On a brisk and bright morning last week, I went to the Bean About Town coffee cart on the docks in Wapping on my way to work. Being 8.20 am, there was barely anyone about (your hard pressed to find a Londoner that starts working earlier than 9.00 am), so I was lucky enough to arrive before there was any significant coffee queue.
I must admit, London’s coffee evolution has been exponential in its improvement since my last lengthy visit. Barristas, arabica beans, flat whites: these were all foreign words to the Tea Drinkers when I was last on Britain’s shores in 2008. Coffee chains such as Nero, Costa and Starbucks were in force, but their only options for a decent “coffee” were either a stiff, bitter, and burnt long black (now confusingly dubbed an “Americano”) or a mug of dish water topped with swamp froth, passed off under the guise of a “cappuccino”.
This has always confounded me. Given Britain’s incredible proximity to Europe, I expected that the Italians or the French or the Greeks would have brought they’re brewing skills along with the rest of their cuisines. Weirdly, it was the pioneering spirit of Aussie and Kiwi imports who started opening little cafes in various London hotspots and made good coffee fashionable (I attribute a lot of this to Flat White on Berwick Street in Soho, which was one of the few in existence back in 2008) Londoners can now enjoy a good brew from locations all over the vast city. Even coffee carts.
[Is there anything worse than coffee-snobbery? Oh I know – obnoxious/patriotic/exclusionary coffee-snobbery!]
So I arrived at the coffee cart and I received the usual cheery greeting from the adorable Turkish barrista on the machine. The other barrista (a man with zero social skills), just kind of nodded in my direction, before going back to frothing some milk. After the short greeting, the Turk’s attention went back to the one man who had beat me to the cart. He was an older man, in his late forties or early fifties. He was short and portly, with a bald top and whiteish-grey hair circumnavigating the dome. He was dressed to impress in a smart, grey business suit with white pin-stripes and he wore gold glasses with round spectacles. If Donald Draper needed to cast a business man for a series of advertisements about life insurance, this guy would be the stock standard.
The business man was a bit of a jolly dude and liked a bit of banter. He was having a good old chat with the Turk and I appreciated listening to the friendliness of the conversation without the need to actually contribute (I am not a morning person). The discussion was as stock standard as his appearance. Weather. Superficial politics. Sport. And then it took a turn:
Business Man: “The weather looks to be clearing up for the weekend.”
Turkish Barrista: “Yeah, we should hopefully be able to enjoy some sunshine.”
BM: “Might even be able to ride a Boris Bike.”
BM & TB: [polite chuckling]
Awkward Barrista: [snort] [froth]
BM: “Got much planned next weekend?”
TB [cautiously]: “Dunno man, I can barely keep track of what’s going a few days ahead.”
BM: “Have you heard of Ministry of Sound?”
TB: “As in the club?”
BM: “Yes. The one in Elephant & Castle.”
TB: “Yeah, why?”
BM: “I’m going to be playing there next Saturday night.”
TB stops brewing and turns around. Even AB stops frothing.
TB: “What ya mean? You’re going to the club? I don’t mean to be rude, bro, but I wouldn’t never have thought that would be your kinda place.”
BM: “Yeah, I’m going to be doing a set.”
TB, AB and I each screw our faces up in confusion.
TB: “You’re playing?”
BM: “Yes. I’m a DJ.”
TB: “Are you pulling my leg?”
BM: “No, no, no. A lot of people don’t believe them when I tell them. I’m a normal business man during the day and I DJ at night.”
TB: “Seriously? So what do you actually do?”
BM: “Well, during the day I just work in Business Management and Development. And then at night I like to play some phat beats.”
TB: “I don’t mean to be rude, but I never would imagine you as a DJ. You just… don’t look like one. I’m sorry, I thought you were taking the absolute piss. You’re not right? Shit, I guess that’s pretty prejudiced of me.”
BM: [polite chuckling] “Well, you should come to my show if your interested. I’m really excited. The place holds about a thousand. It should be mad. My set is on at 10.30 for an hour.”
TB: “Next weekend. Wow. Well, sure, we might go.”
TB looks over at AB and nods his head to include him. AB screws ups his nose and starts looking through the coin purse.
AB: “Americano. £2.20 please.”
BM: “No problem, here you go.”
Andrew: “Where did you say your playing again?”
BM: “Ministry of Sound. In Elephant & Castle.”
Andrew: “And what’s your DJ name?”
BM: “DJ Chairman. I dress up in a suit for my sets. Just like I’m dressed now. The punters look at me and think I’m mad.”
Only in East London…