Prufrock Coffee

Behind the Bar

Before Prufrock Coffee—along with its training center and bakery—opened on Leather Lane in London, the shop had to be cleansed of smut. By smut, I mean porn. Lots of porn. Two thousand square feet of XXX bookstore porn. “It had erotica upstairs, tasteful erotica upstairs and hardcore porn downstairs. So the London Barista Resource and Training is in the hardcore porn section. And the café is at ground level in the tasteful erotica section,” says co-owner Jeremy Challender, who derives great joy in this shift from bondage gear to baked goods.

Gwilym Davies, the other co-owner and the 2009 World Barista Champion, wanted to call the shop Whips and Drips. Jeremy voted it down.

Gwilym Davies.
Gwilym Davies.
Jeremy Challender.
Jeremy Challender.

Though the pair’s first shop, Prufrock’s origins go back to when Gwilym made his reputation at a coffee cart he dragged to a pair of outdoor markets. Now the market comes to Prufrock, with a row of stalls set up every weekday on the narrow street. The café gets in on the retail bonanza. “We’re a big retail outlet,” says Jeremy. “That was the vision in the early days: we’d be an equipment supplier and a giver of advice. That’s why the brew bar and the equipment abuts each other. The vision was that the person at the brew bar could dispense tips and demonstrations at the same time.”

The educational work at Prufrock translates into experimental spirit behind the bar. At the pour-over station, they sieve out the fines using a bag shaker on the grinder. At the espresso machine, which began life as a beta-model Nuova Simonelli T3 before being reconfigured to match the final model, they’ve gone back to what Jeremy calls “the millennial dose” of twenty-five-gram baskets but with the twist of using much more water, ending with a split sixty-five-gram shot. That development happened, in part, because of improvements in their grinders and how they use them. They removed the hopper from one and dose right into it. Jeremy says that saves £1,500 in beans a year.

Any Brit who finished secondary school knows the origin of Prufrock’s name. For our Yankee readers, it comes from TS Eliot’s poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, a man who says, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” He says it with existential despair. At his namesake café, they measure life by doses, and it seems a worthwhile way.

(Top and above photo: Jacob Thue.)
(Top and above photo: Jacob Thue.)

1. Grind and shake: Mahlkönig’s Tanzania grinder includes a shaker to settle grounds in a bag. Prufrock uses this function to sift fines through micro perforations in the bottom of
a sieve placed in the pink cup.

2. Kitchen: A full-time chef serves up a rotating menu of small plates. “Imagine the English interpretation of tapas, without being a little ramekin of olives,” co-owner Jeremy Challender says. (that’s him making a pour-over.)

3. Washing machine: The washing machine location allows staff to view the entire café while loading and unloading the washer.

4. Single-herd milk: “The UK has particularly outstanding fresh milk,” Jeremy says. Prufrock gets its milk from the herd raised by Northiam Dairy. Though one herd, it’s a blend of Holstein, Fleckvieh, and Norwegian Red cows.

5. Coffee genesis: Artist Martin Kingdom illustrated this mural of a fantastical coffee creation story involving Pilgrims, a golden eagle, a spotless giraffe, and a coffee-meteorite arching across the sky.

6. The coffee: Prufrock brews Square Mile coffee, but regularly has guests from across Europe. Prague, where co-owner Gwilym Davies lives, gets special showing.

7. Pick and choose: Three coffees are available for pour-overs every day and each is dialed in for a specific brew method, including V60, Chemex, Aeropress, Clever, and nel. Whenever possible, they carry a ninety-plus coffee, which can run £10.

8. Nibbles: Below the café is Prufrock’s Barista Resource and Training, which shares a space with the café’s bakery. The baker is a full-time employee.

9. Education and retail: Prufrock makes a point of bringing in writers and coffee educators for public events. That’s a big reason their retail offerings look like a kitchen supply store: inspired coffee drinkers want to perfect their own brews.

10. Softening the water: London’s drinking water is notoriously hard. Under the floorboards are two reverse osmosis filters to get the water coffee-ready.

11. Dirty bar: Prufrock repurposed some of the fifty bookcases from the XXX shop that previously occupied the space. They sanded them down and refinished them before installing the equipment.