James Hoffmann Preaches New Gospel at Ace Hotel Coffee Shop

Bulldog Edition
 
News that the new Ace Hotel in London’s Shoreditch would be setting up its resident coffee shop in collaboration with Square Mile Coffee Roasters brought expectations of groundbreaking brewing techniques, cutting-edge gadgetry and barista performance art.

But Square Mile co-owner James Hoffman dropped the coffee geekery for our meeting at Bulldog Edition, as the Ace’s coffee shop is known.

James Hoffmann

James Hoffmann


The 2007 World Barista Champion didn’t explain how the baristas were using a state-of-the-art espresso machine, the La Marzocco Strada, to brew filter coffee.  He uttered not a word about his groovy new grinder, eschewing the new-toys routine so beloved by his peers. He didn’t enumerate the features that would make his coffee equal or superior to that served by Stumptown Coffee Roasters at the Ace Hotel coffee shops in Portland and New York .

Hoffmann preferred instead to preach his new coffee-shop gospel:

No preaching.

Bulldog Edition baristas must neither critique nor educate customers, unless prompted. (“If they haven’t asked a question,” Hoffmann tells them, “they haven’t opted into the lecture.”) Their job is not to give people their ultimate coffee experience but rather to give them only what they need right now – typically a cup of hot coffee with or without milk.

Backed by friendly and courteous service Hoffmann insists Bulldog Edition be, in his words, “a coffee shop that reliably makes your day better”.

billdog-filter-pour
 
A coffee shop that makes your day better. Hmmm, try rolling that one around your tongue.

It’s odd to get a dose of all-American happy talk from any Briton, much less from Hoffmann, the coffee expert who, through his personal blog and company blog, has taught us so much about the ins and outs of coffee. But behind this promise is an acknowledgement that not everyone likes being told what they should and shouldn’t like.

“Coffee”, he says, “has replaced wine as the pretentious idiot drink. We’ve become the butt of jokes.”

Bulldog Edition is only Square Mile’s second venture into retail. The first, Penny University, was a pop-up brew bar opened in Shoreditch in 2010. A puritanical shrine to filter coffee, Penny U deprived its disciples of milk and sugar. It was meant to educate and even provoke.

Bulldog Edition is something different, the great coffee notwithstanding. If you want a very short and sticky espresso shot, according to the prevailing fashion, you can have it, even if Hoffmann has his baristas pulling slightly bigger ones with a lovely mouthfeel. Ask a barista for skimmed milk in your flat white or soy milk in your cappuccino and that’s what you’ll get, without commentary.
 
Pretty much the only thing you won’t get with your coffee order is a perfectly executed eye roll.
 

 
bulldog-long-view
About Daniel

Food critic and events leader Daniel Young is the "Young" behind young&foodish

Comments

  1. greg says:

    Some people are attracted to the extremes and it’s the middle of moderation the freaks the hell out of them. This is why I’ve had roommates who were both Born Again Christians and, later, radical feminists. This is why the likes of a Csanád Szegedi in Hungary can go from driving the anti-Semitic Jobbik Party to later become an orthodox Jew once discovering his grandmother’s Auschwitz roots.

    Those of us comfortable with the soft, “boring” middle know that moderation isn’t a concession or a dilution of opinion. Forgoing any sort of customer engagement as a way of correcting the mistakes of the past is an overreaction, and it is just as misguided as being the coffee snob who sneers with disapproval at a customer’s drink order.

  2. Daniel says:

    Greg – Hoffmann was not suggesting his baristas forgo all interaction and engagement with their customers. If this post somehow left you and others with that impression then I may be at fault.

  3. JRC says:

    I work in Clerkenwell, just around the corner from a great coffee shop that roasts its own beans, makes great coffee etc, but has the most po-faced barista I’ve ever come across.
    You’d think he was coming up for a cure for cancer when he’s making your coffee.

    http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/d240b5ebec/coffee-snobs

    Says it all.

  4. Peter Foster says:

    ““Coffee”, [Hoffmann] says, “has replaced wine as the pretentious idiot drink. We’ve become the butt of jokes.”

    Perceptive. Hoffmann is correct.

    “Bulldog Edition baristas must neither critique nor educate customers, unless prompted.”

    Hoffmann is again correct in eliminating baristas’ gratuitous critique and educating, but all baristas are not necessarily competent either to critique or to educate all of their customers.

  5. Daniel nice piece, powerful language fervent support and religiosity. I hope one day we can harness such extremes in positive support. The use of the strada does not seem to me to be a logical choice for square mile when the business has such strong contracts with other espresso suppliers. Is this because this venture is a partnership and the partner wanted an LM? Struggling to figure why they wouldn’t put a synesso on site when they have control on distribution of that excellent machine. Or a Nouvo Simmonelli wbc machine..? Can you shed any light on the drivers behind the choices of equipment? Or was this not subject in this interview?

  6. Daniel says:

    Thank you for your kind words, Greg. The powerful language, however, is James Hoffmann’s, not mine. Likewise, your questions regarding machinery and industry relationships are perhaps best addressed to Hoffmann, regardless of any agenda that may have prompted you to ask them in this forum.

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