Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Independent Coffee Book: London review

I know nothing about the art of making coffee, but lately, thanks to the influence of a select few Foursquare friends, I've come to appreciate good coffee. After years of sipping rubbish coffee from chain shops, it's like discovering a whole new world of caffeinated delight.

The Independent Coffee Book is the ultimate companion guide for anyone who wishes to start the journey on discovering the many specialty coffee shops and carts dotted around London. Each coffee shop, listing includes detailed information such as the opening hours, historical perspective of the shop, Wifi availability, bathrooms, loyalty card programme and even the espresso machine used. There are also sections dedicated to the roasters Square Mile, Monmouth, Nude Espresso, Dark Fluid and Climpson & Sons.

Perhaps less useful for some customers but no less intriguing and interesting for coffee lovers are the inclusion of several pages detailing the history of the coffee trade in London. You will also find guides on coffee tasting, ethical trading of coffee beans, a short guide on coffee roasting and the different brewing methods. On the back you will find useful a useful fold out map detailing select coffee shops and their locations.

The perfectly size 152-page guide is small enough to be pocketable. In fact I carry it with me each time I head into London, always glad that I have a small guide with me to point me at the direction of the closest specialty coffee bar, cafes and carts. Used alongside Foursquare, I've discovered some of the best coffee shops in London.
My first issue with the book is some of the listings in the guide are of very well established coffee shops. For example, with Soho's Flat White listed, it isn't necessary to have a separate guide for its sister shop, Milkbar. A footnote would be sufficient, with other pages dedicated to highlighting lesser known bars. Still, there is enough here to keep me exploring my taste bud further.

The guide also completely ignores the west part of London, which is a shame as there are plenty of good independent coffee shops there such as Electric Coffee Co. in Ealing, Sacred in Shepherd's Bush and Coffee Plant in Notting Hill. Perhaps West London is considered un-hip these days, but that does not excuse the inclusion of an entire London zone.

Without wanting to sound like I am dismissing the Antipodes coffee movement contribution to London's booming coffee trade - far from it in fact, but the book does seems to be heavily biased towards coffee shops run by Aussies and Kiwis. There are more to good cup of coffee than trendy flat whites made by hipster cafe artisans.

The booming coffee movement in London means that the book is already outdated barely a year after its publication (St. Ali, for example, has moved to another location and changed their name to Workshop Coffee) but it is still good value. For the next edition I hope the publishers will cover a wider range or coffee community over a wider area, as well as releasing an e-book or app version.

Pick up a copy from select coffee shops in London (I bought mine at Grind Coffee Bar) or Verspertine Press's online shop, and you will be on your way to becoming a coffee snob.

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