Federation Coffee

My piccolo in a glass at Federation Coffee, Brixton, part of a split shot using the Curve house blend, Stardust Vol 2.When it comes to speciality coffee south of the river (in London), Federation Coffee has been flying the flag longer than most (almost six years in fact), with three years at its current location in the heart of Brixton Village. Although it now has company in the likes of Balance, Stir and Brixton Blend, Federation’s still a standard-bearer when it comes to speciality coffee in Brixton. There’s a house-blend on espresso from Kent-based roasters, Curve, with regularly-rotating single-origins from Curve and various guests on filter through the ever-reliable Moccamaster.

Federation occupies a couple of units in Brixton Village. You can sit inside or out, where the glass-roofed market arcades make for the perfect location, whatever the weather. Inside, you share the space with the counter, the seating in the windows all around the edges, giving you the perfect spot for people-watching, particularly if you get one of the window-bars.

If you’re hungry, there’s a good selection of cake on offer, backed up by an impressive breakfast/lunch menu, particularly when you consider the small space behind the counter in which the kitchen staff have to work. The menu is largely bread-based, with toast and toasted sandwiches, which suited me just fine.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Brixton Village, a collection of indoor market arcades, home to many eateries, cafes and...
  • ... fruit and veg stalls.
  • However, it's mostly home to many wonderful food establishments from all over the world...
  • ... as witnessed by all the different flags hanging from the rafters!
  • This is 2nd Avenue, by the way...
  • ... and here, on the corner with 5th Avenue (to the left) is our destination for today...
  • ... which, in case you hadn't worked it out yet, is Federation Coffee.
  • There are also handy banners hanging down on both Avenues in case you miss it!
  • There's plenty of outside seating, a feature of Brixton Village. Some is on the short side...
  • ... but most of Federation's outside seating is along the long (5th Avenue) side.
  • Basically, everywhere there isn't a door, there's a table...
  • ... or two. The blankets are a nice touch. Although under cover, it can still be cold sitting out!
  • There's more inside, where much of the space is taken up by the counter...
  • ... with seating all the way around the outside. There are tables along the 2nd Avenue side.
  • Five tables in fact.
  • The 5th Avenue side has two-person window-bars, with two between the two doors...
  • ... and one tucked away in the far corner by the retail shelves.
  • Obligatory light-bulb shot.
  • There is a neat water station at the end of the counter by the espresso machine.
  • Talking of the counter, let's get down to business.
  • The concise drinks menu is above the water station at the end of the counter...
  • ... while the choices of coffee are by the till.
  • There's a house-blend from Kent-based roasters, Curve...
  • ... and a guest, from Belfast-based Bailies, on batch-brew.
  • Talking of batch-brew, here's the ever-faithful Moccamaster.
  • Federation also sells beans from Curve, and not just the house-blend.
  • Here's one of the single-origins that are available.
  • If you're hungry, there's also cake...
  • ... and a more substantial food menu.
  • It is based around toast and toasted sandwiches.
  • I went for the blue cheese and red onion marmalade toastie for my lunch.
  • When it came to the coffee, my barista suggested I had one of everything, so I said yes.
  • There was an espresso...
  • ... and a cup of the filter coffee...
  • ... plus a piccolo, so I could try the espresso in milk.
  • I'll leave you with my lovely latte art, which lasted all the way to the bottom of the glass.
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Brixton Village and Market Row are a set of covered arcades in the heart of Brixton which date back to the 1930s. Given my love of coffee shops in Victorian Arcades, I was always going to like Federation Coffee, even though Brixton Village missed the cut-off by around 30 years! However, there’s something very Victorian in the soaring, glass-roofed arcades, even if the end result is less ornate than most.

Federation Coffee has a lovely spot, a unit on the corner of 5th and 2nd Avenue, with the adjacent unit on 5th Avenue added on to provide a single space. As a result, Federation has a simple, rectangular plan, the short side facing 2nd Avenue, while the long side runs down 5th Avenue. There are generous windows on both sides, plus several doors, one on 2nd Avenue (which is never used) and two (one for each unit) on 5th Avenue (both in use).

You can sit “outside”, the glass roof keeping the rain/wind away, but ensuring you get what sunshine there is. There are four two-person tables on 2nd Avenue and seven on the 5th Avenue side, three between the two doors and two more either side. In the colder months (ie February!), blankets are thoughtfully provided since it can get a little chilly out there!

Inside, the layout’s simple. The two-part counter, which looks like it’s been built out of scaffolding poles, occupies the back corner, leaving the windows free for seating. One part of the counter, facing 5th Avenue, holds the cake and till, the other, holding the three-group La Marzocco espresso machine, faces 2nd Avenue. The counters extend all the way to the high ceiling, the space above cleverly used for storage.

Five two-person tables make their home between the espresso machine and the windows along 2nd Avenue. Alternatively, there are three two-person window bars opposite the counter on the 5th Avenue side. Two are between the two doors (one for each unit) while the third is right at the back, beyond the final door, tucked in by the retail shelves on the back wall.

When it comes to the coffee, Federation has never been afraid to experiment. It used to be with north London’s Campbell & Syme, but when one of the founders left to form Curve Coffee Roasters in Margate in the middle of 2016, Federation went too, giving Curve a valuable early customer. These days, Curve provides a seasonal house-blend (currently Stardust Volume 2) as well as single-origin filters. Here it’s joined by various guests, a sole single-origin (which changes every 7-10 days) available as a batch-brew through the Moccamaster.

I had no idea what I wanted, so the manager, Nick, suggested I try a little of everything, offering to make me a split shot with the espresso and a half a cup of the filter (a Guatemalan from Bailies in Belfast), which was an excellent suggestion.

I started with the espresso, which was really fruity and well-balanced, becoming a little sharper on the second mouthful. As a piccolo, it lost a little definition, but was still very good, milk and coffee in perfect harmony. I moved onto the filter, another smooth, fruity coffee with good body, once again proving you don’t need hand-pour to make great filter coffee. As an aside, Federation’s one of a growing number extracting espresso at five bar, the lower pressure providing some excellent results.

I paired all this with an excellent blue cheese and marmalade toasty. The bread was crunchy and the blue cheese very blue. Too often cheese toasties are bland, but this had a nice kick.

December 2017: Federation Coffee has won the 2017 Best Espresso Award.

Monday 08:00 – 17:00 Roaster Curve (espresso) + Curve & Guests (filter)
Tuesday 08:00 – 17:00 Seating Tables (inside and outside), Window Bars
Wednesday 08:00 – 17:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch (Toasties, Toast), Cake
Thursday 08:00 – 17:00 Service Counter
Friday 08:00 – 17:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 09:00 – 18:00 Wifi No
Sunday 09:00 – 17:00 Power Yes
Chain No Visits 24th February 2017

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