I get tired of drinking pillar-box-sized over-milky cappuccinos or rubbish burnt-tasting brews, and find inspirational coffee hard to track down. (Starbucks and Costas = double ugh; Nero, Pret and Eat, you are passable but nothing more). The worst coffee I had recently was at Membury Service Station, just off the M4, at their branch of Starbucks. I was desperate for something to wake me up, but their interpretation of a flat white tasted weak, burnt and sad, and I squinted in the neon light at the pallid customers all knackered from driving on the motorway.
Coffee in the UK is getting better, though, and I have got to share Bambino Coffee in South East London with you. The coffee here is the some of best I have drunk in most of the UK, and you won’t feel like you’ve inhaled the Thames after even their biggest size of cuppa. All the coffee here is made with the best quality beans and is served in manageable sizes (4, 6 and 8oz to be precise). The guy running the show is a properly insane coffee nerd – and I do mean that in the nicest possible way!
This straight-talking Kiwi barista (known on his loyalty cards as ‘Anarchista Barista’) installed his coffee machine and a few tables in the front part of Crystal Palace’s vintage shop Bambino earlier this year and locals have been flocking to taste his great coffee from the get-go. The experience of sipping lovely drinks surrounded by vintage oddities really makes me enjoy the wonderful bohemian atmosphere here. You can while away the time people-watching (a mix of old and young, and some fairly eccentric folk wearing fab vintage clothes, grand) and ogling at the great stuff for sale, such as old petrol pumps, leather biker jackets, props, rare vinyl and comics. You can kiss any notion of chain cafe uniformity goodbye – think of a Black Books style atmosphere, without the character Bernard’s drunken hostility*, but where Manny might saunter out from the back of the shop wearing a kimono, asking if you wanted a sandwich.
I digress. A month or two ago, I innocently asked the Kiwi barista for a mocha, and his face clouded over. He shook his head despairingly and prompted me to look at the menu to choose from the Antipodean styles of coffee. No Italiano lattes or macchiatos here – it’s all Long Blacks, and other wondrous sounding brews called the ‘Technivorm’, ‘Red Eye’ and the ‘Split Shot’. I overheard him telling a customer: “I’ve removed all the Italian-isms from the menu, because this is how we drink coffee Down Under, it’s totally different.” Don’t be disheartened if you don’t quite understand the coffee at first – persevere! You will be rewarded with a quite sensational cup of something magical. It will also blow your freaking head off.
The shop – bohemian wondrousness:
Anarchista Barista takes his beans and brewing technique very seriously. He uses beans from small local roastery Volcano Coffee (based down the road in Gipsy Hill), and any other interesting UK independents, such as Square Mile and Bristol-based Extract. He was a chef and a coffee machine servicer for 10 years, so he really knows his stuff. He will grind a bag of coffee beans for you according to what device you are going to use them in at home – he didn’t like the sound of my Braun bean grinder and said he would prefer to grind the beans correctly for my cafetiere. His strictness makes me wonder what would happen if you asked him for a Nescafe – he might well explode!
Here he is making some brews:
Beautiful skull motif on the loyalty cards – Costa Coffee this is not!
My 8oz coffee with milk – a thing of bea-uty!
Church Road Market
London SE19 2ET