“Coffee bars became a vital outlet for musical expression, and without doubt the birth of British rock’n’roll took place in the coffee bars of Soho.” –Bruce Welch
London is magnificent; it has grandeur, it has history, it has stories. It has a certain majestic atmosphere supported by the tall white Corinthian pillars of St Paul’s Cathedral and the modern skyscrapers reaching towards the Earth’s rooftop, where a never ceasing flow of aeroplanes circle over the city waiting for a chance to discharge yet another load of tourists wanting to see the Big Ben.
On the Finnish side of this blog, I just completed a series called The Dirty Dozen – 12 Tourist Attractions in London (you can check out the photos, or grab a Finnish-English dictionary and give it a read). It took me about 5 days and 120 kilometers of walking to cover the basics, but I did it, and can now move on.
Move on to coffee.
Move on to Soho and its sizzling streets of coffee shops, bars, restaurants and yes, the remnants of sex industry venues.
But I skip the latter and concentrate on the former.
To me it seems that it doesn’t matter whatever your interest might be, London has got it. But, according to the books, London did not have one thing for a long, long time. London did not have ‘real’ coffee before Soho and its coffee bars came along in the 1950s and when the alluring Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida opened London’s first coffee shop with a Gaggia machine. After that, things started shaking. Literally: skiffle came along, infused with the espressos served upstairs and with the sweat that poured out of the performers and audience downstairs. Soho’s emerging skiffle scene was like the pressure valve in the espresso machine; an outlet for the youth.
Of course I have been to Soho before, but only when it has been either dark or rainy (or both), and only after already being somewhere else or, on my way to be somewhere else. But yesterday, on a brilliantly sunny day, I ventured out just to go to Soho, and just to see what all that ado about Soho coffee bars was about.
I walked across Leicester Square to Wardour Street and then, after a few blocks, took a turn right to Old Compton Street on my way to Frith Street to check out one of London’s most iconic coffee bar’s, Bar Italia, and also to see the location where it all started: 29 Frith Street’s Moka Bar (R.I.B., Rest in Beans).
But I hadn’t walked for long on Old Compton Street when a curious window display caught my attention. I checked the sign: Algerian Coffee Stores Est. 1887. Espresso single or double £1 and Cappuccino £1.20. Surely this must be an old stuffy memorabilia collector’s forgotten little shop, with an emphasis to coffee curiosities, I thought. But I didn’t have time to think too much; the sign said coffee, so I had to step in. And I had thought wrong: it wasn’t a collector’s forgotten stuffy little nook, but an actual, amazing little shop full of all things coffee, starting from beans to ground coffee, coffee accessories, confectioneries and takeaway coffee options.
I admit, I went a bit photo crazy, but I blame the intoxicating smell of coffee that has lingered in the shop for over hundred years. The shop still has the original wooden counter and shelves, and they source 80 different coffees and over hundred teas. You can visit their web page on this link, where the varieties are well-presented.
There was only one customer, deciding on different tea varieties, in the shop when I walked in. The sales person kept opening the tea jars to sample the scents and the shop was filled with fruity and flowery odour on top of the coffee’s powdery and earthy smell. The shop seemed like an old little corner shop struggling against the waves of time, but, suddenly, it was full to its rims, coffee machines were hissing, beans were being grind on spot, and the fragile and exotic scent of teas was gone again, and only coffee and a feel of old-fashioned coffee community was left.
I finish this little post on Soho coffee culture and the Algerian Coffee Store here, sipping on my Mexican Fair Trade and listening to The Shadows. But stay tuned, as I feel like a new theme, London Coffee Culture, has come to the Crumb’s of Rain to stay.
P.S. You can read my little coffee guide to Bath behind this link.
P.P.S. More photos and daily glimpses of the Crumb’s life in coffee can be followed on my Facebook page, see you there!