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Coffee Culture



From the café Cubano to the café au lait, coffee in its various permutations is revered the world over. Here, ELLE Decoration's homes director Tessa Pearson investigates her favourite drink

Photography ALEX WALLACE  

Even as a die-hard coffee lover, it’s difficult for me to put my finger on what it is that I relish so much about my daily brew. It’s not just the much-needed kick-start to my morning; I’m as happy sipping a cup of decaffeinated as the real deal. Rather, I think the highlight might be the anticipation, combined with the unmistakable chocolatey caramel aroma of my favourite Colombian blend.

According to Ethiopian folklore, the effects of coffee were first noticed by a goatherd from Kaffa, who observed that his goats behaved most excitedly after nibbling on some plants that grew wild in the hills. Legend has it that he returned to his village with a batch of suspicious red berries, and, after deciding to incinerate them, the local monks were so taken with the smell that they raked the roasted beans out of the embers of the fire and distilled them with boiling water. Upon drinking the liquid, the monks found renewed energy for their daily devotions – a discovery that caused the coffee plant to become sacrosanct across Ethiopia.

Skip forward to the present day, and it looks like reverence for the bean has spread the world over. Every nationality seems to have its own particular relationship with the drink, each with its own cultural idiosyncracies – from Turkey’s thick, dark ‘mud’ coffee, to light, tangy Norwegian roasts or Mexico’s café de olla, which is served in a clay pot with a stick of cinnamon, and, of course, the infamous Antipodean flat white.

But why the fascination? ‘It’s not just about wonderful coffee,’ says espresso expert Louie Salvoni of Bar Italia, the tiny Soho hangout that opened in 1949 – one of the first of its kind to spring up in London when good coffee was hard to come by. ‘Coffee-making is a ritual handed down over centuries. At Bar Italia, when you order a coffee you feel that history.’ This isn’t an unfounded sentiment. Hop across the globe back to Ethiopia and you’ll find that the process of preparing and consuming coffee is still culturally celebrated, with a traditional, and somewhat lengthy, coffee ceremony that can occur as many as three times a day. An invitation to one of these ceremonies represents a display of friendship or respect, and the occasion is an integral part of the community’s social life.

Here in the UK, the thriving home-barista movement suggests that coffee has become far more than just a drink to enjoy with friends. The ever-increasing amount of information and apparatus now available allows people to create the perfect, often highly bespoke, cup of Joe in the comfort of their own kitchen. Home brewing is now a serious business. A coffee aficionado’s kitchen is likely to be equipped with a variety of different coffee makers, as well as a burr or blade grinder for preparing the beans (see our essential kit column overleaf ). You can even buy your beans green and roast them at home for the ultimate bean-to-cup experience.

With so many methods and gadgets to choose from, those in the know seem to opt for a time-governed approach to their coffee making. Glenn Watson, director at coffee consultancy 5M, describes his morning routine: ‘On weekdays I always make a cortado (an espresso cut with a small amount of warm milk) using my Alex Duetto espresso machine. But at the weekend I like to use a Chemex, Aeropress or “V60” filter for a longer, slower brew.’ Gwilym Davies, 2009 World Barista Champion and co-owner of Prufrock Coffee, a Clerkenwell café and barista training centre, agrees on the need to savour his creations. ‘I don’t appreciate my coffee fully unless I have enough time to prepare it properly and drink it slowly. It’s a special part of the day that’s just for me. This is my chance to try different techniques and see how they affect the flavour. This varied approach has become a ritual all of its own and it’s something I look forward to.’

This idea of ceremony, of something to be celebrated and savoured, appears to be a common theme amongst coffee lovers, and with the results of a recent study proving that rituals enhance our enjoyment of food and drink, it might also explain the enigma surrounding coffee. The research, published by American online journal Psychological Science, concluded that ‘rituals enhance the enjoyment of consumption because of the greater involvement in the experience that they prompt’ – a possible explanation for coffee addicts’ gadget-filled cupboards. But some of us are already fully aware of the sensory joys associated with our habit, like illustrator and author Christoph Niemann, who, in his book Abstract City (Abrams, £15.40), admits: ‘I like coffee so much that I have tea for breakfast.’ He explains, ‘My first cup of coffee is so good that I’m afraid I won’t be able to properly appreciate it if I’m half-asleep. So I celebrate it two hours later when I am fully conscious.’For others, it might just be the much-needed caffeine high that hits home, rather than any conscious enjoyment of the preparation or consumption itself. If you happen to be in that camp, then next time you make your rocket fuel, why not attempt to slow down and savour as you sip? Perhaps buy a beautifully designed cafetière, or a hand-thrown ceramic cup that feels good to hold, and take a little more time to appreciate the heady tastes and aromas of this simple pleasure. Try experimenting with different brewing methods, or even book yourself in for a barista training course – such as Workshop Coffee Co’s two-hour session, £35, or Prufrock Coffee’s ‘Brew Methods’ full-day class, £200 ( – so you can learn to create a beverage that’s tailored to suit your taste. But if you choose the latter route, be warned. ‘Getting into coffee can be an all-consuming hobby,’ enthuses Peter Dore-Smith, founder of West End coffee shop Kaffeine. ‘You can end up going fully overboard and buying every little gadget there is. People go bonkers over it, because they can. It’s a fascinating subject.’ With thanks to Espresso Bar Mozzino, 74 Broadwick Street, London W1, ELLE Decoration’s favourite coffee hangout (


Essential coffee kit

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need an expensive espresso machine to make great coffee. Here’s our pick of the best home-brew gadgets.


This foolproof device uses a vacuum to apply the necessary pressure to squeeze outevery last drop of flavour from the coffee grounds and features a micro- filter to maximisethe purity and smoothness of the coffee. £19.99 (aero presscoffee.

‘SyphonTechnica’by Hario

This clever gadgetlooks more suitedto a chemistry lab thana kitchen. It uses vacuum technology to brew a smooth, infusion style of coffee. From £95 for a two-cup model (

‘Moka Express Hob EspressoMaker’ by Bialetti

Made from polished aluminium, the distinctive octagonal shape of this stove-top espresso maker is designedto efficiently diffuse heat and enhance aromas. From £23 for a three-cup model, Heal’s (

V60 Ceramic Dripper’ by Hario

An innovative dripper design with a large hole at the bottom, a steep wall and spiral ribs on the inside. Once mastered, it’s a simple yet effective way to make a great cup of pour-over coffee. From £14 fora one-cup model (


This beautiful glass flask was designed by a German inventorin 1941. The device uses special filter paper that’s thicker than standard drip-coffee filters, andis perfect for making strong brews without bitterness. From £36.99 for a three-cup model, Has Bean Coffee ( ED