Having read lots of books about the coffee and specialty coffee industry, what is often missing is the personal nature of how the industry develops – without the dedication and efforts of individuals in creating and fostering businesses in coffee, the industry wouldn’t be what it is today. London Coffee by Lani Kingston (also author of the book How to Make Coffee: The Science Behind the Bean) takes a different approach, focusing on the businesses and people that have been important to the development of the coffee and coffee shop industry in London (and beyond).
I’m relatively familiar with how the coffee shop industry has developed and flourished in London – partly through research, but also through multiple visits for work and plenty of stops in coffee shops over the years (and trips to the London Coffee Festival). But even so, there were insights into businesses that I was less familiar with (Mercanta, the specialty coffee merchants, for example), and new snippets of knowledge of those I thought I knew quite well (such as Square Mile Coffee or Prufrock).
It’s more than a guide to coffee shops in London, although it does have a nice map included, which appeals to my geographer background. It’s essentially a series of vignettes into the people and places that have helped the London coffee industry develop into the coffee hub it has become. It includes coffee businesses that were seen as pioneers in London coffees such as Monmouth Coffee, to more recent coffee businesses such as Pact, the coffee subscription service. Recognising that the coffee industry relies on a diversity of businesses the book includes cases from coffee machine and repair business (AE Stanton), to dairies providing ‘barista milk’ (The Estate Dairy), and of course a range of roasters and coffee shops in between (for example Square Mile Coffee Roasters, The Gentleman Baristas and Climpson & Sons). While the book brings the reader up to speed on some of the more modern highlights of London coffee, it also shows how some business have been important in London’s coffee history, from Bar Italia serving endless espressos to customers in Soho since the 1950s, to Algerian Coffee Stores providing people with coffee since 1887.
London has a rich coffee history dating back to the mid-17th century when the first coffee houses begin to appear, and has transformed over the centuries becoming one of the global centres for coffee culture, and specialty coffee. London Coffee provides insights into how London’s modern landscape came to be through a range of people and coffee businesses. Anyone with an interest in coffee shops, coffee culture, and London in particular, are likely to find this book a delight.