Tag Archives: coffee

David Abrahamovitch

David Abrahamovitch


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Dan Court


“We were good customers, with experience in what mattered. We understood what looked good, what felt right and what worked…”

Since his father died unexpectedly five years ago, leaving him with a dwindling mobile phone business on the Old Street roundabout, David Abrahamovitch has gone on to become one of the leading entrepreneurs on London’s café scene. Breathing new life into his father’s old phone shop – from which Shoreditch Grind was born – was just the start of David’s journey, one fuelled by passion for the coffee industry and a sense of possibility.

As we sit and discuss the ever-expanding Grind & Co., David demonstrates his newly developed Grind App, which enables customers to order their coffee en route and skip the queue. “It defaults to your nearest location; you select your coffee and customise it ready for collection,” he says. “It’s taken us so long to develop this. It’s primarily developed for takeaway, for the Londoner on the go.” He sips a piccolo as I down a flat white in the basement of Soho Grind. David, who’s also featured in Investec Private Banking’s Restless Spirits campaign, has his life centred around Soho and the West End; we discuss evenings spent at Soho House, the changing face of Beak Street and the café scene in the neighbourhood.

He was born into an entrepreneurial family. His father, also called David, operated a mobile phone business and bought the domain name mobilephones.com – a valuable asset – in the 1990s. On completing an economics degree at University College London, David helped found legal claims firm InterResolve, beginning his love affair with creating things. He met his business partner Kaz James, DJ and former band member of BodyRockers, at King’s Cross nightclub The Cross, and their friendship became the foundation of a new venture. Even with no previous experience in hospitality, the two were ambitious, with Australian James seeking to bring Melbourne’s café culture and love of independent coffee to London and David determined to take on major chains like Starbucks.

Their fledgling venture begun to take shape at what had been David’s father’s phone shop on the Old Street roundabout. “Essentially, my father left me with a declining mobile phone firm, that I had to turn around,” says David. “I worked in there when I was 13 with my Dad selling phones. After meeting Kaz, it became our first outlet, Shoreditch Grind. Kaz always went on about the coffee shops back home in Melbourne, and he and I joked about doing it here. Personally, I felt the building I’d inherited was a wasted opportunity. A number of times we had the conversation about turning it into a cafe or a bar, which turned into us opening a coffee shop.” This was nearly five years ago, before the boom in independent cafés, when if you knew what a flat white was you were in a minority.

Despite their inexperience David and Kaz were confident, believing they knew how to create a successful and popular café environment. The refit of David’s fathers shop began, with Shoreditch Grind opening in June 2011. “We were clueless about running a café. But we were good customers, with experience in what mattered. We understood what looked good, what felt right and what worked,” says David. “We obsessed over the coffee, though there was so much we didn’t get right at first – and that’s why we built a team to help master those things. We employed young, interesting and vibrant people, who brought so much to the place. At first, we got the coffee right, but most of all the environment and vibe were key to the success of Shoreditch Grind.”

With the success of their first incarnation, David sought outside investment in order to fund the growth of Grind & Co. Settling on a deal with John Ayton (founder of Links of London) and private equity veteran Diarmid Ogilvy, David received an investment that topped £1M, and the planned expansion went ahead. Though admittedly Grind & Co. is a chain, David has stuck to his original vision of an independent cafe and aesthetic across all the Grind sites, with each new branch as on-trend as the others. To date, there are six shops across London, stretching from Shoreditch to Borough Market, and from Covent Garden to Holborn. In Soho, of course, there are two separate incarnations. A café by day and a speakeasy styled bar in the evening, Beak Street’s Soho Grind is one of the few places you can get a caffeine high by day and a decent tipple in the evening. Last summer saw the opening of Soho Grind X Soho Radio on Great Windmill Street, continuing Grind & Co.’s policy of opening cafes with a difference.

Having begun with the goal of creating amazing coffee in the right environments and locations to match people’s lifestyles, Grind & Co. has gone from strength to strength, moving from coffee to cocktails, to food, and now even a recording studio. David’s father is perhaps his greatest inspiration, and I can’t help but wonder what David Snr would think of the café that has replaced the shop where he once sold mobile phones alongside his young son. With their Royal Exchange site due to open in May this year, Grind & Co. looks to continue its expansion London-wide, with David expressing an interest in opening a Grind outpost in the US.

grind.co.uk

@grind

Celeste Wong

Celeste Wong


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Tom Brown


“I’ve said this before of my relationship with coffee, that it is bitter sweet. It’s hard work, but the highs definitely outweigh the lows.”

There are oh so many elements of my life that I have come to admire and conversely so many I find distasteful. However, there is one addiction I am proud of. My long-term love-affair with coffee has turned serious: these days I can drink nothing less than 5 cups per day. New Zealand born Celeste Wong has helped me sustain my addiction, and her relationship with coffee is equally bittersweet. The girl in the café speaks to us about Fitzrovia, coffee, and developing her own coffee web series.

Born in Dunedin of Chinese origin, Celeste began her accidental relationship with coffee while studying in New Zealand. She sought out a job in an edgy and progressive café, with seemingly huge odds stacked against its success. “It was a little shack of a building on a back street that you’d expect no one to know about, but it was roasting coffee on a little 10kg (Turkish) Toper and we had lines out the door. Once we were out of food and coffee, we were out. We always sold out.” Being the youngest of the team, she was proud to be part of such a successful café. She admired the quality of the coffee and the experience of working with passionate, knowledgeable people in the industry.

On a holiday to London, from her newfound home of Melbourne, Australia, Celeste quickly made the decision to live here, falling in love with the vibe and energy of the city. “I was wide-eyed with hope and ready for a new adventure and opportunity!” Having worked at Soho’s Flat White (one of London’s original artisan café’s) she then helped run its sister café, Milkbar. About 3 years ago, she started working at Australian owned Lantana, where she became head of coffee and manager, with the objective of continuing to raise the company’s focus and reputation for quality coffee. Fitzrovia felt like a slightly more upmarket version of Soho, though in balance a hub for business, creativity and hustle. “I guess working here, there’s a growing sense of community. But maybe that organically or naturally happens when you get to know people and the surrounding businesses better,” she says of the neighbourhood.

This relationship and passion for coffee that Celeste had forged back home in New Zealand was now becoming a career for her as she began delving ever-deeper into the coffee industry. She developed a particular fascination: is coffee a science or an art? “When I first started making coffee, I was obsessed with espresso and certain technicalities of milk texture and speed but as my instincts have become deeper rooted, I now trust and rely a lot more on my senses and experience over just technicalities and theory. I’ve said this before of my relationship with coffee, that it is bitter sweet. It’s hard work but the highs definitely outweigh the lows. Coffee is so complex yet delicate – it’s that and the process of making it and drinking it. That’s what I fell in love with. I love the taste of coffee and how it makes me feel!” she says.

With Celeste experiencing both the Melbourne and London ‘Third wave’ of coffee, she has been fortunate enough to have only worked with some of the top individuals in the industry such as Tania Vorrath, Jason Chan and Cameron McClure and other pioneers. “What I respect most about the people that have influenced my work and career is their attitude and support. They love what they do, and as a result, they are good at it. There is a defiance within them to do it ‘their way’ not giving in to outside opinion which is incredibly inspiring in this world were comparison and imitation is rife” says Celeste.

However, Celeste is by no means just the girl in the café. Her passion for coffee has led her to go one step further by launching her own brand, eponymously titled The Girl in the Café; an exploration of coffee, people, its culture, the science and its place in the world. “In short, I had an idea and I went with it. It is an interview series with inspiring, creative people who are living their dreams with authenticity. I go within and beyond the coffee industry, so it encompasses a range of topics, depending on who my guest is, with a couple of surprises thrown in too. I wanted to create a medium where people who aren’t exposed to this sort of conversation can have access to such ideas and inspiration. I have been fortunate to have met many inspiring and determined people within and outside the industry. It is through my personal experience and insight with these people that I share stories, lessons and thoughts with others through my web series, blogs and vlogs in a casual but entertaining and insightful way,” she says.

The primary focus of her brand at present is the online series itself, blogs and vlogs. In addition to this, Celeste will be setting up a two-day pop up café in Dalston in August with friends who are involved with the project and the coffee industry. “It’s like a hang out with friends and a good opportunity to try some new concepts and have some fun. I’ve also designed a range of #ThatsHowILikeMyCoffee t-shirts which have been really well received,” she says on the brand. The 1st season of Celeste’s online series will launch later this year with an eye to growing the series on an international level and working with larger companies in the industry, and getting on board with a digital distributor. “I have so many ideas as to how to expand from the series. The sky’s the limit! I have new ideas all the time about how to expand, but television is the obvious option, along with my podcasts and other related products”.

For Celeste, her personal relationship with coffee is undying. An accidental vocation has now become her career, passion and fascination. “I want to be consistent, do more of what I enjoy and somehow contribute to the world in a positive way. Being in the coffee industry challenges me in ways that keep me interested. So in that way, my relationship with coffee is like any other long-term relationship; it takes passion, patience, perseverance, and ultimately trust and love.” With her brand still in its infancy, The Girl in the Café seems ready to embrace the limitless prospects of this long term love affair.

Algerian Coffee Stores

Algerian Coffee Stores


Words Ezra Axelrod

Photography Manu Zafra


“If you ripped out the original fixtures, made it nice and shiny, you could say it’s from 1887, but where’s the charm in that?”

For the past 128 years, something has been brewing at 52 Old Compton Street. The seductive aroma drifts into the street and grabs creatives as they hurry to work. It stops wide-eyed tourists in their tracks. It shakes the upstairs neighbours awake. Its strength lures them through the small red door and into a temple devoted to a small brown bean. Welcome to the Algerian Coffee Stores.

On a street where institutions boldly mark their territory – and the fleeting and fashionable cling for survival – the Algerian Coffee Stores firmly stands its ground, with a flock of faithful customers and new converts cramming into the cosy shop to stock up on their favourite roasts. Originally opened in 1887 by an Algerian merchant named Mr Hassan, and passing through various hands over the decades, the shop has spent the past 43 years under owner, Paul Crocetta, and his family. The Crocettas have preserved much of the original décor, including hardwood counters and bright red shelves packed with hundreds of coffees (and teas) from every corner of the world. “If you ripped out the original fixtures, made it nice and shiny, you could say it’s from 1887, but where’s the charm in that?” Paul’s daughter Marisa, who helps run the shop, asks.

Marisa says that the shop takes its heritage very seriously, and their customers are equally serious in their relationship to the drink. “People are very into coffee: they want to know about what they’re buying and how to make it right.” Today, coffee is one of the world’s top three preferred beverages next to water and tea, powering our global quest for improved cognition and enhanced energy. Our love affair with the drink is ancient: the coffee tree is native to Ethiopia and Sufi mystics were spreading the miracle beans and their murky brew throughout the Middle East as early as the 13th century. If today coffee consumption feels like a religious rite, that’s probably because traditionally these mystics drank to achieve a heightened state of alertness while chanting prayers.

The Algerian Coffee Stores benefits from its prime location at the heart of London’s most influential neighbourhood, and it’s safe to say that the shop has been instrumental in fuelling Britain’s conversion to coffee. In the shop, the lively international staff are eager to instruct coffee enthusiasts on the ideal caffeine fix or the perfect flavour for a brew. “If you want the full effects of a high caffeine content,” explains Marisa, “it’s best to go with the Indonesian Sulawesi Kalossi, Brazilian Bourbon, or Bolivian High Roast.” But Marisa points out that the classic “jolt” associated with coffee can be psychological, a response to an intense flavour, and recommends customers experiment with their preferred roast, whether it be an earthy, edgy Costa Rican, a smooth Colombian, or something in-between.

Being surrounded by coffee all day, you might wonder if the staff have grown tired of drinking the beverage. “We still like coffee,” says Marisa, “and we’ll drink it throughout the day, maybe five or six cups, depends on the day.” And what about the aroma that entices so many passers-by, can the staff still feel it? “In the morning you smell it, but as the day goes on, you stop being aware of it. The other day, I had changed my clothes and was on the train home, but suddenly I smelled coffee everywhere. I realised it had worked its way into my skin!”

Some coffee drinkers might be looking for an alternative (it’s okay, we’ve all been there.) Priding itself on being au fait with global warm beverage traditions and cults, the Algerian Coffee Stores has a whole shelf devoted to the Argentinian tea and national pastime, yerba mate. Toted as having even more kick than coffee but without the jitters, yerba mate is intensely bitter and not for the faint hearted. It’s prepared by stuffing a gourd (simply called ‘the mate’ in Spanish) with the loose-leaf tea, pouring in hot water, and drinking through a metal straw called a bombilla. The tea comes with a cultural mandate to drink in a communal setting, passing the gourd around a circle of friends, new acquaintances or even strangers.

This is the charm of the Algerian Coffee Stores: browsing its shelves is an adventure into so many traditions and far-flung corners of the world, a reminder of places we’ve lived or visited, and the moments we shared over a cup of our favourite roast. Beyond the beans and the tea leaves, shelves are adorned with the most appropriate array of sweet accompaniments, from panforte to Turkish delights to marzipan biscuits. While many of the treats are provided by specialist vendors, Marisa says that sometimes it’s a sweet memory that brings an item into the shop: “I remember years ago in France, I had these amazing cognac-soaked, marzipan and chocolate-coated raisins, and I’ve been searching for them since. I finally found them, they are the François Doucet chocolates here,” she explains, pointing to the colourful packets next to the till. It is in this way that the Corcetta family has succeeded in carrying on the tradition of one of Soho’s treasures, while bringing to it a personal, familiar touch that inspires customers to be passionate coffee connoisseurs.

Over the centuries, from the Sufi mystics bringing coffee from Ethopia to Mr Hassan bringing it to the streets of Soho, this bitter bean has enchanted humans. And if the continued increase in business at the Algerian Coffee Stores is any indication, the temple to coffee on Old Compton Street is here to stay.

Soho Grind

Soho Grind


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Manu Zafra


A summer morning, the sun shines on London. Kept cool by the tall buildings opposite on Beak Street a friendly welcome and smile set the tone. It’s going to be a great day. Exit through the Soho Grind. Sit in the picture window and watch Soho come to life.

“Soho Grind opened on May 2nd, 2014, in somewhere that we wanted to be. We couldn’t turn down the opportunity. Before we arrived, the building sold porcelain dolls, but we only know that because some rather peculiar-looking people have come asking about it.”

A supreme cappuccino kick starts the day. A few suits have jumped over from the hedge funds of Mayfair and tradesmen with calls nearby are clustered round the door: the barista, as good with the pleasantries as pouring a perfect coffee. The white brick wall interior, large jugs of water, cucumber, orange or lemon added, wait to be poured into beatnik glasses. Green touches high along one wall on shelves above a row of brass mirrors. The atmosphere is cool and fresh, and a summer breeze wafts in the open door.

“We’ve always found that the best staff find us. There’s a long culture of Aussies and Kiwis coming to the UK with two-year visas. We’re lucky to have built up enough of a reputation that they find their way to us. We’ve had a few baristas that have been pulling shots for us at the Grind having come through Heathrow arrivals the same morning.”

A red neon Espresso Bar sign hangs low in the window: ‘The Soho Grind’ in red, subtitles in black, ‘Coffee, Sex and Rock and Roll’ reads the cinema style hoarding. Inside though, it’s relaxed the music mellow, no drama. Except that one time the coffee exploded over the stressed out businessman.

Mid-morning; back at The Soho Grind. The croissants are freshly baked, plain, ham and cheese, just enough between breakfast and lunch. Out in Beak Street, the traffic is busier, a remarkable number of white vans pass the window. The door is shut now. Sit along the wall at the dark wood shelf that runs on the opposite wall from the counter. The custom stools, metal framed with Soho Grind built in to the struts. Round caramel padded discs to park on. A free magazine to glance through while you eat, and sip another cappuccino. In the window, Creative’s discuss projects, beards optional, this is Soho. Expensive jackets, trainers, and sweatshirts compulsory. They come and go, male and female two’s and three’s. Open laptops, overheard words occasionally. Investment, development, projects, apps, shoots, release dates, Soho’s media village coffee stop: A steady flow; never too busy.

“Our designer is based in Melbourne and all the stools and light-fittings were designed and made bespoke there, before being sent around the world to us in Soho.” As it gets near mid-day, the sun, high in the sky beats in the large window. Early bird Asians start congregating and queuing out on the narrow pavement for meat, a lunch table inside, next door at Flat Iron. At The Soho Grind the red, white and green filled ciabattas are being stacked up on the counter: Mozzarella, Tomato, Pesto. Bowls of healthy salads are being brought up from downstairs. Italian tourist families in Belstaff jackets glance in the window, peer up at the sign, walk back to the door and decide not to come in.

I first encountered the Grind at Old Street roundabout in Shoreditch, East London. Ignored by a directional Emo Phillips haircut in skinny jeans for what felt like 10 mins. After curt service, eventually the coffee was good. The Holborn Grind was more business-like, busy and straightforward, no quirks, like the area it sits in. The Soho Grind was cool, and drew me back. It became a regular spot.

By lunchtime it’s as busy as it can be. Lucky to find a stool. It’s a hustle and bustle as friends and colleagues meet and eat. Quickly, conversations, start and stop, change subject, and leave. The tempo of the music has picked up, wonky house, abstract but still in the key of calm.

Early afternoon, late lunch, most of the sandwiches have gone, the stack depleted. Cold in the summer, but toasted in winter. Salami, rocket, mozzarella. In autumn afternoons the red neon glows inside. ‘French lessons given downstairs x’, reads the neon sign on the wall above the staircase. The small basement offers a cosy den for clandestine afternoon meetings out of sight, and holds a secret all of its own. In the 1960s, Soho was infamous for the ‘walk-ups’ to hidden brothels or strip clubs hidden away from the street. ‘French lessons given’ was a popular innuendo for marking these out.

Late afternoon, the last drop-in of the day, another caffeine hit, a flat white, and maybe one of the mini-cream filled croissants or chocolate filled little pastries. Unobtrusive, staff chat amongst themselves, surprisingly focused, it’s about work. Sometimes they talk about travels, places they’ve been, where they’re from, where they’re going. Music volume rises as the day unfolds, a bit of reggae, some hip-hop beats, and a raggle taggle of Libertines. It gets lively, but it never gets too loud. Opposite in the street, an “agency” photographer appears with an overdressed, aspiring “model”. No qualms about posing suggestively in a Soho doorway. “In the last few years, we’re seeing more and more UK-born baristas. Our Head of Coffee, Sam, was born in the UK now he trains and certifies all our baristas to the Grind standard.”

Pass in the early evening; it’s still open, bathed in the red of Soho’s night lights. Smiling faces sit in the window, young girls laughing looking forward. Blonde hair, red lips and black hats. First stop for nocturnal Soho night birds. Exit the Daily Grind.

Then later one night, everything changed. The rain made the streets of Golden Square shine. Only just visible, as I headed up Lower James Street, was the familiar red glow. As I got nearer I could see the bulbs suspended on black wires, their fast scratch, visible elements contrasting against the red which bathed the rectangular room. White flames on candles in old crystal chimed with the lights. A metal tray turned over and propped up, in the window. Written on it opening hours I had never noticed before: “7.30 am- 11.30pm” and “Cocktails and Tapas“.

“You’re not normally open this late are you?” I asked the late shift. The new and different staff now, unfamiliar, who all wore white shirts: “Just since we opened the cocktail bar downstairs.” Was the answer that surprised me as I ordered a mocha, thick and sweet, small but filling. I glanced along the bar at Iberico Ham, bowls of green olives, and a tub of beer bottles on ice. Cool I thought but not what I was expecting.

“In the evening: a menu of traditional aperitif and cold meats, alongside some more modern dishes of our own, an after-work espresso – and an escape from the bustle of central London nightlife.” The atmosphere still felt the same upstairs and looking round everyone was still drinking coffee. I take a mental note in my mind’s notebook to drop back when night manoeuvres are on the agenda. I stand up, drink up, zip up my Jacket as I exit through the Soho Grind.