Today, as you sip your morning coffee, take a moment to ponder London’s great institutions built under the influence of caffeine. During one of this nation’s many peaks – from the mid-1600s to the early 1700s – our streets were awash with thousands of coffee shops. These replaced taverns as the place to meet and get stuff done (it might help explain why Britain flourished during this period); with each house offering a unique flavour of characters.
Sir Isaac Newton, Edmond Halley (of Halley’s comet fame) and other members of the Royal Society would hang out at Grecian coffee house, while the glorious (John) Dryden held court at Will’s coffee house in Covent Garden. Insurers of the City should know that Edward Lloyd’s coffee house on Tower Street was the place get marine insurance, with the house giving name to what is now world’s preeminent insurance market, Lloyd’s of London.
But by the mid-1700s tea trumped coffee and private clubs replaced the more open coffee houses. Londoners had to wait until the 1990s to get a coffee renaissance, with the first Starbucks hitting the King’s Road, Chelsea in 1998.
Although it makes for a less productive beverage, alcohol and coffee complement each other nicely. Italians have their caffè corretto (a shot of espresso with grappa, sambuca or brandy); the Irish have their imaginatively named Irish coffee (Irish whiskey, coffee, cream and sugar); and the Spanish have their Carajillo (coffee with brandy, anisette, whisky or rum).
Probably the most famous coffee cocktail on the market is the Espresso Martini – a global superstar invented in this great city by legendary bartender Dick Bradsell. Although the Espresso Martini is simply a mix of vodka, espresso and coffee liqueur, it’s surprising how sharply the quality varies. The key variable is the quality of the coffee, so suss out the coffee machine and beans before ordering one.
And anyway, despite its dominance, the Espresso Martini isn’t the last word in coffee cocktails. Here are three others worth trying:
Devonshire Express @ Anise Bar, Cinnamon Kitchen
Cinnamon Kitchen is the City’s sister restaurant of the newly refurbished Cinnamon Club in Westminster. The Devonshire Express is based on an Espresso Martini with a little rum and the added complexity of cardamom. The slight smokiness of cardamom complements the coffee – which explains why Turkish coffee sometimes uses cardamom – making this an tasty twist on the classic.
Café Millonario @ Sushisamba
The ingenious Rich Woods entirely replaces the vodka of an Espresso Martini with rum. But it’s not quite as simple as that. First, he infuses coffee beans in a bottle of Bacardi Carta Negra, shaking the bottle regularly. He then shakes this with tonka beans that have been infused with maple syrup, Mozart dark chocolate liqueur, espresso and couple of dashes of chocolate bitters before it’s ready to hit your glass.
Koffie? @ Discount Suit Company
For a long time I thought the Discount Suit Company was a discount suit company. It’s not. I’m not entirely sure why this cocktail has a Dutch name or why it ends with a question mark, but be assured your cocktail contains nothing more nefarious than alcohol. Koffie? is made with cold brew coffee, which, as the name suggests, is coffee brewed cold. Although this might sound like needless pretence let me assure you that it’s brilliant and well worth trying. Koffie? also contains Bols Genever, Galliano Ristretto, Amaretto, Fernet Branca and Orgeat – some the best cocktail ingredients known to man, woman or child.