Italian coffee culture in the UK

February 28th, 2009

This morning I spoke to a journalist on the phone who is writing about coffee in London, as well as the antipodean influence on our coffee scene.

One of the questions he asked was about the influence of Italian populations on coffee cultures.  In Australia a good chunk of credit for the early rise of coffee culture there stems from the high standards of the Italian communities that quickly spread to a relatively small population and increased expectation.

He asked why this hadn’t happen in London/the UK.  Was it just that we have a larger population so it took time for a higher standard to spread?  My thoughts on this, and I’d welcome yours, is that in London certainly there doesn’t seem to be a dense pocket of Italian culture and whilst there are many Italian bars, cafes, restaurants and delis spread throughout the city, the are relatively dilute.  Coffee served in these places isn’t much better than any other coffee served in London and, while I’ve never been hopelessly in love with the actual coffee served in Italy, it is certainly worse than what one would typically find in an Italian city.

For me this dilution is key – without being surrounded by higher expectations many businesses just met the expectations of the locals (pretty low in this case).  Essentially we dragged them down to our level.  Perhaps places like Bar Italia lasted longer than others but certainly their coffee is nothing to shout about any more.

This got me think about London, and the changes in our coffee cultlure that I would love to see.  Is there a tipping point in all of this?  Could we work on one small area (let’s take East London for example) and build up a pocket of great coffee.  Once this pocket got dense enough would it then be able to spread and have impact on a larger scale?  If we want coffee in London to improve do we hope that all the outposts scattered across the city have an overall effect or is concentrating on one small pocket a better way to go?

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