The third wave of coffee in London

In the British capital there are plenty of small, independent roasters. A few Italians are playing their part

13-01-2019 | 07:00
Terrone, well known, independent coffee roasters i

Terrone, well known, independent coffee roasters in London (Leo, left and Edy, right) 

In London these days the coffee is good; the quality and the choice are excellent. But it has not always been the case. In fact, when we moved here in the early 90s, getting a good espresso was a rather rare experience. Italians on holiday went looking for Italian bars in the West End (among all the Bar Italia, open in Frith Street in 1946, an icon of the swinging London); the British were content with watered down instant coffee preferring a cuppa (cup of tea) with their breakfast.

Slowly, in the following years cappuccinos and caffellatte began to appear, the latter so difficult to pronounce that it soon became simply latte ('milk'). For a while now, however, the Italian espressos and cappuccinos have given way to what is called 'third wave': a rather powerful wave that has brought forward a way of making coffee literally at the antipodes of the Italian one. It is in fact from Australia that, to the shores of the United Kingdom, the "current" that has changed the fruition of coffee has arrived, bringing with it new styles, new qualitative criteria and some fancy habits: flat white and piccolo, single origin of the beans, specialty roasting, slightly acidic taste and latte art.

No longer a quick dash to the coffee counter to down an espresso but an altogether different experience, almost only for connoisseurs. There's even a TV spot from a fast food chain that mocks the slight snobbery of the "third wave" in a really funny way. In short, coffee has become trendy.

Simone Guerini Rocco (right) and Roberto d'Alessandro (left), 80 Stone Coffee Roasters

Simone Guerini Rocco (right) and Roberto d'Alessandro (left), 80 Stone Coffee Roasters

Beyond the long beards, piercings and tattoos of Shoreditch's hipster baristas, the quality of the artisan products of small independent coffee roasters is high and we continue to drink a good coffee in London and beyond.

Specialty coffee shops are in fact not only found in the cities but also in the small centres across Great Britain. Those of us with a few more years behind us have had to adapt a little, accepting that in our cup there is usually 100% Arabica, welcoming more modern extraction techniques with sometimes curious names - V60, French press - and betraying our cappuccino with a flat white.

And what has happened to the Italians? Fear not, even in the third wave they are doing very well and many of our compatriots are committed to offering a coffee worthy of note to the London public. Edy Piro, born in Salerno, brings his beans to London; when he started, he used to roast them in a vintage machine in the Italian countryside. He called his coffee, with a touch of defiant pride, Terrone:  in Italian the word is a derogatory way of calling the people from the South ('peasants').

Terrone can be enjoyed today in a large number of restaurants and bars in the capital (not just Italian). If you visit Netil Market on Saturday (a famous street food and craft market in Hackney), be sure to stop by its stand (the first 'official' store in town). Leo will make you an excellent espresso and, if you happen to be here at the right time, he will also prepare a proper Spritz.

Otherwise, if you're in Fulham or near Waterloo, get a coffee from 80 Stone Coffee Roasters. The name might be English, but the company is very much Italian. The two owners are Simone and Roberto; after meeting in the English capital in 2006, they went separate ways: Roberto in Verona managing a wine bar, Simone in Central America working for a coffee exporter. In 2012 they found themselves back in London and decided to get into business together: they opened the first shop in Fulham in 2013, followed by the St Georges Circus branch about a year ago.

IThe coffee they sell has been roasted by them since 2015, and they are constantly testing new origins, new beans and new blends. Simone has coffee in his blood, as he grew up in his parents' bar in Crema (quirky anecdote: it appears in a scene in the film "Call me by your name" by Guadagnino).

It was only natural that one day he would follow his parents' footsteps, yet at some point changing direction in terms of taste and blends. The speciality coffee scene that started growing in London from the very beginning of 2010 in fact influenced Simone and Roberto more than the Italian tradition with which they had started working in the sector.

"The way we toasted and distributed coffee in Italy was very different - he says - for example, we waited at least a month after roasting before selling the beans, while in the UK we always sell the freshest coffee possible". It also adds that here they use only 100% Arabica, leaving the blends with the Robusta to the Italian market.

Working here in London, what changes have you noticed in our country in the last few years? "In the last 12 years living here, we’ve noticed a large number of Italians picking up some of the speciality coffee trends in London and bringing them back to Italy. In the last few years our country has been doing a lot better in the World Barista Championships, and that makes me really proud"

The 90s are far away. And in terms of coffee, at least, we do not miss them.


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