Espresso Joe versus the Volcano
So I may not look like Tom Hanks but I do know what a volcano looks like. Growing up in Auckland meant living in their shadows – over fifty, all told.
London’s very own volcano can be found in West Norwood, SE21 8EN. This would be the Parkhall Trading Estate on Martell Road, home to Volcano Coffee Works.
The trading estate is a lively block of light industry and workshops, a stone’s throw from the West Norwood rail station. Volcano café sits just inside the main entrance of the Estate. It’s a large space dedicated to the consumption of coffee, while the Volcano coffee roastery sits just behind.
Volcano is the brainchild of Gisborne, NZ local Kurt Stewart. The roastery is the result of years spent by Kurt as a chef, a serious motorcycle accident and a delight in Coffea Arabica.
The coffee beans are roasted in a style peculiar to Kurt. Sitting mid-way between the darker roast favoured by other New Zealand coffee roasters and the lighter style of British independent roasters, Kurt roasts to his own tastes. When customers drink Volcano coffee, they’re drinking Kurt’s coffee.
The café is a new project, having been open for mere weeks and it is an important part of the operation. In order to better understand, appreciate and love coffee, I believe it is helpful to talk with the people who make it. That means going beyond the barista to the roaster (and ideally the farmer – but who has time for a couple of days in Sumatra or Colombia?) It is also important to be able to compare different coffees – to taste them side by side and realise that some are sweet, some are fruity and some are packed with notes of spice. This is what places like Volcano offer – a chance to compare and contrast coffees while expanding your knowledge through direct contact with the makers.
While I was there, Kurt prepared two single origin beans as filter coffees: an Indonesian Wahana estate and a Cuban Serrano Superiore.
The Wahana was just like having an Indonesian forest fire roar through your mouth, all smoke and raisins. The Serrano was a lot sweeter, almost cola in flavor with some elegant orange notes thrown in.
Tasting the two coffees was an excellent reminder of what a really good coffee roaster can achieve with specialty coffee beans. Anyone with a pan, a heat source and some green beans can near-burn the beans to achieve a consistent roast – as can a number of High Street chains – but the skills, science and art that Kurt and his fellow artisanal roasters in the independent London coffee trade use bring each crop to life.
Like many in the independent coffee scene in London, Kurt is only too happy to sit down and talk about coffee with his customers and it’s clear that he has passed this passion on to his staff. Café manager Fiona Dundass is also equally adept at making people feel at home in the café and at home around a cup of coffee. Talking with her about coffee is like sitting down with a friend. She’s knowledgeable without sounding like a patronizing coffee snob.
The café itself is big. There’s a decent-sized room to rent for business meetings, a few vintage espresso machines on show and the typical array of home-style sandwiches and cakes. There is no kitchen so all food has been brought in from external suppliers.
Trading hours are currently restricted to business hours Mon-Fri but this will eventually be extended to the weekends. As of May 2012 there is no online shop to purchase beans (this will change) but Volcano can be contacted via email or phone for coffee bean orders – payment through PayPal. Volcano also offer a coffee subscription – a weekly or fortnightly postal service of some of London’s tastiest coffee. Perhaps the ideal gift for the coffee lover in your life?
And then there are the cafes and delis dotted around London that use Volcano Coffee – try Crystal Palace favourite Bambino Volcano, Peter Gordon’s renowned Providores and Tapa Room or the Bukowski Grill in the Shoreditch Boxpark.
Volcano Coffee Works is a fascinating and rewarding place to while away a couple of hours tasting coffee. If it has a downfall, it’s that it is not yet open on weekends; this is a place to which I want to bring my friends.