We’ve moved on from the bitter first phase of instant coffee, through the commercialised second wave of stores, such as Starbucks, providing a slightly better product, to today, where you’ve got to know your cappuccinos from your cortados, plus everything from the origin of the bean to the hand that fills your mug.
It’s in this third wave that coffee has gone artisan, cafes sprouting on every corner as a result. But unless you get on to it fast, you risk eternally sipping an inferior product.
Helpfully, you can acquaint yourself with the cutting edge of caffeine this weekend at The London Coffee Festival at the Old Truman Brewery. The event will have London’s top baristas, a multitude of tastings and some far-out experiments. There’ll also be ethical debates and tips to open your own cafe.
“London is now a coffee mecca,” says Jeffrey Young, founder of Allegra Events, the company behind the Festival. “The East End, in particular, is becoming the new heart of the whole buzzing scene.”
Reflective of the cafe’s new role in the capital, the festival will also feature a food market, live music, plus the Artisan Cafe, which hosts baristas from 18 different coffee shops and micro-roasteries for a three-hour slot each
as they serve their signature drinks.
It’s the culmination of UK Coffee Week, which will be marked by events such as a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony hosted by at St Mark’s Clerkenwell, and roastery tours at Ozone Coffee.
According to Allegra Strategies, there are now 1900 independent coffee houses in London and the number is growing at an exponential rate – in the past year, 60 new artisan cafes have emerged, many staffed by baristas with a distinctly southern hemisphere drawl.
“We owe London’s current cafe culture to the Australasian community, particularly Kiwis,” Young says. “The perfection they achieve in coffee is unprecedented.”
Australian Peter Dore-Smith opened Kaffeine, in Great Titchfield Street, in the West End, in 2009, spotting a gap for “good service and coffee made with love”. In 2011, it was voted best coffee shop in Europe at the European Coffee Awards. “We used to be part of a small community of Aussie coffee connoisseurs in London,” Dore-Smith says. “Now I predict the industry is going to attract investors, more money, and therefore bigger places and more equipment. It’s exciting times.”
But while Antipodeans have hauled London coffee into a sophisticated realm, Young says Starbucks’ contribution must never be forgotten.
“We owe a lot to the chain brands, for this culture of sitting in a cafe, using the wifi, and reading the paper. But consumers no longer wanted cookie-cutter. They wanted artisan with an Australian casualness,” he says. ”Now the chains are reinventing themselves to achieve that effect.”
Young suggests approaching caffeine in 2012 with a curious mind, and to ask the barista the story of their coffee. And in no time, you, too, will demand the best this city has to offer.
Next: London’s best coffee shops – all the best independent coffee outlets in the capital