Favourite Coffee

Coleman Coffee Roasters

Guatemalan Filter
at Coleman Coffee Roasters

I don't write much about coffee.  There are plenty of other bloggers in London who have that covered and there's more than one App for that.  But I do know what I like and Coleman Coffee Roasters pulls all the right levers for me.

Saturdays would not be same without my morning Piccolo mid-shop at some of my favourite food businesses at Spa Terminus in Bermondsey, South London.  Here is the home of Jack Coleman's Roastery and also where, for a few hours on a Saturday, a tiny corner of The Little Bread Pedlar bakery is given over to serving Coleman's South American sourced coffees.  I wrote about Coleman Coffee Roasters over a year ago, so click on the link for some background.

Ceramics by
Anna Frith Hodgson

So why a return to Coleman Coffee?  A few weeks ago there came some teasing photographs on their IG account - a 10 year old Synesso coffee machine, a covetable span of old Umbrian yellow and jade green terrazzo, a beautifully made walnut and terrazzo table and shelf, both topped with lovely earth-toned Anna Frith Hodgson ceramics.

Hundreds of hours of hard graft have gone into paring back the layers of previous uses - fashion shop after bookstore - to the shop's strong bones when it was a delicatessen 40 years ago.  Found items are re-purposed and any additions, like coat hooks, have been carefully sourced.  Coleman Coffee's shop is now open for business on Lower Marsh SE1 and it feels like it's always been this way.

Walnut and Terrazzo Shelf at
Coleman Coffee Roasters

Alongside great coffee there is a lovely Spanish Butter Cake and Greek Papadopoulos biscuits for dunking into a cup of Barry's tea.  More substantially there are Staffordshire Oatcakes with fillings such as Smoked Bacon and Tomatoes fried in whey butter, Ham and Coolea, Lancashire Cheese and Hot Pepper Jelly, or you can have them simply spread with jam.

Staffordshire Oatcakes at
Coleman Coffee Roasters

It's a small place, seating around 18, but there is a great little courtyard space out back with two big sharing tables where you can sit under a jasmine bower and admire an impressive mulberry tree and a pomegranate tree snaking up the the wall to reach for the sky.  Pretty damn perfect.

Into the courtyard garden at
Coleman Coffee Roasters

Coleman Coffee Roasters 
20 Lower Marsh
London SE1

Coleman Coffee Roasters

Coleman Coffee Roasters

You've probably noticed I have very few recommendations for coffee on my blog.  There are, of course, any number of places in London where you can drink a decent coffee, and plenty of guides pointing the way.  There are a few I'll happily call in at but then there are the independents whose focus is on their own roasting.  If they'll brew me a cup and sell me the beans directly, that's perfect. So here's one for you.

Jack Coleman grew up in a flat above the original Monmouth Coffee in Covent Garden with the aroma of coffee permeating every corner of his home.  With that introduction it could have gone either way - coffee hater or coffee lover.  Fortunately for us it was the latter.  Fascinated by coffee, he was working in the Monmouth shop as a barista from his early to late teens before helping set up the original Fernandez & Wells.  Then an Otto SwadloV3 roaster was going begging and the idea of bringing it back to life was irresistible.  The machine was in pieces but with a bit of TLC and a lot of application, Summer 2008 saw Jack Coleman roast his first batch of raw coffee on the 58 year old Viennese beauty.  With modifications for ducting, insulation, pressure gauges, fans and thermometers, it's now producing some of the best coffee roasts in London.

From his small south-east London roastery Jack Coleman specialises in Arabica coffees, buying his raw beans based on quality and traceability.  Roasting is in small batches of around 3.5kg, which is as much as the Otto Swadlo V3 can cope with.  On Saturdays he crosses the few metres from his base, brings the Marzocco up to temperature and serves shots of excellent expresso.  You can also pick up a bag of his freshly roasted beans.  The fact he shares this retailing space with The Little Bread Pedlar bakery who make, for my money, the best croissants in London, makes this the perfect place for a Saturday breakfast.  Handily, there's a fantastic choice of independent food traders clustered around the Spa Terminus location.

If you can't get to Spa on Saturdays, you can get a taste of Coleman Coffee in London at some of the best places like Leila's Shop, Italo Deli and Brunswick House.

Piccolo from Coleman Coffee

Coleman Coffee Roasters

Monmouth Coffee

Finca El Guamal, Huila, Colombia
Farmed by Guillermo Libardo Ome

Two cups of coffee a day is my limit.  One filter and one double espresso.  Modest by the standards of most coffee drinkers, positively wimpish to many.  What I drink has to be good and I'm happy to pay for it.  Not that I'll hand over my hard-earned money to just anyone with a shiny La Marzocco - not twice anyway.  Call me what you will - connoisseur; addict; coffee snob; or worse - but it's taken me a while to arrive at this place and I'm happy to be here.  So where is "here"?  It's appreciating the work that has gone into a carefully sourced coffee, the growing, the exporting, the roasting and the serving, whether it's beans to take home or a shot on the go.  Most of all it's a thoughtfulness about what I'm buying because I now understand why coffee 'origin' really matters.

ORIGIN: beginning, foundation, root, starting point

Our thirst for coffee is growing.  Certainly in London there seems to be an endless stream of new coffee shop openings, both chain and independents.  But the cultivation of the Coffea plant is suffering a three pronged attack: climatic oscillations, disease and low pricing.  Most of the coffee industry is still based on purchasing at the lowest price, even in the speciality coffee market.

I asked AJ Kinnell, head of quality assurance at London's Monmouth Coffee, to explain to me the effect of farm-gate pricing.  She told me "If you're a farmer you have to sell 100% of your coffee. You'll have a speciality coffee and you need a market for your lower grade as well.  If the lower quality doesn't go somewhere the good quality can't be grown and the farms go out of business, so big buyers have a role" in taking that coffee.  In the speciality market, however, she feels "buyers could be doing so much more to help growers" just by paying a little bit more.

"The speciality coffee business is about real people...... 
Real product in a cup, the fruit of real effort somewhere 
at the end of a remote track in Guatemala or Rwanda 
or Somalia."
Mercanta, The Coffee Hunters

The impact of low prices on producers and the benefits from paying a premium for top quality have been brought home to Monmouth by their direct sourcing in Colombia.  Practically and financially it has taken many years for them to be able to source in this way.  AJ told me they'd been having difficulty finding good quality Colombian beans over a period of time so decided to step it up a bit.  Instead of going in and buying a predetermined amount of beans, they spread the word to small farmers that they were to hold a competition. There were lots of entrants and they selected 22 small lots of coffee.  "One of the coffees was only 2 bags because the farm it came from only produced 2 bags of top grade beans that season.  The farmer still had to find a buyer for the lesser grade of beans he produced but he earned a lot of money for those 2 bags and he got to sell his coffee for the first time with his own farm name on it.  For a long time it had just been put into a generic blend."

Monmouth's Chief Buyer, Flori Marin, told me how emotional the competitions are.  "The farmers know we are going to pay a premium.  It's a massive thing for them.  If the grower simply sells to the market they are paid what people think the coffee's worth.  Sometimes it's bought even without tasting.  The coffees we tasted and selected in Colombia the first time were amazing".  There were 86 entries for their first competition and by the second, 6 months later, 360 entries.  "We were able to pay a significant premium over the market rate and people were talking of using the money to pay off their mortgage or move their home down the hill so their children could get to school more easily". Paying a premium price for top quality beans improves the lives of the farmers and enables them to invest in their farms and families to secure viability for the next generation.  Seeing directly the effect of their actions has only made Monmouth more determined to play the long game and work with the farmers to improve coffee origin.

Monmouth don't often talk about themselves.  They've been around for more than 30 years and are focused on sourcing and roasting rather than serving cups of coffee.  The shops are there so that customers have the opportunity to taste the coffees before buying a bag to take home - though that doesn't stop Monmouth being a regular pit-stop for many London coffee lovers.  Their passion is for improving the quality of coffee and the lives of the coffee growers.  Anita Le Roy explains, "The area I wanted to develop focused on origin and quality.  We don't publish vision and mission statements, but we do know what we want to achieve.  The aim of the company is to have a positive impact on quality and price at origin and a positive impact on service and quality for the consumer."  Having only three direct London outlets is a deliberate policy to retain focus on what's important to them.

"The growing number of good independent coffee shops is 
welcome but it's an increase in the number of independent 
roasters that will really raise the bar for good coffee and 
give a better deal to the growers".
Anita Le Roy
Monmouth Coffee

A market for quality coffee has to exist and I asked Anita what she thought was needed to raise customers' expectations for their daily drink.  She told me that although the growing number of independent coffee shops is welcome, "It's an increase in the number of independent roasters that will really raise the bar for good coffee and give a better deal to the growers.  In the 1980's when things were very difficult for us to buy better coffee, with more traceability, I knew what would change things was if there were more roasters asking for high quality.  That would have changed what the suppliers were offering.  Whenever I asked for different coffees I was told no, there was no demand for it".  Throughout the 1980s and 90s "there were so many times when we would show interested people what we were doing.  Jeremy Torz and Steven Macatonia came to see us in the mid-90's before they started supplying the Seattle Coffee Co (they later went on to set up Union Coffee).  It was only about 6-7 years ago that the floodgates opened.  We're really happy about it but I think we still need more roasters."

Coffee Facts:
2009/10 coffee exports US$15.4 billion (est)
2nd most traded commodity after oil
25+ major species of Coffea
60%+ of world production is arabica and canephora (robusta)
26 million workers employed in 52 producing countries

More often than not these days it's beans from one of those Monmouth Colombian coffees that go into my burr grinder.  Currently it's Finca El Guamal grown by Guillermo Libardo Ome at Huila but the coffees come in small lots, so whats on the counter changes regularly.  It's not entirely altruistic on my part as the Colombian coffees Monmouth source are exceptional. Buying better coffee can make a huge difference to the farmers allowing them to invest in the future.  It's what Monmouth Coffee see as "sustainable, fair and equal trade" and it's why these days I'm more thoughtful in my coffee buying habits.

Monmouth Coffee Company

Sources and further reading:
Kew Royal Botanic Gardens
A Coffee Crop Withers by Elisabeth Malkin - The New York Times May 5, 2014

Cøffee Lab & Shop (Nomad Productions), Barcelona

Cøffee Lab & Shop (Nomad Productions)
Passatge de Sert 12, 08003 Barcelona

It has to be said, the coffee scene in Barcelona is still very traditional.  Not that there is anything wrong with tradition, but anyone who has spent time in London is likely to be looking for something different.  The sourcing, roasting, brewing and serving of coffee has developed in leaps and bounds in London over the past few years.  We are spoilt for choice with the likes of Monmouth, Square Mile, Union, Workshop, Nude and more.  It's a coffee scene that is driven and sustained not only by Brits but with a high input from our Antipodean friends and the many others from around the world.

After honing his roasting skills at Nude Espresso and operating his own 'Nomad' coffee cart in London's East End, Jørdi Mestre has now returned to his home city of Barcelona to set up Cøffee Lab & Shop (Nomad Productions).  Opening only a month ago, it's already attracting positive attention.

Sometimes I want a straightforward hit of good coffee to wake me up or provide a boost.  In Barcelona I might head for El Magnífico on Carrer Argenteria.  Sometimes I want to appreciate great coffee as I would a fine wine.  Then I'd turn down the Passatge de Sert in El Born.  I'd sit on a three-legged stool in palely beautiful room and watch the master at work.  He'll grind carefully measured beans from one of his own roasts, use a double filter in an Aeropress for a cleaner flavour. He'll use water at the perfect temperature and when the coffee is made he'll pour just the right amount into a fine ceramic bowl.  Or maybe I'll take a Tallat made with fresh milk (not common in Spain where UHT is the norm).  There will be no sugars or syrups.  It's a place to switch off your phone and laptop and just take a few minutes to appreciate the coffee and have a conversation.

If I lived in Barcelona I know I'd be here every day.  I would visit when I was not in a rush and I'd take time to appreciate the  beautiful simplicity of the place.  Here's a link so that Jørdi can tell you about the Cøffee Lab & Shop in his own words, and thanks to Foodie In Barcelona for pointing me in the right direction on my latest visit to Barcelona.

Cøffee Lab & Shop by Nomad Productions
Passatge Sert 12
08003 El Born
Twitter: @nomadcoffeebcn
Current opening times Mon-Fri, 9.30am-3.30pm
Directions: Passate Sert runs between Carrer de Trafalgar and Carrer de Sant Pere Més Alt


Kaffeine is one of my best independent coffee shop finds in London.  Skilled baristas deliver excellent shots of Square Mile coffee with a Synesso Syncra machine.  Whilst I favour their Piccolos, Kaffeine doesn't confine itself to producing espressos and filters, but offers alternatives of Teapigs teas, cascara (a 'tea' brewed from the normally wasted dried outer layer of the coffee cherry), hot chocolate, and Chegworth juices.  They serve salads, sandwiches and cakes that are more than the 'OK' offerings of many coffee shops.  Antipodean owned, it's a welcome find in 'Fitzrovia', and now open on Sundays.

66 Great Titchfield Street
London W1

Monmouth Coffee

Wathenge Coffee
OK, so Monmouth Coffee is far from a secret, but my aim is to bring you quality, not novelty.  A recent refit, and the arrival of some delicious Lemon Madeleines, is the only excuse I need to remind you what a great place for coffee this Covent Garden resident is.  The shop occupies a tiny space, and there's nothing they can do to change that - I doubt they'd want to.  If you don't fancy take-away (and doesn't coffee taste all the better out of porcelain), the lovely young, knowledgable, mostly arts student, staff will do their best to squeeze you into one of the booths at the back. 

The original treacly wood interior has been stripped out and replaced with untreated oak and some new lighting, making the space much lighter and at least look roomier.  The place has lost none of its charm in the process.  You still get cosy with your neighbours.  If you don't like that, don't go.  Maybe it's the stimulating effect of the drink but, along with a few grumpy encounters, I've had many fascinating conversations whilst knee-to-knee with perfect strangers in here.  True, I've also had to put up with some annoying food bloggers trying to get the perfect photo of a cup of coffee.  I agree with Giles Coren - Stop it!

For my money, Monmouth still sells the best coffee in London.  Owner Anita Le Roy has been running Monmouth for 33 years and is  very much hands-on and as enthusiastic as ever.  She created a vibrant, independent and distinctive coffee company, and it still is.  It shows in the attention to detail and, not least, in the excellent coffee.  There is a growing trend for making a great fuss of the brewing process, generally involving test-tube-like equipment which puts you in mind of a laboratory rather than a coffee shop.  You won't find that here.  No amount of time spent faffing over the beans will compensate for a poor product.  Monmouth source all their coffees personally on regular buying trips around the world.  They make no extravagant claims for their business but personally source from single farms, estates and cooperatives, travelling extensively to do so.  They believe by investing time in building relationships, an equal, fair and sustainable trading policy is achievable.

My favourite filter coffee right know is the Kenyan Wathenge, produced by the New Gaturi Farmers Cooperative Society which has around 1200 members from four villages in the area.  Monmouth's espresso is currently a mix of two Brasilian Fazenda beans, Tunje Grande from Colombia and the Guatemalan Pasajquim.  To take home, you can buy the the freshly roasted beans or have it ground to your requirements.

If you want something to eat with your coffee there is a selection of pastries, Sally Clarke's gorgeous chocolate truffles and, on Thursdays only, the special treat of delicious Lemon Madeleines.  Monmouth  also has a cafe at 2 Park Street, Borough and they open their roasting arch at 34 Maltby Street, Bermondsey as a cafe on Saturdays from 9-2pm.  Now remember, if you go be prepared to share your space and leave room for me.