In all of these places there are lines out the door, manifest demand for good coffee”.

Having been in at the ground floor, the Tolleys have built a reputation and experience of the artisan coffee in the UK and used it to grow what they pitch very much as a competitor to high street chains, rather than other artisan venues. From a business perspective, this makes sense to the Tolleys: “The opportunities are in the high street, not chasing the independents.” The figures speak for themselves, as a conservative estimate suggests that around 95% of all coffee bought in the UK from coffee shops is from the big high street chains. The aim is very much to present a venue that feels like a high-end high street coffee venue, capturing customers from Starbucks or Costa, not from Coffee Circus or Bread and Bean.

Harris and Hoole is therefore geared to providing what Nick and Andrew feel is lacking the high street players and their business ethos was developed to drive this. As Nick explains, “managers have ownership and autonomy, but by the same token, from day one we highlighted three core planks”. These ‘planks’ are great coffee, passionate and inspired staff, and ‘local friends’, the idea that a branch would look to build links with the community.

On quality, Andrew is strident: “It’s about helping customers appreciate how good coffee can be”. He goes on: “We tried to make quality an objective measure, choosing the top 2-3% of available beans for roasting.” This is achieved by maintaining a long-standing relationship with Union, which originated when the Tolleys set up Taylor Street. Andrew sees Union’s ethos as crucial to what Harris and Hoole are seeking to do, because “they have a strong belief in sourcing quality coffee by developing a good relationship with growers”, using a direct trade model. In a two-way process, growers are encouraged to develop techniques that provide consistent product, which in turn guarantees a supply chain. The same approach is being rolled out to tea producers, like the Rishi cooperative in Nepal that grows on three hundred year old tea trees; this partnership should help Rishi grow its brand and guarantee a consistent quality of tea for the business.

From the Crouch End store.

From the Crouch End store.

Without good staff though, the quality of coffee is almost irrelevant, and so the role of the barista is crucial. In the early days, baristas could bring customers with them when they left a café, such was the variable quality of staff; if you found a barista who nailed it, you would stay with them rather than their coffee shop. As such, training to achieve uniformity, consistency of your cup, is privileged as most important part of the business. This, in turn, Nick and Andrew believe, allows baristas to feel inspired by what they doing. Both feel that it is only by empowering staff and valuing them that you get a product that is always of high quality. This worthy approach obviously has business benefits, as Nick is quick to acknowledge: “The staff feel more engaged, it becomes more meaningful and that’s conveyed in the way they engage with the business.” It improves retention of baristas, a worthwhile consideration when training has such a premium placed on it.

Beyond this, though, it is the idea of rooting each branch within its community that might be the most interesting facet of the business model, what they refer to as ‘In Good Company’. As Nick explains: “A coffee shop is so much more than just a place to get coffee – it builds communities and friendships.” It is part of the ethos of the business to hark back to the age when coffee shops were nodes around which communities clustered, met to talk and exchange ideas, to be exposed to new ideas; indeed, the Pepys inspired name is a nod to that. As such, my local Harris and Hoole regularly hosts new artists like up-and-coming locals Sophie Gainsley or Adam Joppich, literary events for the likes of Peirene Press, as well as fitness classes and meetings for local charities. And that is before you consider the people using the café as a venue for various forms of work (like blogging!). Each store can take its own direction on this so, for example, Peirene is local to N8, which is why the store welcomes them for salons and discussions. This, to me, is the most interesting and best part of the business model. According to Nick, it isn’t a specific form of CSR, largely because they don’t measure the effects, but it “reflects the family values; it’s the right thing to do”.

The competition.

The competition.

A lot of commentators would not see a business relationship with Tesco as “the right thing to do” though. It is, rightly or wrongly, the thing for which Harris and Hoole are most famous. I have made my feelings on this clear in another post, but I was interested to hear what Nick and Andrew think. According to Nick, the relationship developed largely because the Tolleys were looking to grow the business towards the high street after the success of Taylor Street and Tesco were looking to expand their portfolio into coffee. An initial chat, largely about the state of play in the coffee market arranged by a mutual friend, led to a recognition that a business could grow out of the relationship. Nick stresses that Tesco are like “the good parts of a private equity firm” interested in developing a business but with a longer-term view than might have been expected from other sources of funding. He says the relationship is “intuitive”, growing and changing as the business does and that the expertise Tesco brings in fields like property development is invaluable. Most importantly for Nick, Tesco are invested for the long haul and happy to accept “slow-time” development if it maintains quality. He sees no difference between accepting funding from Tesco and accepting it from any other normal source of investment, and, indeed, the lack of critical response from most of the independent coffee sector itself would tend to suggest that they feel the same. Having said that, Tesco have an interest in growing the business alongside the Tolleys’ philosophy and certain areas of skill that can help this happen, which makes more sense than simply taking money from a bank or investment firm. Indeed, Harris and Hoole are pioneering developments in the field, securing Danielle Andersen from market leaders Burberry to be Head of Digital Experience to head up a new app and other digital tie-ins, and it is likely that while the innovation comes from the Tolleys, the funding from Tesco doesn’t hurt.

While their tie-in with Tesco has been controversial, Nick and Andrew remain optimistic and, indeed, impassioned. To them, providing a better, more engaged coffee business to high street customers that helps them learn more about coffee can only be a good thing. If what I have seen at my local Harris and Hoole is indicative of some of the ways they might achieve this, then I am inclined to agree.

Nick Tolley is CEO & Founder of Harris and Hoole

Andrew Tolley is Coffee Director & Founder of Harris and Hoole

Like a forest. Of bottles.

Like a forest. Of bottles.

A short walk north of the neon nexus that is Piccadilly Circus, so thin it seems strapped to the wall of its housing, lies Tonic Coffee Bar. Tonic is the most recent instantiation of the Coffeesmiths Collective, a by-word, to this coffee drinker at least, for quality. Coffeesmiths run five cafés in London at the moment, including the superlative Department of Coffee and Social Affairs and Chancery Coffee, both previously visited and reviewed, as well as The Liberty of Norton Folgate and Speakeasy. Tonic, open since July 2013, sits on the southwest corner of Soho’s caffeine-soaked environs and, arguably, now provides one of the finest brews available in the area.

Tonic is just that.

Of all London’s qualities, the one I find least charming is its love of bustle and busyness, strongly accented by the tourist economy and its faux glitz and relentless consumerism. The area of Soho and where it seeps into the even busier shopping districts of Piccadilly and Regents Street are a kind of personal hell. Thank goodness, then, for Tonic, which provides a poor, befuddled soul such as mine a quick respite from the chaos and a bloody good cup of coffee.

The machine and the coffee.

The machine and the coffee.

The layout is simple, with a coffee machine at one end of the narrow room, and food and cold drinks at the other. There is only a limited seating spot at the bar, three stools, and some room to stand. But Tonic is envisaged as a takeaway spot, in contrast to the delightfully relaxed ambience of Department of Coffee. That is not to say that thought hasn’t been given to the design. In some respects, Tonic is actually my favourite of the Coffeesmiths houses. The walls are a beautifully deep, verdant green, redolent of the depths of an Amazonian forest and thus wonderfully removed from the trashy colours of the Circus. The tiled walls are interrupted by shelving, upon which sit bottle after bottle with printed Tonic labels, which looks interesting and also catches the light and dances it around, creating a welcoming visual warmth. While the bar is busy, it doesn’t feel rushed, either. All in all, though this is a takeaway spot, it is still one where spending twenty minutes drinking a cup feels restful.

Food and prices.

Food and prices, if you squint.

The coffee is excellent. In keeping with house rules, there are a variety of filters and espressos, as well as a decaffeinated option. The filters are both from HasBean, and very good brews too: the Columbian Finca El Vergel and the Sumatran Wahana Lingtong are two of the best filters out there at the moment. I had an espresso using Climpson and Sons’ seasonal roast, which was pleasingly citrusy and cleverly balanced; I can see it working well with milk too. I also had a flat white, unusually for me, in order to try HasBean’s Nicaraguan Finca La Escondida. It was superb, sweet and smooth with a spike of berry and lime rising out of the caramel taste. Espressos are £2.20 or £2.30 and flat whites are £2.50. For £2.80 you can also have a ‘both ways’, whereby you get a single shot and a cortado/piccolo of the guest espresso so you can see how it plays, as you guessed already, both ways. For tea drinkers, they serve teas by Canton Tea Company that, I’ve little doubt, are also good.

They even have their own trucker hats.

They even have their own trucker hats.

In conclusion, Tonic is exactly what I would want from a takeaway café. The quality of coffee is excellent, with genuine thought put into the range of choices; I am a big fan of the ‘both ways’ option too, a clever way of learning about different roasts and different types of coffee. The atmosphere is a lot more laid back than I might expect from somewhere that clearly services a transient customer base. Tonic is a very welcome addition to the Soho coffee scene and, in my opinion anyway, has already pegged back and overtaken a lot of the more established names in the area.

Tonic, 16 Sherwood Street, W1F 7ED

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @TonicCoffee

I recently learned in conversation with a noted coffee person that while in the UK, we consume yearly on average 3 kilos of coffee per capita, the Danes manage a whopping 11 kilos. On my recent trip to Copenhagen, I sought out and found some amazing places to have coffee, some doing the artisan coffee thing brilliantly, some pushing the boundaries of roasting.

The planning phase.

The planning phase.

Scandanvia obviously has a rich recent history of coffee. With Tim Wendelboe in Norway and Koppi in Sweden, innovative roasters have been working out of the area for a while now, bringing superb coffee to the rest of Europe. The Danish scene has expanded rapidly in the last few years, with Jens Nøgaard from Café Europa 1989 and fellow pioneers Trœls Parken and Martin Hildebrand spreading the word of artisan coffee. Estate Coffee also opened in 2000 and five years later opened a micro-roastery run by founder Søren Sylvest. At around this time, Jens helped set up the Copenhagen Coffee Academy which improved the quality of Danish roasting and serving techniques, as well as locating a coffee think-tank in Copenhagen, removing the necessity to go further afield to learn about the various skills involved in roasting and running a café. The Nordic Barista Cup, which revolves around various venues in the cold north, has also brought a new focal point to the coffee community of which Denmark is now a large part. I learned much of this in conversation with John Laird, who used to work for Verve Coffee in Santa Cruz, but has now relocated, in part at least, to Europe and is working on new projects. It is indicative of the vitality and excitement of the Danish scene that I found John in Democratic Coffee, evangelising about the quality of Danish roasters and cafés. I found the same and can heartily recommend a visit to Copenhagen to experience it all. I would also recommend this post from Giulia over at Mondomulia which has lovely pictures and good suggestions, some of which I followed.

Here is a brief survey of what I discovered.

Democratic Coffee

Krystalgade 15, 1172 Copenhagen 

Democratic Coffee.

Democratic Coffee.

Democratic Coffee is the first and, surely, the best of the places I found. DC was set up by the lovely Oliver Oxfeldt in a long, bay-windowed adjunct to the atrium of the main city library, which automatically makes it a wonderful thing. The coffee is locally sourced from roasters Great Coffee and it’s safe to say they are not labouring under any misapprehensions. The filter, a Negele Gurbitu Yirgacheffe, was reminiscent of mulled wine, all plums and sweetness. The espresso blend, roasted by Søren Stiller Markussen from a Honduran Santa Marta, had woody shades with an aftertaste of chocolate and apricot. It worked beautifully alone or in a cortado. The venue itself is airy, light, and welcoming, and you can see Oliver fussing behind the counter over buttery, freshly baked croissants or hearty-looking sandwiches. Oliver also played cricket and football with local team Akademisk Boldklub before making the leap into coffee, which is simply further evidence of his all-round greatness. The café is long and thin, with high benches on one side and seating at the bar on the other. There isn’t a huge amount of room, but when we were there, which was several times, it was common to see people standing and chatting among themselves, or to Oliver. It’s exactly the kind of quality product married to a strong ethos of community and conversation that I really admire in coffee shops, and DC is better than most of the places I find regularly lauded in the UK. Superb.
Website with details.

Coffee Lab

Boldhusgade 6, 1062 Copenhagen

Coffee Lab.

Coffee Lab.

Down a steep set of stairs off the street, tucked away in a side street, is Coffee Lab. Set up by some of the original characters from the Aarhus coffee scene, Sally, Peter, and Claus, they roast their own buying it in from Nordic Approach and doing some very interesting things. I had a ferocious espresso, with smacks of grapefruit zinging across the palate. The café is lovely as well, a kind of basement area stuffed with coffee gadgetry in the main room, but with a quiet, more typically ‘cool’ back room with muted tones and a record player. This place serves excellent coffee but is also pushing the micro-roastery agenda and pushing it hard and with good results. It would have to be my second shout after DC for a must visit place.

Coffee Collective

Jægersborggade 10, 2200 Copenhagen (though I went to a smaller one; this is the main one and better, by all accounts)

Coffee Collective.

Coffee Collective.

The third of the more specialist coffee places we visited, CC is well-established in Copenhagen, with three venues across the city, the largest being the one whose address I have furnished you with. The great lure of CC is the huge array of roasts they sell for home-brewing, and the range is excellent. One of the first roastery-cum-cafés to set out their stall, they have a spot in the foodie Mecca of Torvehallerne, a kind of Borough market but with, to me at least, a more relaxed atmosphere. The staff were really friendly and even invited me to a party later on in the day. The Ethiopian Yukro, which I had as a filter, was beautifully complex, with hints of cardamom and lemon. If you want to bring any coffee back with you, this is the place to stock up.
Website with details.

Kaffebarren

Istedgade 40, 1650 Copenhagen

Kaffeebarren.

Kaffeebarren.

This place is a drop-in spot among the slightly odd environs of Istegade, which is kind of a Kings Cross-meets-Soho in terms of a general patina of seediness with a few gems sprinkled in among the sex shops and itinerants. It’s near the train station, or near enough, and stays open late. The coffee is perfectly decent, a strong, ballsy espresso roast which is dark and warming up until the slightly bitter after-taste: a decent metaphor for the area, perhaps. The café also does a strong line in teas and, while small, is snug and perfect for a quick, evening coffee before heading out or heading home.

Bang & Jensen

Istegade 130, 1650 Copenhagen

Bang & Jensen

Bang & Jensen

Bang & Jensen reminded me of the kind of café-cum-bar that I found in Poland. The décor was fantastic, large vintage sofas and chairs, random antique lampshades, and a higgledy-piggledy interior with little anterooms and hidden sections up small flights of stairs. The café is clearly vey popular with all kinds of punters, not just the normal coffee crowd, but hipsters, old couples, and young professionals having a beer after work. I wouldn’t particularly go here for the coffee, but the atmosphere is fun and busy and I assume that most of my readers are as partial to a beer or glass of wine as they are a coffee, so for that, I would heartily recommend it.

Little Gem, Highbury Fields

September 9, 2013

A cant name is a name that gives a clue, sometimes wholly obvious, other times tangential at best, to the character of the owner of that name. Little Gem is a cant name of the most obvious sort. A café with a strong Japanese flavour and influence, Little Gem is to be found nestled in the quieter back streets to the east of Highbury Fields, on the junction of Corsica Street and Calabria Street. These few streets make a small part of town that is calm and residential, rows of little red-bricks that are off the beaten track but very close to it. We discovered it not by chance, but following a heads-up from the Highbury Fields twitter feed; I fear that without it, this little gem (see?) would have passed the accomplice and me by.

I went arty for this one.

I went arty for this one.

We popped in on a Saturday afternoon, when many places would be heaving. This was, beneficially for us, not the case, and it was clear that the café owners, who were working the bar too, were happy to use the lulls to chat to customers about what they were up to, what they were serving, and even, in one instance, how to alter bags bought in charity shops to make them look more fun. I personally love to see this though: interaction between café owners or staff and customers is the lifeblood of any good place and LG seemed to thrive on it. Any questions I had were thoroughly answered as well, and I reckon I would have been welcome to stand there all afternoon fire off queries without becoming annoying; for a reviewer, there are few better feelings. There was a very friendly atmosphere aided by a comfy but intimate layout; size is yet another reason why this is literally a little gem.

Lovely cup, lovely piccolo

Lovely cup, lovely piccolo.

The coffee is Monmouth’s organic roast, which is in keeping with the general thrust of the venue towards organic items. The roast is quite dark and it’s not what I would call an explosively exciting blend, but the quality of the espresso and piccolo were high: the milk was especially creamy and well-stretched and the espresso was well-extracted. I don’t think I would choose this roast as a matter of course, but it is good enough and the barista had more than sufficient skill to make it, if not sing, at least dance a little. The coffee was beautifully served in little pottery cups from the Maze Hill potters from Greenwich. I don’t know enough about the subject to know what this style of pottery is called, but suffice it to say, I thought they were beautiful. The wooden spoons are classy too. The accomplice also made a very bold claim: she stated that her green tea, which is called Kabusecha and is from Gion Tsujiri in Kyoto, was the best green tea she had ever had. And trust me, she knows her tea.

The best green tea ever.

The best green tea ever.

I also had a very tasty little chicken teriyaki sandwich and a fine, soft and squidgy lemon cake; snack-wise, LG did well too. Add to that some fine illustrations of rioters and tree-loving cyclists by Eliza Southwood, which really caught my eye, and Little Gem is a superlative collection of details, beautifully assembled into a small, but beautifully formed café. A short walk from Highbury & Islington tube station, but far enough from the hubbub to be calming, this place is certainly worth a visit. Little Gem is no wet lettuce. Sorry to end on such an awful pun, but I couldn’t help myself.

Little Gem, 15 Corsica Street, N5 1JT

Facebook page with details

Also on Twitter: @LittleGemCoffee

Cake and forks.

Cake and forks.

The Chancery Lane area is old. It’s really very old. In fact, as a former medievalist, I get quite excited thinking about things like Chancery English, which was, in some ways, the beginnings of standard orthography and grammar. I know, right? But I digress.

How arty is this shot?

How arty is this shot?

The Lane itself takes its name from the Chancery, the body that for hundreds of years ran the rule over laws of equity, trusts, guardianship and other various exciting matters. The area still has a deep and established bond with the legal profession, and its architecture bespeaks the grandeur of that august employment (and, perhaps it’s fair to say, its tendency towards the self-regarding). It is also a border area between the City of London and London London, essentially the London Borough of Camden, and the change undergone while walking down it is still tangible, moving from the helter-skelter of the Holborn area to the more sedate but serious feeling of the legal part of the City.

But there is, among the oldness, something new and exciting and even, but whisper it, modern, on Chancery Lane and that is Chancery Coffee.

The house blend. Couldn't fit the other's name on the grinder.

The house blend. Couldn’t fit the other’s name on the grinder.

Part of the Coffeesmiths Collective, this vibrant and snug café is tucked into a building two thirds of the way down the Lane towards the City, a sort of blink and you’ll miss it size, but if you do, you will be missing a treat. The coffee is excellent. I first had a Hasbean single origin, the rather wordy El Salvador Finca Argentina Fincona 2 Tablon Pulped Natural Bourbon, or just the El Salvador Orange and White, to use its less cumbersome soubriquet. It is a zesty, citrusy burst of fun and works superbly as an espresso, though I suspect it would be even better as a short black. The shot was beautifully made too and all in all, it was a total treat. I then had a piccolo made with the Coffeesmiths house blend, a mixture of Ethiopian Sidamo, Brazilian Daterra, and Kenyan AA, and enjoyed it almost as much (no reflection on the blend – I just thought the Hasbean was super fly). The piccolo was creamy and cocoa-y and made very well indeed. I also learned that you can have the feature espresso, or guest espresso, “both ways”, which is not an engagingly flirtatious invitation but a brilliant tasting device/deal: you get it as a single shot and a piccolo, thereby showing that it’s not only me who thinks that combination is the truest way to discern a coffee’s quality.

The sign. It's very red.

The sign. It’s very red.

The café itself is small, but it is as full of life as the Hasbean single origin. There is a strong red theme and bright, bold logos adorn the sign outside. There is, of course, a preponderance of exposed brick and drop lighting, but I’ve long since given up holding that against places and in fairness to Chancery, they don’t have much space to work with. There isn’t a loo, which could be mildly annoying, but my guess is that they cater mostly for on-rushing legal types and so that probably doesn’t matter greatly to most of their customers.

What I really loved though, and it’s something upon which I have been harping for a while now, was the ambience and, most importantly to me, the customer service. I think, in fact, customer service is a rather stale term for it, because when it manifests itself best, as it did at Chancery Coffee, it’s too good a thing to carry such a banal moniker. When the baristas had made coffee for customers, drink in or take away, they bounded round the edge of the bar to hand them over, always managing to say something other than “Um here’s your coffee”. The barista who made my coffees, and was generally lovely, chatted to me about the featured espresso, told me about the “both ways” thing, and generally exuded an interest in and enjoyment of what she was doing that spoke volumes. And this was not the fake, may-I-write-your-name-on-a-cup bollocks, but a genuine passion for making and talking about good coffee.

The Hasbean has been, and gone. Now, the piccolo...

The Hasbean has been, and gone. Now, the piccolo…

I’ve written recently, and indeed not so recently, about how coffee is a drink of interaction, and here it served, even briefly, as a medium for contact between the two baristas and me, and between them and other customers. Even if the coffee had been watery ash, and it most assuredly was not, I still would have left feeling energised by being the experience as much as by the caffeine. In an increasingly busy and dissociated world, I firmly believe that having an excitable chat about a cup of coffee, or a book or a band or whatever, with someone you’ve never met before can be one of the most rewarding and bridging experiences. It’s something that is impossible to fake and when you find it, it can make a simple cup of coffee so much better. So go out and find it. You could do a lot worse than starting down Chancery Lane.

Chancery Coffee, 90 Chancery Lane, WC2A 1DT

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @ChanceryCoffee