12 December 2016

The Caffeine Chronicles: Coffee Island

I happened upon the first London branch of Greek speciality coffee mega-chain Coffee Island about a month ago. I might have walked past the rather unassuming storefront on Upper St Martin's Lane but I remembered the name from a London's Best Coffee news post and made a note to return. I say that the storefront is unassuming from afar and yet up close, it harbours a wealth of paraphernalia to delight the speciality coffee lover, from grinders and Chemexes, to coffee magazines and single-origin beans.

It was early afternoon on a Sunday when I finally visited Coffee Island and the café was bustling. After admiring all of the merchandise — and there are more shelving units by the front window that house coffee beans, coffee-making kit, mugs and cups, and plenty more. On the wall by the door is the extensive coffee menu. Espresso-based drinks are available with a house blend or a 'Microfarm' single-origin guest for 30p more (yesterday, it was an Ethiopian Sidama). At the brew bar, hand-brewed filter coffees are available brewed through the V60, Aeropress, Chemex or Syphon, with one of five single-origin varieties. There's also a batch-brew filter and an ibrik on the menu.

The large central coffee island ("we're not very original with our names," one of the baristas quipped) is right in front of the door, with a handful of small and longer tables at the back, and several more on the mezzanine level. I ordered a pourover and asked for a coffee recommendation. After discussing my coffee tastes briefly, the barista asked if I was in the mood for a funky Ethiopian and I replied in the affirmative; the result was a fruity Yirgacheffe, which he recommended brewed through the V60 (£2.60). Oddly, given that it wasn't that busy, he seemed to try to down-sell me to the batch brew, but I declined; perhaps he was just trying to make sure I knew all of the options. I also ordered a slice of banana bread (£3) from the tempting array of cakes and sweet treats sitting on the counter. There were also various different sandwiches, but I'd already eaten lunch.

I took a seat at one of the tables at the back of the café where I could watch the baristas at work at the brew bar and on the espresso machine. Before long, the coffee arrived and I was impressed with how well the citrus notes of the Yirgacheffe came through in the V60 brew; it was a very well prepared cup of coffee. KeepCup fans will be pleased to note that the coffees are served in the company's glass cups. I was more interested in the plate on which the — delicious — banana bread was served.

With branches of Timberyard and Department of Coffee & Social Affairs within a two-minute walk, Coffee Island has some fairly stiff local competition, but it's a nice addition to the Seven Dials neighbourhood. If you're in need of some coffee beans, their Microfarm retail bags, which cost between about £6 and £8, are very reasonably priced, and they will grind them for you in the grindery if that's what you need.

Coffee Island. 5 Upper St Martin's Lane, London, WC2H 9NY (Tube: Leicester Square). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

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