Alchemy Coffee – London (UK)
These guys don’t just have lattes. They have real coffee. You know?
Tucked away behind St. Paul’s cathedral and only open during the week (currently) is the small but surprising outlet of one of London’s finest boutique coffee roasters. Due to a slight miscommunication with owner Joe O’Hara I thought I was looking for the roastery but as it turns out that one is located close to Wimbledon and indeed Joe wasn’t there when I visited. He was at the London Coffee Festival, as I should have been. I was still going obviously but when you get off an early morning flight from Amsterdam you first need a quiet coffee before hitting the madness of the festival and I don’t think there is a law to say you can’t be sipping good coffee while being a sardine on the morning rush hour tube.
So after I popped into Alchemy’s outlet and got over the initial confusion about the roastery and Joe’s absence I settled on one of the bar stools by the window to take in the morning coffee action. It was quite interesting to just be a fly on the wall and listen to the interaction between the baristas and the various people ordering coffees. As Paul later explained to me: “It doesn’t matter who you are or what coffee you want, we will always tell you which coffees we have on offer at each given moment so the customer a bit of an idea of what goes into the cup. We don’t just serve lattes or cappuccinos. We serve coffees with a story and we want our customers to learn about them.” Indeed no one walked out of there without first staring at the chalkboard behind the bar and making an “informed decision” as corporate slang goes.
When it was my turn to make that choice, I asked Paul to explain to me what my options were for a nice aeropress. I found two Indonesian coffees including a Sulawesi Toarco Tana Toraja as well as a Rwandan Buf Remera Nayamagabe. Personally I am not hugely fond of Indonesian coffees therefore my choice was easy. But as is always the danger with coffees from Rwanda and Burundi, potato rust had to make a cheeky appearance that morning, didn’t it?
Paul and I discovered a bad little bean that had somehow crept into my cup and had a go at my lovely coffee. Sometimes a single bean in a perfect batch can affect your cup. On a recent visit to one of my favourite roasteries in Amsterdam the same thing happened with a coffee from Burundi. After it was brewed and the roaster came back into his shop he immediately exclaimed: “I smell potato rust! Put the coffee down NOW!” It always acts as a reminder that coffee is a very delicate product that really requires a lot of attention to detail. And it also highlights how large scale roasters simply cannot avoid putting bad crops into their coffees because it’s simply not possible at that level. Thus, better buy from small local roasteries.
When my second cup of coffee came it was a hole different story. True to their name, Alchemy serve their coffees in cute chemistry bottles that make you feel like you are about to drink a magic potion. I gave it a good swirl before pouring some into my cup and enjoying the gorgeous smell of a truly beautiful coffee. It also tasted divine.
Alchemy are less about the “come with your laptop and sit here all day” idea than about the “come in, learn something great about coffee and leave with the best cup we can make for you” philosophy. I do quite like that, personally. Often I find that cafés attract too many pretentious hipsters who care less about the coffee than checking in somewhere and telling all their friends how cool they are.
Interestingly enough however, Alchemy are soon going to open a new location inside the new UK headquarters of … wait for it … Facebook. After I left shop and rushed over to the London Coffee Festival where I finally got to shake hands with Joe I got some more details on Alchemy’s expansion policy. As Joe told me over a cup of cold brew Colombia El Recuerdo Huila: “We are all about creating a conversation about coffee. Facebook is all about creating a conversation in general. I think it will be a very interesting venture and we’re all quite excited.” It’s not the first time I have heard that someone teams up with a Silicon Valley company to serve great coffee, although it’s the first time I heard of this happening in Europe. While Alchemy are still quite a young company on the whole, they are already being named as one of the local roasters to watch.
Considering their attention to detail and their goal to directly trade as many coffees as they can in the very near future, it wouldn’t surprise me if Alchemy soon become a much bigger name in the local scene. I for one left Joe and his Alchemy stand at the London Coffee Festival with a very good feeling that we’ll be hearing a lot more from them, even here in continental Europe but how exactly, we’ll have to wait and see.