Sunday, May 08, 2005


tinderbox smoulders

let's start out by noting several things about london i don't think you can hear often enough:

  • london has the most beautiful fluffy low-lying clouds with subtle purple-gray shadows as they drift over the thames and mill about the spire of big ben
  • how the warm spring light makes the intricate gothic lace of westminster appear to float against the sky so that it's nearly impossible to believe the building is made of actual heavy stone
  • the organ acoustics at st. paul's for the 6pm service are not to be believed; you must witness them yourself
  • lilacs and wisteria, then more lilacs and wisteria; coral and fuschia azeleas riot; the popular color for tulips appears to be fuschia this year
  • the thai buddhist temple in wimbledon is an absolutely unknown gem oasis with possibly the most beautiful italian garden and duck pond crossed by two tiny arched wooden bridges
  • the delicate wrought-iron tracery and charming pink sides of the prince albert bridge by the albert gate of battersea park is incredibly lovely

after this mandatory note, lemme go to the objective today, which is the tinderbox coffeehouse in islington.

this should be a london coffee heaven, as it boasts not one but two incredibly beautiful elektra barluma machines from about 1964 with real rosewood or mahogany handles on the portafilters, knobs and levettas. it also enjoys an authentic matching period elektra grinder as well as a modern mazzer robur.

the coffee's provided by long-time bccy pals matthew algie, who so kindly have always provided their excellent biscotti for the zen coffee meditations at scaa conference. the decor is great: very early '60s italian eggshell and chinese red with a strong use of blond wood for design accent.

i also love the vintage leather business class airplane seats and the real vespa in the back! in short, the whole place looks like it was lifted right outta bologna. . .

alas, the tindberbox never really catches fire. why not? it has all the elements of espresso success -- even fantastic retro cakes like at nyc's own magnolia or mary's on jane -- except the baristi.

it's true the baristi pour latte art; when i was there i saw one skirt barista pour a beautiful rosetta, and got a decent apple on my own latte. but, but, but!

these gorgeous old elektras really require that you work with the machine to get a great temperature for the coffee. admittedly i visited in a total sunday rush chaotic crazy fast bar situation; the place was packed and the line was constantly 5 people deep.

i tried a latte (which i ordered as a cappuccino, so either the barista made a mistake or the drinks are regrettably supersized) and a doppio espresso both. and both drinks were burnt.

the barista just had no control over the machine temperature. i know with these old machines that require control by running water, etc. it can be hard to do when the bar's nuts.

but hey that's what i expect of a pro barista, you know? and with all due respect, the baristi there are a surly lot.

i tried to respect the fast bar flow there by waiting until there was a little gap in the line as i was on my way out the door to ask a question or two. but i still got a total stiff arm.

ouch! let's contrast this with the super people at monmouth who always make time for customers.

the doppio espresso was also alas quite thin-bodied -- while pulled at about the right time, say in that 25-second ballpark -- it was a 3 oz. coffee with some of the blondest crema i've seen outside of nicole kidman's hair.

it wasn't a good thing, i'm saying here. you know a fantastic espresso should have the consistency of cough syrup or even motor oil.

and alas while the m. algie coffee was fresh enough, the baristi just weren't really detail-oriented in their job.

again, the bar was totally blasted nonstop, so i'm willing to make some allowances for the crush. but! but! but! my heart was weeping because that could have been a truly world-class espresso situation. . .

posted by fortune | 11:25 AM | top | link to this | email this: | links to this post | | 0 comments

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