Alchemy Café

Details of the Nicaraguan La Venus Filter Coffee, complete with tasting notes, available from the Alchemy Cafe.After finally managed to visit Durham’s Flat White after many years of trying, I found myself in the City of London last week, walking past another stalwart of Britain’s speciality coffee scene, Alchemy. A roastery (based in Wimbledon) with a single coffee shop in the narrow lanes south and west of St Paul’s Cathedral, Alchemy just pre-dates the Coffee Spot. It’s another of those places that I’ve been aware of for as long as I’ve been doing the Coffee Spot, having wandered past on several occasions, thinking that I must go in. Sadly, the timing has never been right. So when I wandered past last Thursday, in I went.

The Alchemy Café occupies a bright, square space on the corner of Ludgate Broadway and Carter Lane. It’s an area that is now well-served by speciality coffee shops, but Alchemy’s one of the stalwarts, having first opened its doors in 2013. As nice as the space is, the real draw is the coffee, with two options on espresso, plus a single-origin on pour-over and another on batch-brew. There’s also cold brew, various teas plus a selection of cake and savouries, while Alchemy’s complete range of beans is available in retail bags.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • On the corner of Ludgate Broadway & Carter Lane, stands the Alchemy Cafe.
  • A narrow bench sits outside on Ludgate Broadway, with a small table to its right...
  • ... while the A-board cuts a solitary figure on the veritable expanse of pavement.
  • Meanwhile, there's no seating on the narrow pavement of Carter Lane.
  • The filter coffee options are chalked up on a board by the door...
  • ... which confirms that we have come to the right place.
  • Inside, the staggered, three-part counter greets you, diametrically across from the door.
  • To the left of the door, a six-person window-bar spans the two windows...
  • There's plenty of space by the door, but it's a little cramped at the far end by the counter.
  • The view from the other end of the window-bar.
  • There's another, shorter window-bar on the other side, along the right-hand wall.
  • Again, the last two seats are constrained by the presence of the counter.
  • The table outside, seen through the window.
  • Back inside, and despite the windows, there are still lots of light-bulbs.
  • These hang from wires, making a zig-zag pattern (based on the A of Alchemy).
  • Obligatory light-bulb shot.
  • The zig-zag pattern is everywhere, includng on the counter front.
  • There are lots of other neat features, including the greenery in the windows...
  • ... and the coffee-making aparatus in the corner.
  • Look more closely and you'll see that underside of the window bar is used for storage...
  • ... something which is repeated in the opposite corner.
  • Most coffee shops put their opening hours outside, but not Alchemy.
  • Down to business. The counter greets you as you enter.
  • You need to head over here to order...
  • ... where you'll find the menu handily-placed on the wall behind the counter.
  • A selection of retail bags is also here.
  • Meanwhile, back on the counter, there are cakes and savouries by the till...
  • ... including the all-important toast.
  • A relatively new summer experiment is on the back wall: espresso soft-serve ice cream!
  • The milk, meanwhile, is from local(ish) supplier, Goodwood Dairies.
  • The espresso machine takes pride of place in the centre of the counter...
  • ... although if you sit in the far (left-hand) corner, you get a great view of its workings.
  • Naturally I sat there, having a slice of toast for my lunch...
  • ... which I paired with a shot of the Elixir blend.
  • I could have had filter coffee by the way. This DR Congo coffee was on batch-brew...
  • ... while this Nicaraguan was on pour-over.
  • If you sit in the far corner, you also get a good view of the pour-over operation.
  • The wooden trays are used for serving, with the info cards handed out with the coffee.
  • While I was there, a V60 for two was being prepared.
  • The coffee is pre-weighed in small, metal tins, then ground on demand.
  • The ground coffee is added to a pre-rinsed filter paper.
  • Looking good.
  • The first pour is to allow the coffee to bloom.
  • The coffee is given a quick stir and then left to bloom for 40 seconds...
  • ... at which point the main pour starts.
  • In a technique I've not seen before, there is a single main pour, the barista pouring the...
  • ... water in a circular, clockwise direction
  • ... going around the circumference of the V60 several times.
  • This imparts a swirl to the coffee...
  • ... which is then helped by another stir once the pour is complete.
  • Then the coffee is left to filter through.
  • Almost done.
  • What a lovely, flat bed, always a sign, I think, of a good extraction.
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I’ve always enjoyed wandering the narrow, traffic-free streets and lanes of the City of London, with its quiet, unexpected courtyards, surprising, contrasting views (turn one corner and there’s St Paul’s, turn another, the Shard), hidden churches and, these days, speciality coffee shops.

The Alchemy Café is one such find. Although Alchemy’s coffee, which comes from an industrial unit in south Wimbledon, is available in a variety of coffee shops and other outlets throughout the capital, with the odd destination further afield, this is its one-and-only coffee shop and, according to the staff, likely to stay that way.

Alchemy occupies square floor-plan right on a corner, with the door on Ludgate Broadway, which we’ll call the front. There are two windows to the left of the door, while on the right-hand side, running along Carter Lane, there are three, the first occupying a position equivalent to the door. Outside seating, in the form of a narrow bench, is tucked under the broader of the two windows on Ludgate Broadway, where the A-board cuts a solitary figure on the veritable expanse of pavement.

Inside, a long window-bar spans the two windows to the door’s left, with six stools for seating. To the right, the first window is used for storage, while a slightly shorter window-bar spans the remaining two windows with room for five stools. The counter, a three-part affair, occupies the back and left-hand walls, with the space between it and the door left free for takeaway customers, who make up a large proportion of the customers.

The counter starts against the back wall, facing the door. The first part holds the cakes and till, menu on the wall behind. The middle section is at 90⁰ to this, running parallel to the left-hand wall and facing the right-hand wall. Containing the three-group La Marzocco Linea espresso machine and two Mythos 1 grinders, it’s the heart of the operation. The final section is parallel with the back wall, facing the window-bar. This contains the pour-over station, including an Uber boiler and EK43 grinder which against on the left-hand wall.

Alchemy is the process of changing up its coffee offerings. During my visit, two blends, Opus and Elixir, were on espresso, although going forward, I believe that the Opus (75% Brazil, 25% Colombia) with its notes of hazelnut, milk chocolate and caramel, will be the house-blend, the other slot being a regularly-rotating single-origin or blend.

Meanwhile, there are always one/two single-origins on pour-over using the V60, with another on batch-brew. While I was there, the pour-over was a Nicaraguan, while the batch-brew was from the Democratic Republic of Congo. There was also cold-brew and a relatively new experiment, espresso soft-serve ice cream. Made using eight shots of the Elixir blend per batch, you can really taste the coffee! I had a little sample and really loved it.

However, I’d come for lunch. As well as a range of cakes, Alchemy has a small selection of savouries, including sausage rolls, banana bread and my usual fall-back, toast, so I treated myself to a slice of sourdough toast with jam. Really tasty and crunchy, it was just what I needed to soak up the caffeine.

I followed that by a shot of the Elixir as an espresso. A blend of 75% Rwandan and 25% Brazilian, it had tasting notes of pineapple, bittersweet chocolate and black cherry. Personally, I wouldn’t have said pineapple but I can see where it was coming from. There was a definite acidity to it, although not too sharp. While it’s not what I’d want every day, it made an interesting contrast.

8 LUDGATE BROADWAY • LONDON • EC4V 6DX +44 (0) 20 7329 9904
Monday 07:00 – 17:00 Roaster Alchemy (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 17:00 Seating Window-bars, Benches (outside)
Wednesday 07:00 – 17:00 Food Cakes, Savouries
Thursday 07:00 – 17:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 07:00 – 17:00 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Saturday CLOSED Wifi No
Sunday CLOSED Power Limited
Chain No Visits 5th July 2018

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