Coffee in Hackney

Hackney has undergone a massive transition in terms of its coffee consumption in the last few years. Eat Hackney recently dreamily recounted to me a time when it was nigh on impossible to get a decent cup of the stuff here.  Imagine! Now, you can’t walk 200m before tripping over a beautifully minimalist café/pedal-powered wagon/wheelbarrow, brimming with soy lattes and skinny flat whites. Which is no bad thing in Drink Hackney’s book. But, in the spirit of adventure, we set out to find some less obvious caffeinated discoveries.

Our first stop was Saturday’s Broadway Market, where we met Rob who runs Cà Phê VN. Just off the middle of the strip, you’ll find an authentic set of low tables and tiny chairs under picnic brollies, in front of a bustling stall. Their coffee is grown in the Dak Lak Province (Vietnam’s Highlands and the country’s coffee central), dark roasted in Ho Chi Minh City and served traditionally using a one-cup drip filter and mixed with condensed milk. It’s sweet and strong, but not at all bitter, and comes iced or hot; find out how to make it below. If you’re peckish, the stall is also a great place to sample excellent bánh mì (Vietnamese filled baguettes).


Vietnamese iced coffee

You’ll need a traditional Vietnamese drip filter – available in Asian food stores across Hackney.

Dark roast, medium-coarse ground Vietnamese coffee
Sweetened condensed milk
Two glasses, one filled with ice

Add two tablespoons of the condensed milk to the empty glass, and put two tablespoons of coffee into the filter. Wet the grounds with a little bit of water. Screw down the press and pour in boiling water. Put the lid on. Let the coffee drip through onto the milk (this should take 3–5 minutes). Stir the coffee and milk and pour over the ice.

Heading west, we stopped at Turkish Șömine, at 131 Kingsland High Street. Served unfiltered, Turkish coffee is prepared in a cezve, a long-handled pot used on a stove top. The coffee is slowly brewed, and stirred continuously, with the addition of sugar if desired. The results are famously robust, and the thick sludgy grounds are apparently perfect for fortune-telling. Despite numerous attempts we couldn’t find anyone willing to predict our futures; if you know of somewhere that will, please get in touch – we could do with some direction!

Turkish coffee grounds (I’m sure I can see a tall dark handsome stranger)

Turkish coffee grounds (I’m sure I can see a tall dark handsome stranger)

Just down the road, is Kaffa Coffee, a small, unassuming stall on Gillett Square, where we met local coffee hero Markus, who imports the beans directly from his small wild-coffee plantation in Kaffa, Ethiopia. Roasted on site every morning, with the scent drifting across the square, the beans taste vibrantly fresh and pack a huge and heady punch.

Markus makes a latte like the best of them, but it’s traditional to take Ethiopian coffee black in a small coffee cup, commonly with sugar but sometimes with salt. To see a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, head here on a Saturday, when the coffee is traditionally prepared in a beautiful clay jebena (kettle) heated on a charcoal stove that sends out wafts of smoke. You can also get great Ethiopian food during the ceremony, soaked up with rolls of injera.

Markus explains that Ethiopian coffee was once served in small earthenware pots, the precursor of the espresso cup. And coffee itself originated in the Ethiopia – the myth being that a ninth-century goatherd noticed his animals were a lot friskier having chewed on coffee plants. Whatever the truth of this, we suggest you go back to the source and have your next Hackney coffee in Gillett Square. Letenachin (our health) Hackney!

by Sally Schafer