Modern Society

A gleaming, chrome Modbar grouphead in action at Modern Society on London's Redchurch Street.I first discovered Modern Society in March when I was invited by roasters, Assembly, to a talk by Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood on speciality coffee in capsules. Modern Society, on Redchurch Street in the heart of Shoreditch, is a life-style store with an excellent coffee bar at the front, one of a growing band of speciality coffee shops sharing space with other businesses. Sometimes the coffee side can be a separate business, although in this case, it’s fully integrated with Modern Society.

The result is a delightful, open, relaxed space, although if you think the coffee bar might be a bolt on or after-thought, think again. Modern Society has gone with cutting-edge roasters, Assembly, and has, to my knowledge, the first complete Modbar installation in the UK, with espresso, steam and pour-over modules. There’s also batch-brew through a Moccamaster.

To go with the excellent coffee, served from a very minimalist/concise menu which eschews names and simply lists sizes (espresso, black, 4oz, 6oz, 8oz), Modern Society also offers loose-leaf tea (prepared using the Modbar’s pour-over module) and a similarly-concise food menu, with breakfast and lunch options, all prepared on the counter, where you can sit and watch what’s going on if you like.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Modern Society, on London's Redchurch Street, approached from the west...
  • ... and seen here coming from the other direction.
  • Just in case you're not sure whether you've come to the right place.
  • In nice weather, the windows can be drawn all the way back...
  • ... so sitting at the window tables is almost like sitting outside.
  • Let's go in, shall we? Through the window? Or through the door?
  • On reflection, probably the door.
  • A panoramic view from just inside the door...
  • ... and the view from the front. Most of Modern Society is actually a lifetsyle shop.
  • The counter, on the left-hand side, greets you when you enter. You can sit here if you like...
  • Failing that, there are three tables by the windows (or a pair of benches outside).
  • The first of the three window tables.
  • Jess, of EatingEast fame, deep in conversation with the Ordoo guys.
  • That's pretty much it for the coffee shop part of Modern Society, the rest being the shop.
  • There's a neat set of retail shelves with some nice crockery by the tables...
  • ... but the rest of the merchandise is not coffee-related.
  • The light-fittings in Modern Society are something special...
  • ... while there are plenty of plants and other greenery scattered around.
  • The counter, as seen from the far table.
  • Another view of the counter, where all the drinks and food are prepared.
  • An amazingly concise coffee menu, hanging on the wall behind the counter.
  • The food menus are scattered on the tables.
  • A close-up of the food menu, which is just as concise as the coffee menu.
  • There's also a small selection of cake.
  • The heart of Modern Society's coffee operation: the UK's first full Modbar installation.
  • Along with a Mythos One grinder and some very lovely handleless cups.
  • There's an EK-43 for the filter coffee, which you can have pre-brewed in the Moccamaster...
  • ... or through the filter coffee part of the Modbar.
  • Here's some of the coffee: a 6oz (flat white) for Jess...
  • ... and a filter coffee for the guys from Ordoo.
  • Meanwhile, I had a 4oz (cortado)...
  • ... and here's a filter coffee which I had on a previous visit.
Photo Carousel by v4.6

Modern Society cuts a dashing figure on Redchurch Street, described by no less an authority than Jess, of EatingEast fame, as her favourite street in London. On the north side of the (relatively) quiet street, the broad front of Modern Society is all glass, the door on the left. As a bonus, the left-hand of three windows can slide over to the right in good weather, connecting the first of the tables with the pavement.

Inside, Modern Society is a large, spacious lifestyle store, although if I’m honest, I never ventured much beyond the coffee operation at the front. The counter, short-side facing the door, is on the left, while three generous round tables line the window to the right. If you don’t fancy that, there are two benches on the pavement in front of the centre and right-hand windows. Best of all, you can perch at one of four bar stools on the counter’s long-side and watch the Modbar in action.

About the Modbar. It’s the first one I’ve seen in the wild, so to speak, in the UK, although I came across several on my recent USA trip. The Modbar, and similar systems, might be the future of espresso, replacing a single, hulking machine with a modular system. This means that you can hide the bulky elements (boiler, pumps), leaving just the group heads, rising from the counter like gleaming beer taps. For me, this is crucial, removing a barrier (the espresso machine) between barista and customer, allowing greater interaction.

Take Modern Standard’s set-up as an example: you walk in through the door and are confronted by the counter, housing the Modbar group heads, behind which stands the barista. Were this a typical espresso machine, it would be an immediate barrier. As it is, you can stand there and see your coffee being made, nothing hidden from view.

Although there’s at least one other Modbar in the UK, as far as I know, Modern Society’s pour-over module is the UK’s first. This automates pour-over (Modern Society uses a Chemex, but you can use any pour-over method) by delivering pre-set volumes of water at defined intervals (all programmable, along with the temperature).

Unlike some of the fully-automated systems at this year’s London Coffee Festival, I’d describe the Modbar as semi-automatic. Blooming still has to be done manually, and although you can leave the Modbar to its own devices after that, in every installation I’ve seen, there’s been some manual intervention. When I visited Modern Standard in March, the technique was to stir the coffee between pours. Now, however, the nozzle at the end of the hose is manually moved around as the water is dispensed (similar to pouring with a gooseneck kettle) to provide better agitation.

Modern Society usually has two single-origins, currently a Guatemalan and an Ethiopian, on filter, with one available as batch-brew through the Moccamaster. Having tried (and enjoyed) the filter on my first visit, I went with the espresso, Assembly’s standard blend. On its own, it was far too bright for my palette, so I had a cortado (aka 4oz) instead, the milk nicely taking the edge off of it. In my experience, bright coffee often fights the milk, but this one goes superbly well in milk, with the complexity of coffee still managing to come through.

Before I leave you with the table, here’s a bonus gallery with the Modbar in action.

  • The beating heart of the coffee side of Modern Society: the Modbar.
  • Although the Mythos One grinder comes a close second...
  • do the cute, handleless cups which are from the Dusk range by Serax.
  • One of the two Modbar group-heads, all gleaming chrome and ready to go.
  • Step one: zero the scales with the portafilter.
  • Step 2: grind the beans (Assembly's espresso blend in the hopper).
  • Once you set the Mythos One going, it delivers a pre-determined dose all by itself.
  • However, that doesn't stop a post-grind weighing, plus some minor adjustments.
  • Now we have the correct dose, it's time for step 3, make the coffee...
  • Attach the portafilter to the group-head, pull down the lever and we're off!
  • This middle position for the lever is, I think, pre-infusion. Best get a cup in place.
  • With the lever fully down, we're into full extraction. First coffee appears at 12 seconds.
  • At seventeen seconds, we're starting to get two streams from the bottomless portafilter...
  • ... which are going strong at 19 seconds...
  • ... before quickly coalescing into one stream at 20 seconds.
  • Lovely extraction.
  • Modern Standard runs its extractions for quite a long time. Here we are at 34 seconds...
  • And now we're done.
  • Time for the milk.
  • I love watching a latte artist at work.
  • I'm always fascinated by how the pattern is built up, one element at a time.
  • I also love the way that each successive element shapes the ones that have gone before it.
  • Almost done now.
  • Just time for a final flourish to finish everything off.
  • And there we have it!
  • A lovely 6oz flat white for my friend Jess of EatingEast fame.
  • Back on the Modbar, it was time to make my coffee.
  • Stil nothing coming out at 12 seconds...
  • It was 14 seconds before the first coffee emerged: much dialing in ensued!
  • Okay. Here we go again. We're still getting two streams...
  • ... which quickly coalesce into a single stream.
  • Lovely extraction.
  • I think we're happy with this one.
  • Almost there.
  • And the result: a lovely 4oz cortado for me.
  • All the cofee is from Assembly, with a couple of single origins on filter: this Ethiopian...
  • ... and this one from Guatemala.
  • The Modbar also has a pour-over module. As far as I know, this is the first one in the UK.
  • After rinsing the filter paper in the Chemex, it's time to check the setting on the EK-43.
  • And grind.
  • Once again, everything is weighed, before and after.
  • The first pour, to allow the coffee to bloom, is manual.
  • Thereafter the Modbar dispenses defined amounts of water at set intervals.
  • You can leave it to get on with it by itself if you like, but at Modern Standard...
  • ... the preferred option is to move the showerhead to ensure a more even distribution.
  • And leave to filter through.
  • And here it is, in a carafe, ready to be served.
  • However, it's not just filter coffee. The Modbar can do tea as well.
  • The technique is remarkably similar.
  • In case you think I'm going soft, I'll leave you with this: a filter coffee from my visit in March.
  • Here it is being poured into the carafe...
  • ... and here it is, ready to serve.
Photo Carousel by v4.6

33 REDCHURCH STREET • LONDON • E2 7DJ +44 (0) 20 7729 0311
Monday 10:00 – 19:00 Roaster Assembly (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 10:00 – 19:00 Seating Tables, Counter, Benches (outside)
Wednesday 10:00 – 19:00 Food Lunch, Cake
Thursday 10:00 – 19:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 10:00 – 19:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 10:00 – 19:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 11:00 – 17:00 Power No
Chain No Visits 15th July 2016

If you liked this post, please let me know by clicking the “Like” button. If you have a WordPress account and you don’t mind everyone knowing that you liked this post, you can use the “Like this” button right at the bottom instead. [bawlu_buttons]
Don’t forget that you can share this post with your friends using the buttons below.

7 thoughts on “Modern Society

  1. Pingback: Speciality Coffee in Capsules? | Brian's Coffee Spot

  2. Pingback: London Coffee Festival 2016: Automatic Filter Machines | Brian's Coffee Spot

  3. Lovely review, Brian. ‘Assembly’, ‘Modbar’ and ‘lifestyle boutique’ are all concepts that attract my attention. Macintyre has a Modbar espresso module — was that the other UK one you were referring to?


  4. Pingback: Can Do Coffee, Paddington | Brian's Coffee Spot

  5. Pingback: Caffè Culture Connect | Brian's Coffee Spot

  6. Pingback: MacIntyre Coffee | Brian's Coffee Spot

Please let me know what you think. Guidelines for comments are in the "Posts" drop-down menu.