Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Dose Espresso

London's history with coffee and coffee houses goes way back, Lloyds of London famously starting life as a coffee shop back in about 1690.  They were the places men (no women allowed) would meet to swap news, debate the politics of the day and conduct business, or at least that's the accepted version of events.  Looking at the historical context though, this was the time of the famous Gin Craze and given the phenomenal rate of alcohol consumption - gin or otherwise - at the time, everyone was obviously off their heads one way or another and the coffee house's explosive rise in popularity was mainly because the speed-freaks needed somewhere to hang out away from the alcoholics.  Of course news was swapped, politics discussed and business conducted: everyone had to do something whilst they were whizzing their caffeinated nuts off waiting for someone to invent amphetamines and playstations.  Once that happened though, the level of sophistication in London coffee culture really plummeted and never showed much sign of recovering until recently.

The last couple of years have seen a real change thanks to Australians and New Zealanders opening up coffee houses in the image of those back home.  Little places with lots of personality run by people who care deeply about what they sell, the environment they sell it in and the care and attention given to serving their customers.  It seems nothing special, just a smile and an acknowledgement of your existence when you enter, a friendly, polite enquiry as to what you'd like whilst actually looking in your direction, any questions you may have are met with words strung together that convey knowledgeable charm and courtesy, even stretching to a bit of casual chat and banter if you can cope with it, they make it look so simple it can leave you bewildered.

The best cup of espresso-based coffee I've had in London (and I've had a few) can be found at one of these establishments, Dose Espresso by Smithfield Market where on a drinks menu featuring all the usual suspects you can also find the mighty Dose.  There are many, many things that have to go right to make a great espresso, most of them can be face-scratchingly frustrating to get right on their own, trying to get them all just right in combination with each other is enough to drive a sane man to melt his face off with the steam wand.  "DIalling in" an espresso blend to a machine for that perfect shot is an art and a science to which certain people seem quite happy to dedicate their lives; luckily for the rest of us James of Dose Espresso is one of those nutters beautiful people.

The Dose itself is made by using a dose of coffee large enough for a triple espresso, this is tamped down, plugged into their beast of a machine (a La Marzocco FB-80 semi automatic with night sights and grenade launcher) and then the steady flow of thick, oily-looking, foaming pitch scrutinised intently as it oozes out to produce a drink not much bigger than a single espresso.  It's obviously a delicate art to get one of these things to come out properly and I've seen James throw away several attempts before producing something he considers worthy of serving, muttering and shaking his head at whatever he's seen that's rung the big Fail bell in his head before slinging the used grind and the offending drink in the bin and starting again.

The end result is quite astonishing though, both to look at and to taste.  To start with it sits on the counter in a little glass and you have to actually leave it to settle, sitting there like a little pint of Guinness for tiny people with tiny hands.  You stand there watching your drink slowly materialise in the glass, the black body gradually taking shape from the bottom as the fine bubbles slowly migrate and settle into a shiny crema at the top of the glass.  It goes without saying that it tastes wonderful, the details will vary according to the the particular beans that have been used that day, as well as Square Mile's seasonally varying blend of espresso they have bags of guest coffees acquired for James by fellow coffee worshippers on their travels.  What makes the Dose a really stand out coffee though is the remarkable body and texture it acquires from whatever voodoo goes into compressing all that coffee grind into a little garden gnome pint glass.  There's an amazing mouthfeel, a smooth and fabulously rich body gliding across your taste buds seducing everything it touches, wonderfully balanced, strong and gentle, an iron fist in a velvet glove if ever I tasted one.

The only real problem is ordering one.  "Hello, I'd like a dose please.", it's not very dignified but it's worth it.

Oozing espresso head photo courtesy of Dose, full details on their website.

1 comment:

  1. A good coffee is not to be taken for granted! I like Dose too - it's one of the handful of places I would recommend for espresso in London. Although I'm pleased to see the list is growing.