I used to think it might be good to give up coffee, back when I was picking up my morning cappuccino from Caffe Nero. Not any more. These days, I'd give up shopping before coffee, and for one reason only - the Tea and Coffee Plant on the Portobello Road. Once in a while, I'll discover one of those buy-ten-get-one-free cards languishing at the back of a drawer, and remember what it was like to be a coffee philistine: all those years sloshing back that bitter brown stuff. It's tough admitting that, throughout the 1990s, I was guzzling the coffee equivalent of Turkey Twizzlers.
Anyway, it turns out that making a decent espresso is only marginally less skilled than preparing blowfish. The consistency of the grind needs to be constantly adjusted according to the type of bean, the season and the time of day. The pressure used to tamp down the coffee is also crucial - plus the temperature of the machine, which should be a Marzocco. Last but not least, the coffee, besides being pure arabica and organic, must never be more than a couple of days old (that bag of fresh ground that you've had in the fridge for eight days: forget it). Small wonder that the coffee chains come up with only a pale imitation of the real thing.
What sets the Tea and Coffee Plant apart is that the staff know all of the above and have years of experience working in coffee shops, which, in turn, explains why they are mostly from New Zealand and Australia, the countries with the most developed coffee cultures. Getting your cappuccino made by one of this team is like getting reflexology from a professional.
Even so, the quality of the coffee (40-odd varieties, ranging from Jamaican Blue Mountain at £45 a kilogram to Gerson coffee, which is used for coffee enemas) is only part of the reason I have to visit the Tea and Coffee Plant at least once a day. Despite the high concentration of New Worlders, this shop-cum-cafe feels the way this part of London did before Richard Curtis waved his spangly wand over the area.
The owner, Ian Henshall, started out roasting beans and selling
his coffee on the pavement opposite 20 years ago. Though the roaster has now moved elsewhere, the place impresses you with its earthy feel, even if you don't already know about its independence and commitment to fair trade. At the last count, there were three other dedicated coffee shops within a couple of hundred yards, but there is still only one that gives you what you want to drink and the kind of people you want to drink with. And they say we've got too much choice these days.
The Tea and Coffee Plant, 180 Portobello Road, London W11 (www.coffee.uk.com). Mail order available