The late 1950s saw the resurgence of the coffee drinking trend of which had all but died out. It reinvigorated the love of “the syrup of soot or essence of old shoes” as it was described in the 18th century. England’s first coffee house was established in Oxford in 1650 but it was only two years until a Greek servant named Pasqua Rosee began running a coffee house in Cornhill, and soon there would be dozens of coffee houses in London.
In these coffee shops men would meet, discuss and conclude deals, it could be argued that these establishments sowed the seeds that would put London on course to become Europe’s leading commercial centre. By 1675 a thousand coffee houses were to be found in London and soon became the exclusive clubs of the influential. But by the 1700s England abandoned coffee as the East India Company pushed the domestic market into tea.
It was after the Second World War in 1945 that Gaggia altered the espresso machine to create a high pressure extraction that produced a thick layer of crema that signalled the return of the coffee culture. It was soon to be christened cappuccino for its resemblance to the colour of robes worn by Capuchin monks.
Italians already had a large community around Saffron Hill nicknamed ”Little Italy” but many after being interned during the war drifted westwards, setting up cafes with the distinctive Formica tables and Art Deco chrome Vitrolite exteriors. One of the last examples is E. Pellicci to be found in Bethnal Green Road. From the yellow and chrome Vitrolite exterior to the warm wooden interior this is an unbelievable Deco classic. Every part of this superb cafe should be held in trust for the nation.
It wasn’t long before the boys from Seattle arrived offering their milky concoction far removed from a real Italian cappuccino. Their largest coffee cup at 916ml holds more liquid than a human stomach. So weak is this brew many of their customers have been asking for an extra shot and they have recently announced they intend to put coffee in their coffee. But if a Dark Chocolate Cherry Mocha is your thing – enjoy.
Soho once a French district was to become the centre for Italian coffee culture. By 1953 coffee bars had sprung up. The first was The Moka espresso bar at 29 Frith Street opened by actress Gina Lollabrigida but soon many would follow with their distinctive trend of Formica and real coffee. Only a few doors down from where The Moka opened and just celebrating 60 years in Soho is that most famous coffee bar of all Bar Italia.
So here is the way Italians make their coffee:
If you ask for a “caffè” in a bar in Italy, you would be given an espresso. If you ask for a “latte” in an Italian coffee bar, you will be given a glass of milk.
“Capucco” (“Cappuccino”) is the breakfast drink – Italians can’t understand why you would have a drink containing milk with food later in the day; it doesn’t help your digestion. The perfect cappuccino is served in a cup no bigger than 6fl oz. A third would be coffee, a third steamed milk and third silky-smooth foamed milk. You then drink the black coffee through the steamed and foamed milk. The water hitting the coffee should be between 90°C and 95°C, you should never use boiling water to produce a coffee; using water at 100 °C would smash the flavours.
The shape of the cup is very important. If you have a square-shaped cup with a flat bottom and right angles, when the coffee hits, the crema (the nice golden brown foam on top of an espresso) is dispersed. What encourages the crema to rise to the top of the coffee is the cup shape. If it’s curved-based, often with a nodule at the bottom, it encourages the cream to creep up the sides and on to the top of the coffee, which is where it should be.