4 Apr 2017

Watch Out, There's a Hipster in Your Coffee!

I can't quite figure out how it came about. As my spoon cuts into the foam of my cappuccino and the cocoa constellation dissipates into the milky way of my cup, I look up across the packed out café and smile absent-mindedly. I vividly remember the turning point. At the turn of the millennium, the coffee revolution took us almost unawares and I welcomed it with open arms and a big kiss. In one swell swoop, it swept aside the shameless kettle and Nescafé combo, the gritty coffee pot at work whose treacle-like substance would be laced with lashes of full fat milk and a spoonful of sugar to tone the bitterness and general malevolence. The conservative coffee machine would not fare any better either if you were to self-proclaim coffee maestro. And tumble would the slightly higher-brow cafetière (French Press) that only ever had pride of place in those households that vacationed in France and Italy.

The London Coffee Festival 2015

At that point, coffee had ceased to be that monochrome, low budget, one-dimensional, nonchalant affair, black or white, one sugar, no sugar. Strong and you call it espresso like you're in the know. Weak and you call it Americano, once again if you want to flaunt your two words of Italian (three if we add 'pizza').

The London Coffee Festival

Coffee would be and it would be much more: a coffee named desire. Coffee was going to finally exist, express itself, albeit with attitude and a price tag that yells out indulgence. The Italian vocabulary would expand, and be re-invented should its linguistics become suddenly too limitative. Enter Frappuccino, the foam-at-the-mouth, shirty, expansive creation that makes the paltry espresso look like a size zero, deflated, monastic model. Savvy marketers gave themselves carte blanche to jazz up, sex up, amplify and yuppify coffee and make it indispensable under its new guises. Under the new paradigm, coffee became art creation, indulgence, a liquid brunch - and a neat, no-questions-asked multi-billion-dollar endeavour at the check-out.

The London Coffee Festival North 2016

The revolution would redefine coffee to the point where it would take a long sentence to define your drink to the barman, sorry the garçon, sorry the barista. Just so you can listen to yourself saying it in that all-knowing encompassing 'I'm in the club' way while the punter behind you in the queue quietly rehearses their prose before their grand finale, a brief, sudden verbal diarrhea of a purchasing interjection, cured by a fancy drink that costs a pretty penny.

The London Coffee Festival North 2016

Along with that morning white that suddenly became a long Ethiopian roast skinny decaff latte, the staff behind the counter would be redefined too. Enter Barista, full steam ahead, the busy body that is all arms, concentrated like a strong coffee! They whizz their magic within a few square feet perimeter on the other side of the counter like a storm in a teacup, precise, repetitive movements, attached to shiny expensive machinery with pumps and gaskets, and through the steam, the pulls and the metallic thuds, you would be forgiven to believe they're operating the Orient Express. They add the drama that you bought and paid for to your humble cup, tick boxes and scribble ancient codes on it, spin a thousand variants and combinations around coffee like they're the key to the Graal's safe, so many of them, they've morphed into algorithms. They froth up a hot beverage like a coiffeur teases a curl, with painstaking dedication. And if the impermanence of coffee art weren't fleetingly irrelevant, you have latte art to ponder about.

Now to the crux of the coffee is that correlation of late between fancy, jazzy, niche-market coffee from the café in the know, and the hipster. If we are to believe the hype, it's being percolated to us like it's non-negotiable.

Coffee has become art and science, especially in its percolation. Coffee is edgy: it has become the new absinthe. And in its heyday, absinthe was the poison of choice to the creative mind losing its mind in the buvettes of Montmartre. Modern creatives or wannabe creatives display their edge by drinking connoisseur coffee, a safer healthier option! They still look like the 1890s never quite went away, bar for the rolled-up sleeves displaying elaborate tattoos on their forearms. They wear the bushy beard, checkered shirts, suspenders. Unroll the sleeves to hide those arms, and the chaps wouldn't be out of place on those long-forgotten family photos circa 1890. But why, oh my, did fancy coffee and hipster become an item, if only for the fact that both are stuff of a fashion trend? I doubt I will eat my words on this one: fancy coffee will outlive the hipster but for the time being, chance is you'll spot them together like two coffee beans in a pod behind the counter, about to squeeze into that ristretto.

Hurry up if you wish to catch a gulp (sorry, a slice) of the action! The London Coffee Festival is taking place in a couple of days, 6th to 9th April, Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, London.

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