A decade ago London’s perception of coffee as a ‘dark fluid’ was revolutionized with arrival of Aussies and their serious approach to our daily caffeine fix. A rapid growth of independent coffee shops in recent years has proved that Londoners have become pickier about their ‘cup of joe’. I am meeting Australian-born Tim Williams, a director of Workshop, who has been personally involved in reshaping London’s coffee culture, to discuss a current state and the future of coffee.
Just before a midmorning coffee break only a few loners are sipping their espressos in Clerkenwell-based Workshop coffee house. Friendly-looking Tim offers me a cup of coffee and the smell of brew fills the air. “The coffee culture that we have is the result of number of influences but the Australians’ one is undeniable,” says Tim Williams, one of the most influential people in London coffee business.
After getting experience in excellent coffee establishments in Melbourne, in 2006 Tim moved to London and joined Aussie-inspired Flat White team in Soho. Also known as a ‘director of coffee’, Tim has been responsible for every stage of coffee: sourcing, roasting, tasting and trading. “Australians have this access to get visa to come to the UK and spend time here. A visa is eligible from the age of 19 to 30, which is a real kind of prime barista years. Definitely the arrival of Aussies have caused coffee gentrification of London and pulled many away from their comfort zone.”
Especially during 2005 and 2006, London saw a real upswing in the amount of Aussie baristas coming for two years and bringing skills and third wave coffee culture with them. When asked what makes specialty coffee shops different, he says that the coffee they serve comes from a single estate and the green Arabica beans are batch roasted following the highest standards. This kind of coffee approach comes from Australia, where they take their coffee very seriously indeed.
But Tim disagrees that Australians are entirely responsible for London’s artisan coffee culture. “Back in 2006 and 2007, when I was sort of filly freshing my London coffee journey, we were certainly spending a bunch of time saving tips and saving all the money we could to go to take cheap flights to New York and to see what the guys were doing there.”
Tim has rebranded Climpson & Sons, one of the pioneering shops for London’s now-famous coffee revolution, and he admits that at that time he was significantly influenced by the USA. “What they were doing in New York was really cool. I mean they were going really robust heavy syrupy espresso, they all had tattoos, knew each other and were hanging out in the cool bars when they were not working,” says Tim, his serious face starts smiling.
A few years later Scandinavian style of coffee changed a general attitude to specialty shops in London, which was absolutely opposite to what was happening in New York. “It was really about finesse, elegance, acidity and starting to talk much more about where coffee came from. As a community we were influenced and still are influenced by that today.”
London’s cosmopolitan and diverse population provides a market for developing a new wave of coffee. “The beauty of London is that it is a really great city for looking at the bunch of different communities. We are so central here to Europe, the United States and even to Africa,” Tim starts to speak louder as his voice is competing with the noise of a whirring espresso machine. “We can take influence from the bunch of different places and then put it around London spin on it and I think what we have gotten out of the end of that is a community that is vibrant, interesting and really unique to London itself.”
Tim Williams has settled in Islington but his luggage is always packed and ready to go. He travels mainly around South America and Africa visiting coffee farms and tasting different coffee beans, which he could bring back to London. Tim emphasizes the importance of understanding where coffee comes from, how it is grown, how it is produced and how it is traded. “These are the things that we were not really educated on when I was younger and I wish that I paid more attention to it early on because that is the real basis of everything that we do,” he says.
“If coffee production is not viable for farm in Rwanda, we are not going to have anything to put into the cups here in London.” This kind of example would have been ignored ten years ago, but now most of the Londoners pay attention what is in their cups and expect a high quality standard.
Asked what the future is for evolving’s London coffee culture, he grins cheerfully. “We really want to see developing London coffee as one of the premier coffee communities in the world”, says Tim. “The future for London coffee really needs to center on education and development of our baristas and our staff.”
He stresses that the future will be definitely positive in terms of customers being aware of coffee production. Our daily coffee routine is celebrated in a growing number of independent coffee shops not only in Central London but in the UK as well. “Getting to understand the nuances of coffee is going to be crucial to continue to develop London and push things forward, both for staff and for customers and ultimately for the quality in the cup.”