We asked Henry Wilson, founder of Perfect Daily Grind, for his thoughts on London's ever-evolving alternative coffee scene.
London's new generation of coffee drinkers no longer ask for a ‘black coffee’ – they expect more (and I’m not just talking about smashed-avocado toast). First and foremost, it's all about quality. Naturally, this has had a knock-on effect for London’s thriving independent coffee scene. So to break it down, here are three changes that have affected how Londoners are enjoying their coffee.
We care where it comes from
More than ever, coffee drinkers want to know about the providence of their double espresso or flat white. How do baristas know what to say? Direct trade. By cutting out the middle men, roasters can selectively choose which farms to work with to meet expectations of quality. Often this means traveling the globe to observe how their coffee is grown, picked, washed and dried.
As a mark of respect to the farmers' efforts and the higher quality of the beans, many roasters are opting for lighter roast profiles. Lighter roasts have a more pronounced acidity and no oil on the beans' surface, and most importantly, have more flavour than darker roasts.
Another benefit of direct trade is that roasters, empowered by their knowledge, are able to pass on stories of the daily routine of producers and cherry pickers to cafés and their barista team, who are all too willing to expose conscious consumers to the processes that affect the taste of their coffee. Give it a try – head to Prufrock and ask them ‘what coffees do you have?’
Coffee shop architecture is more functional than ever
The more observant coffee drinkers may have noticed the deliberate minimalism of London’s hippest coffee spots. Coffee shop owners are skillfully planning their layout to ensure the customer knows exactly what to do, from point-of-sale to brewing to handoff.
Espresso machines are obviously showcased so that the customer knows where to pick up their flat white and while waiting, can observe the barista's skilful milk-pouring ritual. The 'pick up your coffee here' signs are disappearing and now the café designs themselves outline the suitable standing place whilst simultaneously facilitating that all important face-to-face dialogue between barista and client.
This ‘functional’ coffee shop architecture enables the customer to feel part of the ritual and the emphasis on the coffee itself helps assure consumers of quality.
The coffee break is coming back
Many are drawn to coffee for its caffeinated hit rather than a peaceful pause. However, the handling of coffee as an artisanal ingredient has led independent coffee shops to champion the ritual. As a result, we're seeing a return to brewing methods – with Chemex and French press finding space on coffee shop shelves. Secondly, coffee takes longer to brew – and that's a good thing! Pay attention next time you head to your local specialty coffee shop – the barista will probably dial in the grinder, weigh the espresso shot and, if you ask, make the coffee just as you like it. What other tailor-made luxury costs only £3 and is prepared in front of you?
By Henry Wilson, founder of Perfect Daily Grind.