Now I’m not ashamed to say that I like a nice cup of Pret filter – personally I think it’s the best tasting grab-and-run filter coffee on the high street and for 99p what more could you ask for? Well, you could ask for a whole heap if things if you study coffee like fine wine. Enter Tim – the coffee man who has literally two brains – he doesn’t keep one in a jar and he doesn’t have a high forehead – he’s just really very clever when it comes to all aspects of the cherry – the coffee bean in it’s natural state. He spent a good twenty minutes taking me on a whistlestop coffee world tour and I loved it. But he’s not used to dealing with coffee fools like me – I could tell – I take milk in my coffee and shop in Pret for goodness sakes but we’re not all like Tim. But, that’s OK and he’s willing to spend the time educating folk like me because the people behind St Ali in Clerkenwell have brought their coffee roasting concept over from Australia and it really could change the way we drink coffee here, forever.
I think they’re halfway there because they couldn’t have picked a better venue 27 is a former nightclub – bang, slap in the middle of one of the trendiest places to be and be seen in London. A really cool ‘space’ has been converted into a restaurant and coffee house. Downstairs a roaster sits at the back of the shop framed nicely by the sacks of washed Rwandan beans. A skylight helps to light the shop and help a very green living wall to flourish.
On the first floor a restaurant-cum-bar is very much a work in progress but like downstairs they’ve thought about the clientele and its very much about a relaxed yet edgy eating experience. The exposed brick walls, the name of the place in light bulbs (a la All Saints) and chunky wooden tables very much sets the scene.
They take their name from Saint Ali – if your not up on your Saints – it’s short for Ali ibn Umar al-Shadhili who back in the 15th Century introduced coffee beans to Muslim mystics. It’s their homage to the man who popularised coffee.
I dare you, ask any Melburnian living in the capital about St Ali and they will have quite a bit to say about the brand. Google the name and you’ll find pages of satisfied Aussies who travel miles to queue for a seat at the branch in the North of the City. Why? Because like the Californians they know how they like their coffee. It’s a science from bean to cup and they don’t want second best and neither does Tim. He’s training his Baristas to share the knowledge but also to recognise when the customer doesn’t want to know finite details about the process or indeed ‘The Slayer’. Rest assured it’s not someone they drag out of the basement if you failit’s pay, it’s a machine they use to make the perfect cup. After roasting beans on the premises (once they’ve finished off the shelving you can buy them to take home) they’re taken to The Slayer. It’s an espresso machine which has revolutionised extracting espresso by applying the principles of traditional French press or cafetiere style brewers. The pre-brewing phase at low pressure allows the Barista to extract specific flavours; low pressure applied gently enhances the sweetness, body and notes of the bean. I’m told this unlocks flavour characteristics and profiles not previously achieved by commercial espresso machines. It also gives the Barista control over steaming capacity.
A little bit on the beans – Tim will only buy the best beans the market has to offer – the bean is a fruit – different varietals, from different climates give very different tastes and the sell-by-date of the bean changes too. They’ll have their beans for six months then they’ll get new – it’s like seasonal produce – if it’s good they’ll have it in their cups if it’s bad then forget it. They’ve got a ten day expiry date on all the coffee. Is the message coming through loud and clear? They only do fresh.
I didn’t try any food but I did have an Americano – after all that’s why I was invited – which was really very tasty. I especially liked when asked whether I wanted hot or cold milk so different to what I’m used and for someone who likes their hot drinks piping, most welcome. Would I pay £3.00 for a coffee? I often do and I can guarantee you I have no idea at all of the bean’s origin, how ask how old it is or be sure there wouldn’t be a massively long pause before a shrug in reply. Here you can get into coffee speak as deeply as you like – I can assure you they’ll have all the answers.
Now, the really clever concept which I can’t wait for is that the team plan to complement various brewing methods with selected courses from a unique menu – designed to bring out the flavours of the coffee and the food – think high end restaurant tasting menus – but not the price.
I saw a clip-boarded sample lunch menu – all looked appetising and at reasonable prices.
The unit is huge – the ladies toilet downstairs was big enough to throw a party in and I’m sure once this place gets up and running those high on caffeine, wine, good food and life will do just that.