It’s official – the world’s best coffee-maker of 2009 is in London, and he’s hidden away behind a flower market.
The ever-popular Gwilym Davies won the UK Barista Championship in 2009, then flew to Atlanta and – to the delight of his fans back home – picked up the title of World Barista Champion.
You might expect to find him behind a swish coffee bar, or running a prestigious roastery (like 2007 World Champion, James Hoffman). In fact, Gwilym can be found in the corner of a flea market behind Columbia Road, running a nameless coffee cart.
I was delighted to meet Gwilym, despite torrential rain trying persistently to dampen my spirits. I also had the pleasure of bumping into James of Square Mile (see above). It was Square Mile coffee in Gwilym’s world-beating cups, and the same roastery supplies the beans for Gwilym’s cart.
The coffee was wonderful – even my non-coffee-drinking girlfriend thought so. It is extracted from the same machine that helped Gwilym to his world title.
This is the humble setting for the best barista in the world, and a wonderful testament to the quality of coffee in London and the UK. It was a pleasure to meet those involved.
This isn’t a coffee shop, and it’s not cosy. Sometimes there are queues, and it might not be Gwilym pulling the shots. But it’s well worth a visit for those readers who favour great coffee over comfy sofas.
NB: Sundays 8am – 2pm only!
Gwilym is a hard man to track down. To find him at other times check out the “Tracking World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies” article at the excellent Young And Foodish blog.
7B Ezra Street
nr Columbia Road Flower Market
We visited on 29 November 2009.
Gwilym Davies (barista)
Gwilym Rhys Davies (born February 1967) is a British barista.
Davies was born in Cheltenham, England, and grew up in Leeds, Yorkshire. Davies won the World Barista Championship in Atlanta, USA in April 2009. Becoming well known for his coffee carts on Whitecross Street and Columbia Road as well as having started the Prufrock coffee shop in Present on Shoreditch High Street.
- ^ “Gwilym Davies in podcast bio recorded at his Whitecross Market coffee cart”. astarbarista.blogspot.com. 14 April 2008. Retrieved 9 January2011.
- ^ “Briton Crowned Generalissimo of Coffee”. Reuters Press. 20 April 2009. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
- ^ “Tracking World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies & best street coffee in London”. Young & Foodish. 23 May 2009. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
- ^ “Prufrock’s website”. Prufrock. 9 January 2011. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
London Sips a Different Cup
By OLIVER STRAND
IF the Nuova Simonelli espresso machine on the counter at Present, an airy men’s clothing store in East London, seems a little extra shiny, that’s because it’s a trophy: Gwilym Davies won it at last year’s World Barista Championship.
Not only is the chrome-plated machine real, the lush and plummy espressos pulled from the old-style levers are so flavorful you won’t mind the paper cups. Mr. Davies calls the makeshift setup Prufrock Coffee (140 Shoreditch High Street; no phone), and he can be found there on weekends. During the week, the machine is staffed by Mattias Björklund, whose disheveled good looks are matched by an impressive coffee résumé: he’s the reigning barista champion of Sweden.
Yes, there is such a thing as competitive espresso, and it’s taken seriously within the profession. So is London’s emerging status as a coffee town. (The 2010 World Barista Championship, a sort of World Cup for coffee, will be held there this June.) Though chains like Costa and Starbucks still dominate, a few dozen independent shops scattered around the city form a lively scene that still feels underground even as it acquires a global reputation.
The championship made Mr. Davies something of a cult figure, and he’s using that notoriety to champion other accomplished baristas around town by offering the mischievously named Dis-loyalty Card: get coffee at eight different establishments he admires, and he’ll make the ninth drink for free at his nameless pushcart at the Whitecross Street Market (whitecrossstreet.co.uk).
Need more evidence that London is a serious coffee town? Mr. Davies is actually England’s third consecutive world barista champion. The first was James Hoffmann, who started Square Mile Coffee Roasters (squaremilecoffee.com) in 2008 with Anette Moldvaer, another award-winning coffee taster. It’s a small operation, recently relocated to an arched vault under some train tracks in East London.
Today, Square Mile’s matte black bags of beans have become shorthand for quality. They supply beans to Milk Bar(3 Bateman Street; 44-20-7287-4796), a Soho coffee bar just opened by the same team behind Flat White (17 Berwick Street; 44-20-7734-0370; flat-white.co.uk).
Though it’s recently been co-opted by chain stores, the “flat white” is also a symbol of serious coffee: it’s basically a cappuccino-size latte — flat and white — a style imported from Australia (some say New Zealand) when a wave of baristas emigrated from those countries. (Australians and New Zealanders are to espresso what Russians are to chess: they’re just better at it.)
Still, independent stores continue to appear in all corners of the city. Last year, the Espresso Room (31 Great Ormond Street; 44-20-7932-137-380; theespressoroom.com) opened in a truly tiny Bloomsbury storefront. Yet the owner Ben Townsend manages to fit a Marzocco espresso machine, some benches and a case with pastries from & Clarke’s Bread.
And farther north in Islington, a shop called Tina, We Salute You (47 King Henry’s Walk; 44-20-3119-0047; tinawesaluteyou.com) opened last February. (According to the owners, the name comes from a daily greeting they give to a cheesecake portrait of a curvy subject named Tina.) It’s a neighborhood spot with effortless style: mismatched china, a battered midcentury leather couch by the window. And the expertly crafted cappuccinos you can now expect to find in London.