It would be an understatement to say that I have been quite excited about Square Mile's inaugural foray into the coffeehouse business. Many rumours were circulating about the format of this new London venture with suggestions of no espresso, no milk, no sugar...many a sane person would have balked at such wild and fantastical ideas. The anticipation built to a crescendo and then, yesterday, the day arrived - the day all questions would be answered. And what do you know? The rumours were all correct and all I can say is thank the Gods that they were.
I have to admit that I was wondering how it was going to work - six seats, no take out and brewed coffee only. How will it stay in business? But you see, I was thinking a little too commercially. Because when you enter and sit down it feels special: you feel special, and you know that you're about to take part in something more than you're used to at your regular coffee local. If all this sounds a little fluffy and somewhat, well, bollocks then let me explain how it works.
It's an unassuming frontage to the shop - the standard black fascia with a bench out front and an unapologetically muted window decal indicating the name. When you enter you have a display of Hario retail brewing equipment to your left and a table/bar to the right with seating for six on high stools. The water dispenser is at the far end of the bar and a small counter to the rear right is used as a grinding and prep station. Apart from a display of Square Mile beans, that's your lot. Simple, uncluttered and centred around the coffee.
- take a friend,
- pay for two people and enjoy double the amount of delicious coffee or
- hang about about outside and wrestle/convince/ask nicely, for someone to come and join you.
Whichever method you choose to employ I highly recommend that you take part in the full tasting.
The Coffee Experience
Once we had ordered, we were each presented with chocolates, glasses, a carafe of water and 2 cups.
I'll give you a quick overview of the tastings:
First up was the Capao from Brazil. This is prepared using pour over and is paired with a caramelized hazelnut dusted in cocoa. It is sweet and nutty and the caramelized hazelnut really highlights these characteristics. Surprisingly, the Capaos sweetness seems to dominate the sweetness of the paired chocolate!
Next was the Blackburn estate. This was brewed via a woodneck and paired with a Raspberry Toscana. This expresses almost jammy red fruit and hints of cocoa which were complimented by the Toscana. The Blackburn retained its heavier body as the woodneck didn't strip the oils out whilst brewing, and the texture of the raspberry centre of the chocolate complimented this well.
Finally: the classic Yirgacheffe. This was brewed via a syphon enhancing the floral/citrus qualities of the coffee. The pairing of Yuzu chocolate and its citrus flavours supported the Yirgacheffe perfectly.
Throughout the tasting we learned about each coffee, its origin and the particular brewing method used. It was engaging, informative but above all deliciously fun. We were fortunate enough to have James Hoffman lead us through our tasting but, from what I saw, all of the guys were doing a great job.
Penny University is in its truest sense, a coffeehouse, not a café. A place to learn about and discuss coffee, experience a great atmosphere and have a great time. It's not only rooted in tradition but new, bold and innovative - and for that alone it deserves to be a great success.
Penny University is located at 5 Redchurch Street, London, E2 7DJ