One of the new additions to this year’s London Coffee Festival was an extended cafe pop-up area on the ground floor sponsored by House of Coffee & Company. Square Mile Coffee Roasters took over two walk-in stands, naming one At Home and the other The Canteen. While the function of the Home section could be easily guessed by its name (an area dedicated to show visitors how to make good espresso and filter coffee at home), what the Canteen offered was very different from anything we’ve experienced at the festival until now: a tasting experience of food and drink showcasing coffee as an ingredient.
“We wanted to have fun with food and look at things from a different angle,” said Angus Gibbs of Square Mile. That different angle was predicated on looking at wastage in the industry, and featured a few interesting ways to re-use coffee products that are often recycled or discarded, from coffee grounds and the skins of the dried coffee cherries (cascara).
Upon entering the canteen I was handed a food tray lined with a menu. Behind the counter, Square Mile baristas talked the guests through the five steps of the tasting session.
We started with a sample of 100% rye sourdough bread created by Pavilion Bakery in Hackney using Red Brick espresso grounds, from a recipe developed by Square Mile. It is a more intense version of sourdough, a little bit bitter and earthy, and slathered with homemade butter that had been churned with coffee chaff (another coffee byproduct) to create flavors of hay and strawberry.
Next was a shot of Buena Vista cascara soda, a carbonated sour drink that took Pete Garcia of Square Mile weeks to develop, trying different combinations of dried cherries and fruit. Eventually he decided to use seasonal, freshly juiced ruby grapefruits; the acidity and tanginess of this fruit matching the Bolivia Buena Vista cascara. Citric acid and cane sugar were then added to the mix to create a unique, unfined and unfiltered drink.
The tasting continued with a cascara chocolate, something that Square Mile co-owner James Hoffmann has been working on for a long time. It looked just like dark chocolate with a smooth glossy surface and a nice “snap” when you bite into it (both signs of well-tempered chocolate). In reality the cascara “chocolate” bar didn’t contain any cocoa beans at all. Instead, dried coffee cherries had been conched with cocoa butter and sugar for a pleasing bittersweet taste.
I enjoyed the chocolate so much that I had to refrain myself from asking for more. Instead, I asked Hoffmann if he had plans to retail his cascara chocolate in the near future. The answer was no, but he would love to make his recipe available to chocolatiers—in “open source” style—for them to develop the idea further.
The tasting continued with Sweetshop Soft Serve, a sweet and tasty ice cream made with Square Mile's Sweetshop espresso blend, plus full cream milk, cream, dried milk powder, cane sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. It was like a grown up version of Mr. Whippy (for our American readers, that's a popular mobile ice cream van).
The experience culminated with a cup of hot, sweet, and well-balanced filter coffee from Belen, Colombia. This coffee incorporated all other previous flavors to bring the tasting together, and came as a bit of a relief—a good old cup of filter coffee after the flavor explorations of the first four courses.
If the London Coffee Festival is known for the quality of its pop-up cafes and installations, The Canteen by Square Mile managed to stand out from the pack through its innovative menu and approach to integrating coffee and food. As an attendee this was mostly a fun experience, but it also introduced a few ideas for using discarded coffee bean parts to create something different and exciting. These are ideas that I hope more people will take delicious inspiration from.
Catch Episode 11 of the Coffee Sprudgecast and listen to James Hoffmann take us through the Square Mile Coffee Canteen flight.