IN 17th century Britain, coffee houses sprung up across London. Idle gossip, radical ideas and business matters were traded freely between men of diverse wealth and class. Unsurprisingly, those with the most to lose were not keen on this outpouring of freedom. Charles II’s edict tried to rid the country of the “very evil and dangerous effects” of the coffee house. But despite his “divine right”, the not-so-Merry Monarch was ignored and coffee houses proliferated. We’ve all been a little high ever since.
Many of the City’s great institutions have their foundations in coffee houses. Most notably, Lloyd’s of London started life as Lloyd’s Coffee House on Tower Street. And the caffeine pumping through Londoners was just the stimulus needed to kick-start a great trading nation, sustain an empire and fuel an industrial revolution. To this day, we in the City take a collective gulp of the brown stuff to fuel our bodies and, as if guided by an invisible hand, the British economy.
Coffee is the ying to alcohol’s yang. Coffee picks you up in the morning, then alcohol takes the edge off in the evening. Thankfully, both drinks have improved immeasurably over recent years. Just 10 years ago, Gerry’s on Old Compton Street was just about the only place you could get hold of many spirits; while the Algerian Coffee Store, on the same road, and Monmouth Coffee were exceptional as places to get a decent cup of coffee. Although most people still binge on tasteless lager and brown water passing for coffee, there are now many options for anyone with taste (buds).
One place (or two: Exmouth market and King’s Cross, to be precise) that serves both a decent brew and cocktail is Caravan. The restaurant, bar and coffee roastery takes its coffee seriously, which is why its Espresso Martini is so good. Caravan uses its market blend of coffee: La Marianela Estate from Colombia and Fazenda Ouro Verde from Brazil.
The Espresso Martini is a British invention and was first created by Dick Bradsell – arguably the most influential British bartender of the modern era – in 1983 under the name of Vodka Espresso at the Soho Brasserie. The quality of the coffee used in the drink matters. Miles Kirby, Caravan’s co-owner, executive chef and head roaster, explains that “when coffee is served cold, the quality of bean origin, processing, roast and extraction becomes more apparent.” If you’re making coffee at home, he suggests opting for filter prepared in a Chemex or Aeropress.
Of course, the alcohol in the Espresso Martini might thwart your chances of setting up something to challenge the world’s pre-eminent syndicate for insuring against risks – but it tastes rather good alongside a nice dessert.
■ 2 shots of espresso
■ 25ml Kahlua
■ 50ml vodka
■ 10ml sugar syrup
■ 2 drops of coffee bitters (made in house at Caravan)
• Shake ingredients over ice
• Serve in a chilled martini glass
• Garnish with three coffee beans