The Peanut Vendor

In London, as the months march on and draw further away from the peak of summer, we have to enjoy whatever periods of sunshine we are given. I think we’ve been especially lucky this year in regards to weather—in my 5 (!!) years here, I can’t really remember a nicer summer. But the last week or two we’ve had premonitions of autumn: a cloudy, rainy day that makes us begrudgingly take out our umbrellas, followed by sunny days that have that particular crisp, clear tang of summer sliding into fall. Outside Euston station, the giant trees have already begun to carpet the park in various shades of rust and gold.

Forgive me if I’m pointing out the patently obvious—of course anyone else in this city is going to be heading out this weekend to enjoy the weather, as it is meant to be glorious. But I did have a particular recommendation in mind, one that had been on my radar for a few weeks that I had ignored until last weekend. I don’t want you to make the same mistake.

Victoria Park is a popular destination for East Londoners on the weekend, as is readily evidenced by the crowds of people at the boating lake and the Pavilion Cafe. I’m sure many people who visit the park think of it as the only place to stop and have an al fresco iced latte in the sun, and before this summer they would have been correct. Now, though, there’s a new option, hidden a bit further down towards the Bow end of the park: an option for those who want to avoid the throngs of people around the pavilion and enjoy their latte quietly over a copy of their favourite weekend supplement or novel.

The Peanut Vendor sits sandwiched between Old Ford Road and Hertford Union Canal, surrounded by blocks of flats that manage to feel vaguely Scandinavian despite the fact that they are in Bow. Perhaps it’s the influence of viewing them from inside the furniture store-cum-café, which would feel perfectly at home on the streets of Copenhagen or Gothenburg. Though The Peanut Vendor has existed since 2008, they have only been in this space since this year, moving from Newington Green. They specialise in vintage furniture, dotted through with modern home comforts such as Meticulous Ink notebooks, Compagnie de Provence soaps, and succulents in a variety of receptacles. If you had only seen the perfect curation of The Peanut Vendor’s homewares side of the store, you might think it obvious that they would be able to open a beautifully-designed café. But even the most gorgeous cafés aren’t worth much if they don’t have the coffee bite to back up their design bark. Thankfully, it is clear that the owners did their due diligence and research in the world of coffee.

Here you’ll find coffee provided by Alchemy—in my personal opinion, one of the best roasters in London that you might never hear about unless you live here—and some of the creamiest, most delicious milk in the entire UK from Northiam Dairy. Head barista Piotr Markowski, formerly of Prufrock, has made sure that the entire staff of baristas is well-trained: even though he was not in when I visited, I still received an excellent coffee. In addition to the coffee, The Peanut Vendor keeps standards high in offering a selection of Good & Proper teas and pastries (including that kouign amann) from Yeast Bakery. For anyone visiting around lunchtime, I would urge you to not leave before eating the kimchi grilled cheese on sourdough—one of the most perfect sandwiches I’ve ever had, absolutely bursting with strong flavours—though perhaps not paired with your coffee.

Many cafés strive for that perfect combination of quality, design, location, atmosphere, service, etc… Where they excel in some aspects, they can fall short in others, often in ways that are too glaring to overlook. When you find a café that seems to tick every box, then it’s worth shining a light on them make sure they get the attention the deserve. Luckily, my visit to The Peanut Vendor was as close to “contented weekend perfection” as I could get, and it’s close enough to be considered my local. If you’re looking for a new café in which to while away the hours, or a place to score your caffeine hit before a pleasant meander through Victoria Park, then I’d encourage you to head over to The Peanut Vendor and experience it for yourself—especially while we Londoners are still allotted our seasonable sunshine.

Mid-2014 London Coffee Update

It’s an undeniably exciting time for London coffee. New shops are popping up like daisies as enterprising coffee lovers take the leap into business ownership; already established cafes are taking their first steps towards expansion, or adding another location to a quickly growing roster.

It’s a Sisyphean task, trying to keep on top of London coffee news. Just as soon as you think you’ve heard all the latest, something else happens. What’s that? You managed to visit 2 of the new places on your list this weekend? That’s cool. Here are 4 more that opened.

As I write this post, I feel a bit of a thrill that we’re so spoiled for choice; I also feel a bit of despair to know that by the time I return to London in October, I’ll be so completely out of the loop and behind on things that it’ll be pointless to try and catch up. So while I’m gone, you’ll all have to keep up for me and let me know what the “must visit” places are when I get back.

But enough waffling. On to the interesting stuff.

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White Mulberries

I’m going to tell you about one of London’s best kept secrets. Well… okay, that may have been the case last week, but I guess I can’t really claim that anymore. White Mulberries recently won London’s Best Coffee Shop in the (seemingly out of the blue) Coffee Stop Awards and has been featured on the Evening Standard and London Live. Awards aside, though, White Mulberries is the kind of coffee shop that was quietly puttering away in their own corner of London, not making much fuss, but doing things very well. It was a hidden gem of a shop, and though those of us that knew about it before may grumble at the potential rush and lack of seats, I won’t begrudge them their newfound fame and increased revenue. It’s still very much a gem, just not so much a hidden one anymore.

One obstacle you have to face when visiting White Mulberries is navigating the potentially confusing maze that it St Katharine’s Docks. It’s ok, I got your back. Let me show you:

Being a Southerner (both in the US and in London), I approached St Katharine’s Docks by walking across Tower Bridge, admiring its beauty in the spring sunshine.

Just over Tower Bridge, you’ll see a set of stairs going down to the riverside, right next to the Guoman Hotel. You’ll be faced with a choice, dear coffee drinking friend – there is a Starbucks right there, staring you in the face. Walk past it to the left, into the dock area, and continue on towards the forest of boat masts.

Follow the path as it curves left, sticking to the water’s edge. Soon enough you’ll be faced with another choice – behold! Another Starbucks. But your iron will shall soon be rewarded, if you continue on but a little further. Cross the bridge just beyond the turret-like cafe and you’ll come to a twee little row of shops and restaurants looking out over the assembly of yachts. Congratulations – you’ve made it past the gatekeepers and passed the test. You’ve found White Mulberries. You have chosen…. wisely.

White Mulberries is the kind of cafe that feels homey the instant you walk into it. From outside, where a smattering of tables and chairs offer waterside coffee-drinking opportunities, you can see that most of the small shop is mostly taken up by their counter with its array of cakes, pastries, cronuts (oh yes), and small savoury offerings. There are a few seats in the window at the front and a few along the lefthand wall, which is currently home to a few pieces from the Coffee Art Project.

Owners Peyman and Rana and their friendly baristas pull their shots on a gorgeous enamel white, 2-group La Marzocco FB80. Their V60 and Aeropress array sits behind them on the counter, quietly waiting and ready in case you decide to try one of their filter coffees. Their grinders, three for the two different espressos and one for decaf, are not labelled with coffee varieties or roaster names that may be unintelligible for non-coffee nerds. Instead, they are helpfully labelled with tasting notes to help you decide which you might want in your coffee.

Noticing all the big, beautifully labelled Koppi bags lining the shelves, I went with that choice for mine and Rob’s lattes. This is a new espresso blend from Koppi called Red Clay, comprising 20% Costa Rica Santa Rosa and 80% Brazil Don Nenem. The resulting drink was a latte where the bold, full-bodied, smooth espresso shone through despite the amount of milk. It had natural sweetness, notes of toffee and almond, and a cheeky boozy, bourbon-like aftertaste. It reminded me of the bourbon caramel latte I had back home in Auburn at Mama Mocha’s, except this was simply the milk and coffee tangoing together in tasty harmony.

The milk is steamed to perfection – not too hot or too cold – and even though we let our lattes sit as we chatted, they never became bubbly. Our lovely latte art stuck around right until the very last sip.

Though this is a shop dedicated to that lovely stuff we call “coffee”, staunch British tea drinks need not fear. They’ve got that down pat as well. “So very English”, indeed.

Whether you’re a coffee or tea drinker, I highly recommend making the pilgrimage to White Mulberries, especially on a sunny spring day like we’ll (hopefully) be seeing a lot more of now.

White Mulberries
D3 Ivory House
St Katharine’s Docks
E1W 1AT

Mon – Fri 7 am  – 6 pm
Sat 8 am – 6 pm
Sun 9 am – 6 pm

Birmingham Two Ways: Part 2, BLOC Hotel & York’s Bakery

If Hotel du Vin isn’t your thing, or you’d like a cheaper alternative for your stay in Birmingham, then BLOC Hotel might be the answer you’re looking for. Might. Ah, what to say about BLOC? It’s a very interesting concept: adapting ideas from the best design in hotels around the world, and distilling down into a more cost-effective option. BLOC seeks to offer pared-down chic at great prices.

When Chloe and I went to book our rooms for the SCAE superheat, it was very last minute. Checking price comparison websites for hotels in Birmingham turned up a pretty scary spread – most of the hotels were over £70 at this point, even the Travelodge. I’ve stayed in Travelodges before and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that I’m not paying £70 for the “privilege”. I was pointed in the direction of BLOC Hotel and to my surprise, their rooms were much cheaper than almost anywhere else we could have stayed that didn’t look totally run down and scary, or was 30 minutes outside of town. I booked it, told Chloe our rooms were sorted, and prepared myself for 4 intense days of photos.

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Birmingham Two Ways: Part 1, Hotel du Vin

Last month I had the pleasure of visiting England’s “second city”, Birmingham, for the UK Barista Championship “superheats” (which I covered for Sprudge with Nico Halliday – read about it here, here, and here). I also had the pleasure of staying in what is possibly Birmingham’s finest hotel: Hotel du Vin. What a name – it conjures an image of luxury already, doesn’t it? The “boutique” hotel chain is anything but your average chain. Each hotel is sui generis, true to the particular history and architecture of its chosen city and location, from Grade II-listed warehouses in Bristol, to a former asylum in Edinburgh, to the former home of a shipping company in Newcastle.

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M1lk, Balham

Food on social media is a double-edged sword. It can tantalize and inspire, like when Clerkenwell Boy posts endless montages of picture-perfect brunches or THOSE donuts; or it can be a sad, washed out train wreck of ill-lit food, which may or may not have looked appetizing before it was attacked with an iPhone – we may never know. In both cases it can be equally as torturous to take in such images. Personally, I had been waking every weekend to such torture in the form of M1lk’s Instagram feed, filled with mouthwatering descriptions and carefully styled photos of their pancakes. Never the same from week to week, I watched a parade of these beauties pass before my eyes:  “buckwheat pancakes with bananas, caramel, toasted almonds, Nesquick mascarpone”; “buckwheat pancakes with blood orange jam, hazelnut popcorn brittle, vanilla bean mascarpone”; “buckwheat pancakes with banana, Oreo mascarpone, almond macadamia brittle, Nutella caramel”; “buckwheat pancakes with burnt apple, milk marshmallow, lemon verbena, lavender”. Clearly, there’s a mad genius locked away down there in Balham, churning out these pancake combos like no one else in London. My will power failed me last weekend and I decided it was high time to go check out what was going on all the way out in Zone 3.

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Craft Coffee, Sclater Street

Like caffeine-loving bears, the duo behind Craft Coffee have decided to move indoors into a cozy new shop to hibernate for the winter. Instead of expanding their business to include multiple outdoor coffee carts, these Maltby Street fixations have decided to look for a more permanent and sheltered spot to serve their drinks from.

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Nordic Barista Cup 2013: The Beginning

Yesterday marked the beginning of one of the top coffee conferences in the world – the Nordic Barista Cup. If you haven’t made it down, don’t worry – here are a few pictures and links to help keep you up to date on the proceedings.

This year’s event is being held in Oslo, the third time the city has hosted the event. The focus country for this year is Brazil; this means that the coffees being used are all Brazilian and the focus charity is in Brazil.

First of all, you need to meet the teams who are competing this year. Each team comprises three baristas from the country, as well as a Brazilian barista. View Post