Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I Couldn't Survive Without Good Coffee

My coffee ran out this morning but I was seeing a friend at Tinderbox in Angel Islington which meant I was assured of a great cup of coffee. Tinderbox only has two stores--London and Glasgow--and the London one is about to move around the corner to a very light and spacious new shop. Isn't it nice to hear about something not closing down. Their coffee is serious. It's strong, dense, immensely tasty with just the right amount of milk in the latte. It's not the drowned rat of a coffee that Starbucks provides. No, this is individual coffee for folks who care.

I do care about coffee. I drink it every day so I want coffee that will give me something to relish. Everyone has their favourite coffee shop and mine is the Algerian Coffee Stores in Old Compton Street in Soho (a 120 years old according to their website). I first went there as a student when they used to sell their coffee in 2oz packets. They have around 70 different coffees from single origin coffees to their own blends. I went through every single one. By the way it's easy to miss this shop as it is quite small even though its frontage is painted bright red.

The first I tasted was a blend called Esotico. Even the name gets the imagination going on what the coffee will be like. Well, after the other 69 I returned to this and have remained faithful ever since. Esotico is a high roasted bean with a lot of oil. It glistens in the light. Its combination of visual impact and smell is almost unbearable. (Indeed, I want to be buried with some as I fear the afterlife might be a bit bland. I suspect Starbucks might have the franchise there.)


Slight digression here: I like strong tastes, always have. This is why I like Esotico and why years ago when I smoked for a while I only smoked French cigarettes, Gauloises Disque Bleu (Jean Paul Sartre smoked these) or Gitanes (especially the ones rolled in yellow paper). Now I love Thai food and Mexican, and sushi without wasabi would be painful. I do have taste buds, believe me.


From Tinderbox I cycled into Soho to buy my coffee fix. A kilo of Esotico beans in two 500 gram bags, vacuum sealed. I use two Gaggia coffee machines to make my coffee throughout the day. In the morning the Gaggia Classic hits me with an espresso before I plunge into the morning darkness for the gym. For this one I have to grind and tamp, which is a satisfying process. How much of twist shall I give the tamper this morning? The urge to experiment never ends.


Later on when I'm in my study my Gaggia Titanium indulges my laziness by doing it all automatically.

Just as the coffee must be nurtured--stored correctly, ground just so, the water at the right temperature and more--so must the machines. They need tending which is part of their charm. After dismantling one of these babies, you are at one with the coffee cosmos. There are times I have sought succour on the coffee forums when a machine has turned grumpy or is injured (yes, I do anthropomorphism, they are real), and the relief when someone responds empathetically and understands your quandary is profound. This is true symbiosis.

Please, don't ever take your coffee for granted. It is one of the vital essentials of life!
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4 comments:

JSKC said...

"Sushi without wasabi would be painful." Excellent!

John Flood said...

My colleague, Avis, wrote: "I don't drink coffee (or tea) so can't empathise but can still appreciate your writing Prof!"

John Flood said...

A friend said: "I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post.... you have to take me to the Algerian coffee stores!"

I think everyone should make a pilgrimage.

Reiss Gunson said...

dude you seriously need to try londinium. we'll happily return every penny if you aren't astounded at the jump in quality.