Historically significant Spitalfields Market attracts for its one-off items, market stalls, and multicultural vibes. Almost every second shop-front is a cafe or restaurant pouting invitingly at you as you walk along its cobbles. The same could not, until recently, be said about the speciality coffee scene in the market. But nowadays, one finds with relief the latest Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, nestled in the middle of buzzy Spitalfields.
With the first Department of Coffee and Social Affairs (DCSA) shop opening in Leather Lane in late 2010, now this London-based coffee company has rapidly expanded to nine coffee shops. The newest shop opened mid-February in Lamb Street, and offers a “proper” cup of coffee in between businessmen-filled Liverpool Street and tourist-smeared Brick Lane.
The atmosphere of each Department of Coffee shop differs with its own personality, but they are all in wisely chosen locations. Spitalfields, a cultural touchstone, has always been a “melting” fusion of East and West. Historically, it has a strong sense of community as the area has played host to new immigrants for many years.
The Department of Coffee team saw the potential in the historic brick building, which is part of the conservation house built in 1887 to service a wholesale market. Their newly opened cafe sits over one floor, with some available seating outside. The roof that covers the market allows customers to enjoy their cup outside at any time of the season. Interestingly, the coffee shop is also connected to a convenience store. The tiny space inside feels airy and bright as wide entrances fill the cafe with plenty of light.
As seen in some of the other Department of Coffee shops, rustic and edgy, yet modern, design and clean lines prevail in the interior. Exposed brickwork, hardwood flooring, and white-washed walls create a nice minimalistic balance between traditional and modern.
The main focus of the shop is a long wooden brew bar that spreads along through the whole front area to make sure that no one would dare to miss the process of brewing an espresso or free-pouring latte art. Currently, Department of Coffee in Spitalfields offers just espresso-based caffeinated drinks extracted with the help of La Marzocco Strada EP, however, in the near future, filter coffee will also be available on the counter.
High-quality single-origin fermented and washed coffee beans, like current selections from Rwanda and Colombia, are treated with precise care by talented baristas. Small but very important details for perfect extraction are followed each time when making 30 milliliters of espresso. The success formula in the Department of Coffee is precisely measured: 20.4 grams of freshly ground coffee extracted to 30 milliliters in exactly 30 seconds.
Department of Coffee especially stands out of the crowd by promoting their motto: the key ingredient to success is the people. The meaning of the second part of the name “Social Affairs” defines not only customers’ coffee drinking experiences but also the team’s support for domestic and international communities through various charities. As well as serving specialty coffee, the company has been actively involved in humanitarian work in the UK and abroad, such as Pump Aid, training new recruits at The Afri-CAN Charity, and regularly volunteering at the Central London Rough Sleepers Committee.
Department of Coffee CEO Ashley Lopez has plans to further develop a scheme to provide cafe employment opportunities to help those in poverty in South Africa. Social commitment to community is one of the things Lopez feels makes her cafes particularly unique in the London coffee scene.
The DSCA’s growing role in London coffee culture and worldwide charity work suggests that opening the coffee shop in Spitalfields is just the beginning for this company. When asked about international expansion, Lopez said, “We are sticking to London but you never know what the future holds.”
Audrey Fiodorenko is a writer based in London. This is Fiodorenko’s first feature for Sprudge.