In 12th century Andalucia Islamic scholars argued over whether adding milk to coffee was sinful. Today, not far from the Goodge Street mosque, there’s a secular debate going on about the latest fashion in coffee consumption.
During a humid August week I sampled some of the chilled and cold brew coffee that is being offered from the hippest of Fitzrovia’s coffee vendors.
First call was to Black Sheep on Charlotte Street to sample their cold drip. However, on this occasion there was none available as they had sold out, such is its apparent popularity. Instead, I was directed to have an iced latte.
Milky, textured and made from the humble Robusta bean, and served in a glass mug somewhat reminiscent of the jar of an ale-snob at the Camra festival, the result was zesty and textured. A smooth, clear boost with ice cubes and milk that was refreshing and invigorating.
Served by a charming young man called Ahmed, as the faithful flocked to Friday prayers nearby, it didn’t seem that far from mediaeval al-Andalus.
At Workshop Coffee in Mortimer Street two young Gulfi ladies laden with bags of labels and accompanied by their personal shopper had come in for a latte. I resisted the urge to ask about the milk-and-coffee fatwa from times of old.
The bar, which seems the natural resting place for a tiny caffeine bullet like the Shakeretto, is perfectly cool with a little lounge walled off with cushioned benches and the most perfectly-spaced tables.
The Gulfi women withdrew at the sight of a brown bearded man, anxious to avoid the glare of the camera in their crop-tops draped with open abayas.
Everything being sipped and swigged in the industrially-stylised Workshop Coffee lounge is hewn from the Arabica bean. For the Shakeretto, a Guatamalan variety is mixed with ice and a citric syrup. A cocktail shaker does the work.
It comes out and into a delicate goblet with a side glass of water. It went down nicely. £3 a shot for the most originality in a tiny-glass since Garlic and Shots in neighbouring Soho.
A short walk across this modern medina in Windmill Street I settle down at Sharps — a coffee-shop-cum-hairdresser, or HairCaff. This is not the place for an indulgent slouch but more for someone whose image moves fast and in need of a top-up while waiting for that perfectly-groomed trim.
With a claimed shelf life of around a fortnight after purchase Sharps will sell you a glass hip(ster) flask of Sandow’s Cold Brew Coffee to take home.
Buying it at slightly cooler than the air-conditioned environ of the barber shop I took a swig or three to get me to the next meeting. With cold coffee in such resealable convenience — and four-times the price of the milky, sugary variety found in Tesco’s — my impulse was to savour it.
While out of the fridge the next morning it tasted refreshing, but the last third was tepid by the time it was retrieved from the backpack on my lunch break for work. By then, it just tasted like cold black coffee of any variety.
But selling bottled cold coffee as a take out is to perhaps miss the point of why people enjoy this drink. Like the call to prayer, coffee — whether steaming hot or chilled — is better done as a social ritual, in pleasant surroundings and in good company.
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