New York definitely has more than it’s share of identical coffee shops. You know the ones that I’m talking about. Those coffee shops that all have the same minimalist decor, the same people behind the counter, the same cups and the same clientele. They may not serve the best coffee or the best food, but they fulfill our ideas of what a modern so-called good cafe looks life.
Although they are plentiful in New York, there are even more in London. These cafes are now popping up on every street corner, identifiable by their logo—black and white sans serif—and by their minimal interiors replete with chrome and wood. You can walk by one and know exactly what you are going to get inside. It’s a bit liking walking by a Starbucks. Or by any type of fast food place really.
These cafes have wooden tables with a color scheme of black, white and chrome. The inside might be slightly dark or bright but most definitely have ample windows beg for a sunny day. The baristas wear plaid shirts, perhaps with a hoodie if it’s cold out (and it usually is), and speak in Australian accents. Seats are arranged in single rows, so as to not take up too much space.
This uniform decor does not, however, indicate uniform coffee. At least, that was my experience in London when I visited Milk Bar and Speakeasy in the same day.
Up first was Milk Bar, sister cafe to Flat White. They looked the same inside and outside, though Milk Bar was a bit more spacious. While I understand the streamlined appearance, I was a bit disappointed. After all, cafes can have various locations and look vastly different—look at La Colombe of Kaffe 1668.
The coffee—I ordered flat white—was very good, though perhaps not quite up to par with their sister location. While the taste was pleasantly full-bodied, the schiuma fell a bit short. The taste of milk, regardless of the fact that it was a flat white and not a cappuccino was just a bit too much at the forefront to really make it sing. I wanted the coffee—you could just about taste how GOOD it was—to shine through. I’m guessing that the muted coffee flavor didn’t come from more milk in this flat white, rather from coffee that wasn’t as fresh. Still, Milk Bar is definitely a winner amongst identikit cafes.
Next up, and several hours later I feel the need to mention, was Speakeasy. The cafe is tucked right off of Carnaby Street, perfect for nabbing tourists as their legs wear out from walking around Topshop and Liberty. While the cafe was attractive, I got the impression that the owners wanted to make money off of tourists more than anything.
My cappuccino ventured too far into wait-is-this-a-latte territory. The schiuma was nice, but it tasted almost like whipped cream. Were they using jersey milk? The latte art was pretty, but it felt like the design was supposed to overcompensate for the taste. This cafe filled in all the boxes for the look of a good new London cafe, but unfortunately fell short in the quality department. I must say, however, that the baristas were among some of the nicest I have encountered in London, which is certainly worth something, though perhaps not a return trip.
So yes, I had two coffees at two near identical cafes. Milk Bar was excellent surpassing the bland decor, while Speakeasy left me unimpressed in looks and coffee. Without uniqueness the coffee comes under even higher scrutiny, because the customer can always head around the corner and get the same experience for, hopefully, better quality.
What do you think of cafes/stores/houses that all look the same? Is variety really the spice of life?