Head down to the London Coffee Festival to find out why people may soon be forsaking pubs and bars for their local coffee house
In the UK, social revolution and coffee go hand in hand. That may sound like a bold statement, but look at the facts: the penny coffee houses of 17th and 18th century Britain were where the newly enlightened chattering classes met to engage in serious political discourse and philosophical debate. It was their thirst for information that drove the embryonic newspaper and magazine industries. When the first espresso machines arrived in London’s Soho in the mid 1950s, teenagers flocked in their droves to drink stylish Italian coffee and listen to skiffle music, kick starting popular culture as we know it. You wouldn’t have had The Beatles without coffee!
However, attempts to nurture a continental style café culture in the UK have thus far fallen flat, with ‘The Great British Pub’ usually emerging victorious. But at this year’s London Coffee Festival, the Kahlúa Coffee House – a collaboration between the original Mexican coffee liqueur, Manchester-based bartending collective The Liquorists and East London coffee connoisseurs Nude Espresso – will be popping up to let business owners and the public into a little secret: a new coffee revolution is taking place. The coffee house is becoming a destination, like your favourite pub or bar, as venues extend their product range to include full evening menus and easy to mix coffee cocktails.
Jody Monteith, one half of The Liquorists, is on a mission to demonstrate to café and coffee shop owners how easy it is to make the change, once they’ve gained their license, of course: “You need to buy the alcohol but you’re probably holding a lot of the ingredients, certainly the vessels, the equipment and the apparatus,” he says. “Something we’ll touch on at the London Coffee Festival is taking people who own their own coffee shops and cafés and have a solid coffee offering down a different avenue, extending that offering to alcoholic coffee drinks.
“When people finish work now, traditionally ten years ago they would’ve all gone to a bar or pub to meet friends – you can do that in a coffee shop now. They have pavement seating and many have that extension, even if it’s something simple like bottles of wine or lager. There’s no reason why you can’t extend that offering. The coffee shop’s probably as important now as it’s ever been, sociologically.”
Jody is obviously passionate about this, as is Richard Reed of Nude Espresso, who’s noticed changes in the drinking trends in and around the East London neighbourhood housing the Nude micro-roastery in which I’m standing. I’m being happily bombarded with a multitude of rich, contrasting coffee aromas. Buckets of raw beans dot the tiny space. “On Fridays, people used to come down here for a curry and be in the pub by 2pm – the café would be a bit quiet,” says Richard. “Now we’re really busy between three and five. People are drinking coffee, delaying that pub experience. I think it’s very easy to get people to stay in cafés and coffee houses. They understand they can transgress to the evening and get some cocktails and nibbles too.”
His business partner is Gerard Fisher: “In the next five years you’ll see cafés like ours on Hanbury Street serving a full menu in the evening, with wines, beers and cocktails. It’s a natural progression. Customers are changing their mindset: a cafe can become a restaurant in the evening and can translate and change,” he says.
As we speak, Jody is mixing a series of coffee-based cocktails he’s devised especially for the Kahlúa Coffee House, incorporating Kahlúa and Nude Espresso products. He’s keen to show there’s more to coffee cocktails than the espresso martini, though his is exemplary: the perfect balance of bitter and sweet, the vanilla and rum notes of the Kahlúa going toe to toe with the chocolate, caramel and plum of Nude’s East Espresso Blend. It’s a dead heat. A Mocha of Olmeca Reposado Tequila and Kahlúa, topped with Fever Tree Cherry Cola and a scoop of chocolate chip ice-cream is as deceptively strong as it is sweet and is passed round the room like a winning lottery ticket.
35ml Olmeca Reposado
Build over cubed ice, top with Fevertree Cherry Tree Cola, garnish with one scoop of chocolate chip ice cream floated, red/white stripy straw, dust with icing sugar
The biggest surprise is the Alvarez Cold Brew cocktail, a long tiki-style drink, made from Kahlúa, Cachaça, lime, pineapple juice and Nude Espresso Cold Brew (quite simply coffee and filtered water, chilled). It’s a summery citrus cocktail lover’s dream, with an additional coffee hit that only comes through subtly, right at the end. Jody makes it all look so easy, but is it? “We want to educate the public and change perceptions,” he says. “It’s not overly geeky, it’s not about temperatures and pH; it’s about a natural product and where it comes from and how it’s produced, and how factors like the soil and sunlight affect it. Do you like wine? Well, it’s not a million miles away from that and if you like whisky, then you appreciate that it’s all about the quality of the base product. Coffee’s exactly the same.”
So what kind of clientele are they expecting at the Kahlúa Coffee House? “People who are experimenting,” says Jody. “For anyone who has any sort of want to follow their learning then it’s a perfect environment. It’s all about making it manageable and delivering it in nuggets of information that people can take away with them. Whether it’s food, alcohol or coffee, there are people that want and appreciate nice things.”
There’s a coffee revolution happening right under our noses, all we need to do is wake up and smell the…
Words Tom Jenkins
Photography Robin Sinha