Pact Coffee is a speciality coffee delivery startup. They recently raised a round of venture capital so during my last week in London before moving to New York I went to meet with the team and hear about their vision to bring good coffee to the masses. I visited Pact on a crisp sunny autumn afternoon. Their offices and packing operation are tucked away in a light industrial complex in Bermondsey just south of the Thames River.
The industrial complex that Pact is based in is owned by Club Workspace and is actually a loose affiliation of startups that have physical product businesses (instead of the tech-only startups that I’m used to in my day-job). Pact has deliberately located there, partially out of necessity, because they’re packing coffee (soon to be roasting as well), and also out of preference because they enjoy being surrounded by other entrepreneurial businesses who are also trading in physical products.
The origins of the flat white are hotly contested. Both Australia and New Zealand claim to have coined the term. And while I’ve previously written a summary of the various definitions of the flat white, to really understand the origins of the term, we need to go back in time to the 1980s.
My theory is that the origin of the flat white is the humble coffee mug.
I think the flat white was an attempt to get cafes to make the sort of coffee that New Zealanders were used to making at home. To understand why this is, we need to go back to how coffee was made in the home in New Zealand before cafes became a popular place to hang out.
Black and white coffee at home
The basic convention for describing coffee prepared at home in New Zealand is to refer to coffee without milk as black and coffee with milk as white. So a common question you would ask a guest is “Would you like your coffee black or white?” Continue reading
When I first arrived in London I tried using FourSquare and TripAdvisor to find good cafes. But it was too confusing because every search for “coffee” returned so many hits that I couldn’t get a sense for the best places to go.
The London’s Best Coffee App is made by Blue Crow Media.
Luckily I found a couple of iPhone applications that transformed my experience of exploring London to find new cafes. The London Coffee Map and London’s Best Coffee are the two apps I use the most to find new cafes. So you can imagine my excitement when I joined the equity crowdfunding platform Seedrs in January and discovered that the makers of London’s Best Coffee were raising investment for their business through Seedrs. Continue reading
The reason that I love reviewing cafes isn’t as much the coffee as it is the excuse to explore new parts of London and to go on an adventure. You could pick almost any type of destination and make it into an urban orienteering adventure.
Visiting small cafes is a great way of seeing a new city.
Small independent cafes are usually hidden away in interesting neighbourhoods so hunting for good coffee is a good way of hunting for the cultural heart of a city. When I travel I always go searching for a flat white. – Even if I fail, the effort leads me down interesting alleyways in new neighbourhoods.
Last weekend I ran to Sacred Cafe in Caledonia Rd (only an hour from Clerkenwell) but a fun way of breaking up a long run. It got me thinking about cafes as “destinations” for exploring. So I did a little research and thought back on my early days in London when we franticly ran around the city trying to visit as many places as possible.
Tim Chester from NME did a multi-day pilgrimage across London in the Great Flat White Hunt. He had some comments, quite rightly, about Taylor Street Baristas and Dose not being places to linger. But when you are coffee orienteering then it doesn’t matter. Tim also made a Google Map of the cafes he visited.
There are several good routes to take around London. For example, Nick Wade’s Disloyalty Card is a great excuse to explore.
Taylor Street Baristas are one of the sharpest commercial operators in the London coffee scene. Everything from their property investment relationships to the partnership with Tescos speaks to a team that wants to build a serious business. They have also managed to remain serious about their coffee. The Taylor St Baristas pop-up in Shoreditch was my local when I worked for a web design agency back when I first arrived in London.
Mr Porter have offered to shout people a coffee at Taylor St Baristas
This week Taylor Street Baristas have partnered with online fashion retailer Mr Porter to offer free coffee between 8am and 10am at a few of their locations between 23 September and 27 September. The last one is at Taylor Street Baristas Liverpool Street on 27 September. It’s a fun little marketing stunt that I hope continues on as a long term relationship between the two brands.
I went flat white hunting in Yorkshire in 2012 so I was excited to receive a guest review of Baltzersens in Harrogate from local Northerner Paul Holland:
When I heard Lord Howell’s pronouncement that there were “large, uninhabited and desolate areas” in the North East of England I dared to hope that the House of Lords had finally begun to address the issue that it’s pretty grim up north for coffee drinkers.
Baltzersens cafe in the North of England (Photo from www.baltzersens.co.uk)
Hurrah I thought, no more sour under-extracted shots, no more no-look tamping while they watch a customer eating a bap, yes I said bap, no more spotty teenagers leaving the milk jug under the wand, only to wander off to talk about some celebrity with their workmates. I thought the time for well-crafted coffee had arrived and the honourable Lords were going to bloody well do something about it.
For the last couple of months I’ve been working from the Innovation Warehouse in Farringdon. The Innovation Warehouse provides free filter coffee, 50 pence espresso pods and hot water for members to use in their Aeropress and plungers. Each member has their own coffee routine. One of the startups has a tradition of grinding fresh Monmouth coffee if they have a particularly big day coming up. But sometimes there is no substitute for a flat white or a real espresso.
Dose Espresso is the perfect place for a meeting in Farringdon/Clerkenwell/Barbican.
I asked some of the other members where they go for coffee in Farringdon and compiled their suggestions into a list based on the things that entrepreneurs most need in a cafe. Continue reading
We went to Copenhagen especially to go to Noma but discovered a surprisingly evolved coffee culture. Denmark has lots of coffee shops because it’s so cold and dark in Winter. Going out for coffee with friends seems to be a national pastime because it gives you an excuse to get out of the house. When the weather improves, it’s still nice to have coffee in Copenhagen and the city really comes to life.
The best flat white in Denmark at Coffee Collective Copenhagen.
Noma was voted as the best restaurant in the world for a few years running. They recently had a food safety issue, but it’s still an amazing restaurant. A real culinary adventure. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the creativity was truly inspiring. While in Copenhagen we went exploring to find the best Flat White in Denmark.