Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The daily grind...

I flicked over to BBC2 last night, to watch the first part of a "Business Boomers" documentary series, on businesses which have flourished in spite (or because of) the recession.  Last night was all about coffee, and in particular the rise and rise of the coffee shop chains.

You can still catch "Coffee Shop Hot Shots" on iPlayer here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b040v3ld .

I watched it both as someone with a business interest (a plan to open an independent coffee shop of some description) and as someone who spends a fair bit of time, effort and money in pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee.

Here is a snapshot of just some of the coffee-related paraphernalia in my home:

Not to mention the various bits and bobs bought especially for the PANDAS support group (because in my humble opinion you cannot meet for a chat without a decent cuppa):

I squirmed in my seat as one of the opening statistics was read out by narrator Sandi Tolsvig: we coffee-clutching Brits can spend up to £2000 a year on our habit.  Yikes.  

As a stay-home mum I probably spend a lot less on takeaway cappuccinos than I did when I worked in the City.  But I do still insist on grinding my own beans at home, and making either cafetiere, filter or espresso (depending on mood and time of day).  I honestly cannot remember the last time I bought or used instant (although as a baker I do realise its usefulness as a baking ingredient).  This makes me sound (even more) like a horrible snob, but I'm afraid I'm addicted to good coffee and have no intention of quitting. 

The programme focused on the fortunes (literally) of the Big 3: Costa, Starbucks and Cafe Nero.  These chains are now ubiquitous on our high streets, with thousands of branches throughout the country.  Their annual profits run to hundreds of millions of pounds.  As local pubs have faced financial ruin, coffee shops have thrived.  I can see the merit of these places: they are well designed, were one of the first outlets to provide free WiFi, have a good range of drinks and food, and a "third place" vibe that is neither home nor office.   I am as partial to a frappucino as the next person, in a stifling London summer.


There are some amazing independent coffee shops out there, roasting and sourcing incredible beans from around the world, working with local producers, using good quality milk and unrefined sugar.  These alternatives to the Big 3 are genuinely committed to the taste of the coffee, not just in creating the bland, inoffensive, watered-down offerings of the chains.  My favourite coffee shops in London include:

Monmouth Coffee (http://www.monmouthcoffee.co.uk )
Association Coffee (http://www.associationcoffee.com )
Four Corners Cafe (http://www.four-corners-cafe.com ).

It's pleasing to find them all included in this ingenious map of all the best coffee stops in London:
Best Coffee Shops Near London Overground Stations.jpg

I'm not exaggerating to say it breaks my heart that my (very) local coffee shop in Kennington simply doesn't know how to make good coffee.  They have the friendly staff, comfy seats, perfect location - but I have stopped going there, just because I have never had a good cappuccino from them. If I ever plucked up the courage to tell them, I would give them the following (non expert) advice:

1. Buy good quality beans, in small quantities and replenish when needed.  In my house we tend to buy a 1kg bag every 3 or 4 weeks.  It's worth the special journey to Monmouth every so often, just to ensure the freshness of the beans.  Stay clear of vacuum packed beans that may have been sitting around for a while. 

2. Grind the beans fresh, every time.  I'm not sure why, but it does make a huge difference to the taste.  Never, never use pre-ground beans if you don't know exactly when they were ground.  Adjust the gauge of the grinder (if possible), depending on what method of coffee you are making.  Stove top espresso machines need finely ground beans.  Cafetieres benefit from thicker grinds.  Filter paper coffee needs something in between.

3.  Never burn or overheat your coffee.  If stovetop: switch off as soon as the espresso has dribbled through.  If cafetiere or filter: open the lid of the kettle and let the steam out prior to gently pouring over the grinds.

4. Pay as much attention to sourcing the milk, as you would the beans.  Skimmed milk is tasteless.  Full fat milk (or - whisper it - single cream, on occasion!) tastes much smoother and sweeter.  I'm not sure why, but organic milk from small farms does taste better and is worth paying a little extra for. 

5. Never, never, never overheat the milk.  If you have a milk frother, hold your hand against the jug until you can feel it warm to the touch.  If you are heating it on the hob, don't let it boil: turn off when you can see little bubbles form around the edge.

6. Know the difference between a cappuccino and a latte.  There is nothing more discouraging than ordering a cappuccino and receiving something that weighs twice as much as it should.  No, I really don't want to drink a pint of warm milk, I'm not six months old.  On this subject, take heed from Italy - cappuccinos there are half the size of the smallest Starbucks option! 

Happy coffee drinking! 

Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.com


  1. Shocked at some of the stats. Coffee never used to bother me until I had my second child, now I drink quite a lot, and I'm almost afraid to say, I can tell the difference between cheap and expensive instant stuff :-)

  2. Interesting... I don't drink coffee, but I could probably wax lyrical about making a good cup of tea :) #TastyTuesdays

  3. I must admit I'm a bit of a coffee flavoured milk (read: latte) kind of girl (philistine!) (and its a long time since I was six months old :-) but I can see that the whole world of the coffee connoisseur is akin to wine appreciation. #TastyTuesdays

  4. Wow husband would love this as he is a bit of a coffee connoisseur himself-caffeine hates me but love decaf! Thanks for linking up to #tastytuesdays

    1. I've fixed the badge now - Coombe Mill tipped me off I needed to paste it in HTML mode! :) and you'll be pleased to know that Monmouth sell the most amazing decaf coffee beans, just as good as their regular beans.. :)

  5. Thanks everyone for reading! I am on a proper coffee evangelical mission! :)