This Cafe Unites Mums and Metalheads Over Coffee

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This Cafe Unites Mums and Metalheads Over Coffee

Tia Maria teamed up with MUNCHIES for Coffee and Conversation, a series of conversations over coffee with the owners of some of London’s top coffee-serving establishments.
December 5, 2015, 4:34pm
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With the launch of the Tia Maria + Coffee Project and a selection of new, innovative serves that unite coffee culture with cocktail hour, Tia Maria is leading the way in coffee cocktails.

To celebrate this, Tia Maria teamed up with MUNCHIES for Coffee and Conversation, a series of conversations over coffee with the owners of some of London's top coffee-serving establishments. We talk about all things Java: the industry, the cocktails, the science, and the steaming mugs of Joe at the heart of it all. This time, we head to I Will Kill Again, a London cafe and roastery where Kiwi metalheads serve coffee to a very mixed crowd.

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When you think "specialty coffee shop in Hackney," death metal and motorbikes probably aren't subjects that spring to mind. However, these are the things that greet customers at I Will Kill Again on the days when the cafe roasts its coffee beans. I'm not sure what your typical coffee-roastery-slash-cafe looks like, but I always figured it would be more "upcycled furniture and poetry open mics" than "occult merch and Master of Puppets."

The team behind the gloriously titled East London cafe hail from New Zealand and have worked in Australia, where specialty coffee has long since evolved from trendy niche to become the industry standard. As such, Antipodean baristas aren't the sort to be defined by their trade. They can also be metalheads and bikers. As the I Will Kill Again Team told me, "It's just coffee."

I recently spoke to Bradley Morrison and Talia Aitchison from the cafe about the coffee scene, veganism, and their roastery, Dark Arts Coffee.

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Hi guys, can you explain this distinct Australia New Zealand coffee culture? Morrison: Both countries have a strong role in the recent history of coffee, or the modern interpretation of it. There's a just a lot of really good cafes back in New Zealand and Australia, so you just get used to drinking good coffee.

Aitchison: Like so many other Kiwis, we saw a gap in the market here. The level is so high in places like Melbourne that you need a lot more money to open up there. Whereas [specialty coffee] is still kind of developing here, so it makes it a little easier.

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So your personal interest in specialty coffee developed largely because of where you're from? Morrison: Yeah. when you get used to something at a high quality it just becomes normal to you. When I moved here and started working at a coffee shop, good cups of coffee seemed so few and far between. Then I started to see that maybe I could get involved in pushing it further.

And that's why you decided to start the Dark Arts roastery? Morrison: Me and Talia were working in a coffee shop in London. At the time the owner of that business was getting his coffee contract roasted, so I went out and saw how it was done. I reckoned pretty quickly that I could do it better than this contractor. So I put it to the owner, "Look if I can set up my own roastery will you use my coffee?" He said yes. Then I went on a bit of a journey trying to find a whole lot of cash.

I met one of my friends who I started the business with at a motorbike festival up north. I told him about the idea and he was just stoked on it. The main thing was to have a business but to also have a space in London that we could all hang out in. A lot of our friends rode motorbikes so when we started this was almost a garage, just filled with bikes and crap. It was only recently, when the cafe opened, that it moved from being a clubhouse to a business where we have to clean up after ourselves.

Aitchison: The people that come down—we get mothers and babies, then we get the bikers—it's a weird mix. We didn't think we'd get the range of people we have.

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Morrison: We didn't think that we would get—for want of a better word—yuppies, young professional people. But Talia knows what to do when it comes to running a cafe.

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You have a video on your website that seems to mock the smug attitudes that often come with artisanal products. Do you think "coffee people" can take themselves too seriously? Morrison: Way too fucking seriously. The one barrier for a lot of people with coffee is there's an arrogance to it. Just go on Vimeo and type in coffee, there's some really bad stuff on there

Talia, is this something you've experienced over the years? Aitchison: Oh yeah. I've been doing it off and on for nearly 15 years. I worked in Melbourne before coming here five years ago. That was when specialty coffee was really kicking off here. There are certain times where it's like, "You need to chill out, it's just coffee." I think that's why we've become as popular with people as we have, because we're more approachable. We have made a point of the staff talking to customers in a way that doesn't show off our knowledge, but still interests them.

What things are you looking for when you source your beans Morrison: We only run single origin coffees. The process of choosing them involves myself and our head of coffee, Jamie. We get in samples from all over the place. We have a similar palette so we generally agree on coffee straight away.

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Aren't single origin espressos a bit unusual? Morrison: The majority of coffee sitting in grinders around the city right now would be blends, but the single origin thing is growing. I understand why you would run a blend—it can be a little bit more stable, can help you have a similar tasting coffee throughout the year—but we like to run everything seasonally, to try and bring out the individual flavours of a certain coffee. That's where it's the most exciting

Why are people more conscious of the coffee they're drinking? Morrison: I think that's just part and parcel of what's happening with everything. Across the board—clothes, music, shoes—people are interested in every little piece of it. Whether that's to do with the type of culture we live in, the culture of self, social media, that kind of stuff, or it's just availability through globalisation. And people genuinely respect quality? It kind of feels that way.

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Do you ever incorporate coffee in your menu? Aitchison: No. A lot of our food is vegan, vegetarian, savoury, I don't know what we could do with it—put it in a brownie?

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Is your menu entirely vegetarian? Aitchison: No, but it's strong vegan vegetarian. We have eight dishes, two of those have pancetta or salmon. We never said to people we're a vegan vegetarian place. I'm vegetarian. Brad's vegetarian when he's sober. Some of our friends are vegan, some eat meat, and there was no where we could all go to eat. That's why we did a menu where there are meat options, but fewer. If I go to a pub and look at the menu, there's generally one vegetarian option. We created a menu where it was the other way round.

Morrison: Sometimes we'll go to vegan places and it tastes like vegan food—it's a thing. Sometimes it's the replacement meats. Our menu is about creating vegan food …

Aitchison: … that meat eaters would eat and not go, '"Oh shit, is this vegan?"

Morrison: A lot of vegan food is soy-based, so after you've eaten it you feel like you've got a brick in your stomach.

Explain the chorizo burger. Aitchison: All I'll say is it has no soya in it and we make it out of pinto beans. It takes about a day. It's quite a process.

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Given the health and environmental benefits, as well as the fact it tends to inspire more creative cooking, why are some people so cynical about veganism? Aitchison: I think it's just people not understanding it. When you think of vegans people often think of hippies, or people that love animals. People also haven't experienced nice vegan food, so they just think it's shit. A lot of it is heavy, soy, and it can make you feel gross. We get a lot of people who eat meat that come here, but they'll only eat the vegan dishes. They'll say it's the first time they've ever thought about going out for breakfast and eating vegan food.

Lastly, if you had a first date coming up would you go for coffee or an espresso martini? Aitchison: I'd get an espresso martini. I've gone on a sober coffee first date before and it was awful.

Thanks guys.

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This article is from Coffee and Conversation, click here to read more.

All photos by Tom Griffiths.