‘… Oh no my dear friend, I tell you now, a good coffee won’t do you any harm… it’s the kisses and after thoughts that do the damage…”
– Francois Lubbe –
Celebrations for Halloween started a bit early this year. It’s Saturday and the streets are all a buzz with strange creatures appearing eerily in every nook and cranny of the city, making it look like a scene from a bad horror comic strip. Capes, daggers, spiders, webs, coffins, monsters, goblets, elves and witches flood the streets, buses and trains. There’s even a horny little devil next to me on the platform waiting for the train. Seconds later, a vampire joins the little devil and they board the train wickedly evil… death is all around us.
It’s 12 in the afternoon and the festivities are steadily growing to the climax that will happen much later in the evening. Brilliant!
However, the souls passing, along with the dead and all our yesterdays, which have no undoing, is not part of my quest on this beautiful day in London. Instead, I’m searching for the illusive ‘perfect’ Flat White.
I was first told about Flat White coffee, from a Kiwi who owned a coffee shop in New Zealand, about 12 years ago. The way he described its taste, made it sound like one of those temptations one wouldn’t easily forget. Ever since, I have been searching. On this wonderful caffeine induced journey, I have, so far, had some pretty darn good coffee and I think I know where to find my treasure… but I am not convinced.
My first stop, is an obvious choice. Someone – a coffee amateur – told me that a certain high street chain does a good Flat White. I must admit, amid the syrups and artificially sweetened cakes and cookies, it is hard to believe anything remotely authentic and delicate can be found in this over-rated high street monster. Unsurprisingly, I was right and had to fight back an anaphylactic reaction after just one mouthful. Needless to say, the 2 bucks spent there was a complete waste. Their muddy and weak concoction should not be branded as a… Can’t even think about it…
I am left disappointed and thirsty for more.
My next stop… back to the east-side of the city, Shoreditch — the REAL London. Crazy-looking people are laughing down the alleys in their make-up, hats, feathers, exotic gloves and painless faces. Exhilarating!
Coffee stop number 2 was mediocre but tolerable… from a smaller high street chain, a bit more discerning and cosmopolitan. Their version is creamy… almost thick enough. Still, it misses the lingering earthy delightfulness that stays on your tongue for a while… like a good kiss. Admittedly, if it wasn’t for the refreshing lick of rain outside, I wouldn’t have stayed to read the newspaper.
A crowd of friends arrive. We change venue and without the least resistance, switch from coffee to wine.
Viogner is on the menu and since it’s one of those white wines with which one cannot go wrong, we drink a few bottles… This fruity variety is a temperamental temptress. She’s alive with mysterious flavours and aromatic surprises hidden in every sip.
A little girl dressed like a skeleton and wearing a pointy witch’s hat, runs in to the restaurant and shouts, “Trick or Treat!” before she shoots off again.
The lady opposite me says “Take your treats now kid, after this it gets very tricky.”
I want to see Soho‘s version of All Saint’s Day… and rumour has it, Soho has a secret spot where one can get a great Flat White. The best in town, I’m told.
Halloween in Soho is delicious! It’s the one day of the year (except for Gay Pride) when pointing at the gays and drag queens are perfectly acceptable and staring is almost compulsory.
A well-toned, young, muscular Robin Hood struts past me in the street… I feel a rush of endorphins through my body. Mr. Hood walks hand-in-hand with and equally buff Superman. Robin turns around with a naughty smile for me.
‘Goodness’ I think ‘what fun one would have getting both of them out of those outfits…’
A quick turn into Covent Garden and there it is. A hint of spice and soil flirts barely noticeable in the air. Here they serve only organic and freshly grounded coffee. The sugar is unrefined, sticky and clunky. The spoons are wooden and the cups, caramel coloured recycled paper. When you enter the narrow little Australian coffee shop you’re embraced by the knowing that you will have great coffee there.
My heart stops. I’ve been down down this road before. I hesitate. There is that doubt again. I ponder for a moment.
Alas, I will give it a miss. I always do this… go back to the same old thing. I must break the cycle… afterall, something tells me there is more out there.
Then I remember, that another Kiwi from Christchurch, more recently told me about a secret little piece of ‘coffee heaven’ where, it is said, you leave enchanted and spellbound after drinking their Flat White.
That is where I will go.
Evening has set in. It’s brisk out in the streets and the crowd is getting geared-up to make this Halloween a memorable one. Back through the allies of Soho, I trip over Mother Teresa before I find the place.
Unassuming, hidden and not in the least pretentious.
Inside, Hadar Manor sings in the background… Her voice is like liquid sunlight streaming across the patron’s faces…
‘I am gonna cook a man in my kitchen tonight… I’ve got the pot on the stove and my spices and my knives. I’m gonna slice his cute bum cheeks off and make it to a stew of stroganoff…’
The honest earthy smell of grounded coffee engulfs me and I am slowly becoming intoxicated.
Things become hazy and almost a blur…
The barista passes me my Flat White, I take a seat at a table and take my first sip in anticipation…
It is immaculate and monstrous in it’s simplicity. Just the right fluffy, slightly heavy, creaminess I was looking for and it lingers with such a tease in my mouth that my tongue begs for more… Pfff.
“What will elude me now.” I wonder, “Now that I have found my perfect Flat White?”
Out of nowhere he is sitting next to me… Robin Hood.
“Where’s Superman?”, I ask.
“He hooked-up with Hulk.” says Robin and shrugs his shoulders.
“I think he really likes green, so I forgive him.”
I smile at his joke.
“By the way” Robin says as he takes a sip from my cup “I like your fangs”.
“Thanks” I say, “they’re my own.”
Images: FR Lubbe
Text: FR Lubbe