Sunday, July 5, 2009

Flat White, the backyard off Ezra St, Columbia Rd Flower Market, London

Without wanting to build this up too much, I will say this: if you are in London on a Sunday you absolutely have to check out the flower market. It sounds like the perfect thing for a Sunday, doesn't it? Even if, like me, you don't think about flowers very often, nor where/how/when they are bought/sold, it's still quite a spectacle. We walked from Liverpool St station (regrettably – Old St is a much closer-on-foot option), and every few hundred metres we were passed in the other direction by people carrying a potted lavender, a budding lime tree, an enormous bunch of something-I-can't-name, and all sorts of other things that it seemed were unlikely to survive the trip home on the tube. The winner of Most Cumbersome Purchase was definitely the couple who had some sort of bigger-than-both-of-them giant tree between them, held off the ground by two possibly purpose-built straps. They had to walk sideways, probably had a long way to go, but both wore huge grins. That's dedication.

When we finally reached the market itself, we were greeted with an impressive sight: the most crowded street you can imagine. Not only are there people spending their whole Sunday trudging out to Shoreditch to buy flowers, but there are thousands of them. The real reason myself and Dr J.Mo (our London caffespondent) came all this way in the first place was for what could be the best coffee in the world, which also is only here on Sundays. Struggling through the crowd, we saw a lot of people holding takeaway cups of coffee, the really good-looking ones being in a white cup with some sort of green scribble on it. It took us a while to find the elusive backyard. On reaching the end of the market, I read the email again and realised that Ezra is actually a street. That made a whole lot more sense, and so we followed the map in Dr J's A-Z guide. So we've done all the work for you. Just follow our directions:
If you are walking from the Old St station end, turn left just before the crazy hubbub of the market begins, at Ravenscroft St.

Take the first right, at Ezra St.

Follow that breakfast/coffee sign to the left into the backyard.

In the back-left corner, there is the coffee stand. On the other side of the enormous queue. Sure enough, behind the machine is Gwilym Davies, the WBC champion of 2009. I guess you can see now why I went out of my way to say “best coffee in the world”. According to the WBC, nobody does it better than this guy. Coming here for coffee is like going to Dagobah and training with Yoda, or something. We joined the lengthy queue and a friendly Australian came and took our order, writing it on the cup with a green pencil. Bingo! It was interesting to again see the flat white in the hallowed top position on the menu. I ordered one accordingly, and Dr J stuck to her guns and went for an espresso. They asked, “paper or porcelain?” for the espresso. Kudos. Our order came to 2 pounds and 40 pence. I took another look at the menu, and sure enough, the espresso only cost 60p. This place was ticking all sorts of boxes already, and we hadn't even smelt or drank anything.

We moved up the queue, and the aroma hit me. Even outside on a windy day with the bacon frying next door, the olive stall to the right, and the particularly pungent cheese stall behind us, the smell of the Square Mile Spring Espresso Blend was still impossible to ignore.

There was all sorts of wisecracking going on behind the machine. Mr Davies, pulling the shots, was having a bit of a go at the guy on milk detail for how much time he was spending on the pouring.
“A fancy pattern does not make it a better drink!”
These guys were having fun. Even in the Gordon-Brown-decreed-category-two-heatwave. There also seemed to be a lot of people with cameras in the queue. Much bigger cameras than me. Finally, our drinks came out, and we headed back towards the cheese stall to enjoy the fruits of our queuing.

We were, quite seriously, speechless.
“How is it?” I asked after a while.
“I can't even talk,” said Dr J.
I'm not sure what's more satisfying: that the flower market has coffee this good, or that coffee this good is lucky enough to be at the flower market. Either way, it's a feast for the senses.

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