Located at the top of Bermondsey Street in the shadow of the Shard, Black Swan Coffee is somewhat of a best-kept secret within London’s specialty coffee community. Busiest in the mornings when passing commuters utilise Black Swan’s convenient hole takeaway window to grab a Curve Roasted Coffee before work, the café shares its space with an e-bike shop, with plenty of inside seating available.
Aside from the great coffee, you can’t miss Black Swan’s famous cardamom buns, supplied by nearby bakery The Snapery. We recently sat down with owner Andrew, over a coffee and one of those heavenly buns, to discuss his experience with the linea classic, the joys of running a café, and Bermondsey’s changing food and drink scene.
“I’ve had the classic since 2008. It’s a workhorse, rarely needing any replacement parts. I like to think it’s one of those pieces that comes from a time when industry had an abundance of highly skilled workers and quality materials, when things were over-engineered, and if you were to remake the classic to the same standards today it would be unaffordable. It says it all that Monmouth Coffee uses two classics, which supposedly haven’t been turned off since the 90’s.
Starting a cafe in Bermondsey street came about because I belonged to a local action group to save the Victorian viaducts that are unique to the area. The landlord to a vacant building thought coffee would be a useful draw to get people signed up. Unfortunately, Bermondsey was not as open to the specialty coffee scene as other areas and I would get a lot of flack for any coffee that took longer to make than twenty seconds. People were a-gasp that a whole minute would go by and that was before I told them there was no sugar! The list of complaints was endless. The Google earth image of Bermondsey street back then had a couple of newsagents with Daily Mirror hoardings and a guy in a hoody walking a pit-bull. It wasn’t until Jose’s, the tapas restaurant, came along that the street finally exited the 90’s.
Eventually, and thanks to the help of many, the cafe’s evolution has seen us make consistently good coffee with an emphasis on low waste and keeping our goals manageable. By manageable, I mean we’re happy to have the one place serving just enough people that we don’t detract from the product. Maybe, it’s because it took so long to achieve getting it right? I admit, in the beginning the coffee was a lottery. Fortunately, I had the likes of Phil Wain as a regular customer who could give feedback and we both agreed that at worst it was still better than anything else in the area and when the weather was right, etc, etc, it could often be delicious. When it was good I couldn’t say how or why, but just be grateful it all came together. Now, many years on we are lucky to be working with Curve Coffee roasters. They have the same steady and considered approach. They spent ages getting to know the area, bringing coffee to taste, and including me in with different roasting styles. These days I get approached from so many roasters all with stipulations on minimum orders and with very little dialogue before ever having met them.
Running a café is still the best place to meet a diverse range of people, discussing ideas, as it originally was with the Penny University, a place where people would pay a penny for admission and a cup of coffee.
Once in, people could meet and discuss matters of mutual concern. Not far off from the landlord’s original concept. As long as the coffee is good and the customer has an interest in the person serving them, all should be well.
Black Swan Yard Coffee got its name from a side street off of Bermondsey street. All around this area were lots of warehouses, tanneries, breweries, wool yards, vinegar yards and although we changed our name quite a bit in the early days, almost a name week at one point, we finally took the history of our area in hand and settled on that. Perhaps the idea of beer also appealed to us?”
This blog is part of an on-going feature, highlighting notable cafes throughout the UK & Ireland who use a linea classic. Come back next Thursday to read the new post!