If like me you have an enquiring mind and are not just satisfied with the taste of food or drink but want to understand its provenance then a visit to Coffee Island in London should be high on your list. It is not just an ordinary coffee bar but a complete coffee experience. Of course you can go in, order your coffee-to-go and leave; or you can order coffee and cake get out the laptop, connect to the wifi and sip, nibble and work.
No sooner had I entered than I was greeted by João their Portuguese barista. Surprisingly he was not behind the bar but in front of it. João was not about to serve me coffee but asked if I was interested in coffee and the various brewing methods. In the shop window where the coffee grindery, he set to work explaining about the coffees Coffee Island use. Above his head were hoppers of coffee beans. One set was for the single origin beans (more on this later), another was for the various espresso blends and the final dispenser was for speciality coffees flavoured with natural oils.
Using a Yirgacheffe Kochere bean from Eithiopia João demonstrated the various brewing methods, explaining what happened in each process, which made the lighter coffee and which the creamier full bodied brew. Definitely the geeky, scientific bit but fascinating how the same bean could taste and feel so different. V60, chemex, aeropress and siphon were all demonstrated and discussed. Each had its merits. We had not even touched on the espresso brews, that was for another time.
I was given a card with boxes to tick and options to circle to described my ideal coffee. I like a chocolate/cocoa hint, a nutty flavour with a citrus note. Ideally it should have mild acidity, have a creamy body with a complex aftertaste. More geekiness I know, but that is my ideal. While I indulged in more coffee, sampled some of their superb sandwiches and indulged in the huge choice of cakes and pastries João made up my custom blend using the information on the card.
The bean hopper in the coffee grindery had five tubes containing single origin beans. Two varieties from Eithiopia, and one each from Columbia, Brazil and El Salvador. Using these beans João created my very own custom blend. He explained what each bean contributed to the blend.
The default is to supply the blend as unground beans but for those who do not possess a coffee grinder the beans will be ground to suit whatever method you use at home. They will even grind and fill Nespresso compatible coffee pods. I chose to have mine ground for a French press. You keep your card, on which they have written the percentages, so that you can come in and have the same custom blend again or have it slightly changed to make it more suitable for your taste
If you are a coffee connisseur all you have to do is specify the percentages of each of the beans.
I love Columbian coffee from the Huila region and as that was one of the single origin beans I decided to take some of that home as well. For the sake of reviewing and because our go to method for the first coffee of the day is the Nespresso compatible capsule I decided on this option for my Columbian beans.
Being Greek owned it was inevitable that making Greek/Turkish/Arab coffee would be part of the demonstration. It definitely was not to my taste being too thick and granular but the process was nevertheless fascinating and all the equipment for using this brew method is available for sale, along with all other home brewing paraphenalia.
I could have talked coffee all day with João; he is very knowledgeable. However, all good things have to come to an end and I left for the journey back to Southampton with my own custom blend, some ground Columbian beans and an increased knowledge of coffee and the processes for getting just the right taste and feel.
The Columbian Hula coffee in the Nespresso compatible pods produced a coffee I would not have thought possible from pods. It was mild with a rich silky body. Flavours of berries and molasses with a subtle hint of spice were followed by a long soft after taste of caramel and chocolate. My own custom blend was exactly as I had anticipated. Next time – and there will be a next time – I may tweak the blend a little just for the sake of experimentation.
You will find Coffee Island at 5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane, London, WC2H 9EA which is 5 minutes walk from either Leicester Square or Trafalgar Square. Online you will find them at www.coffeeisland.co.uk.
The food, the coffee and the service will be reviewed in another post for those seeking out good coffee in London who are less concerned about the methods used to make it. Keep checking back or sign up to be informed when the post appears (see sidebar)