OVER A BREW with… ELWIN COFFEE
We spoke with Ben from Elwin Coffee, located in the bustling setting of central London…
This week I met with Myles, one of the co-founders of Hidden Coffee, situated in the heart of Camden, just a few steps away from the station. With Khruangbin playing in the background, the sun shining and a long black at hand, we had a good conversation about where Hidden Coffee came from and the story behind it. I also uncovered a social enterprise working scheme they implement with younger adults with learning difficulties, teaching them everything there is to know about speciality coffee and working in a professional environment.
Hidden Coffee is really welcoming and the coffee is great, they don’t scrimp on quality and it’s fantastic to see an independent cafe doing so well.
‘So me and my partner Harry opened in August 2019, so 6 months before the pandemic which was perfect! It was definitely planned like that! (Can you feel the sarcasm?) When the pandemic hit us we did in fact stay open, with the windows out the front here (hatch windows), the terrace and being the only speciality coffee place in the area, we had queues going down the road. It actually worked really well, we worked as a little deli selling bread and other produce which was interesting. People could queue for an hour and be quite happy about it, my thought was to just open a takeaway place. It was great not having to clean up after everyone as well.
Beforehand I was writing comedy. I’m Irish and came to London around 8 years, I got into coffee around the same time, I opened two pop-ups beforehand with another partner- it was called Hoochie Mama’s as we were huge Seinfeld fans. That lasted about a year or so, but it was great experience. I then met Harry and he has worked with a lot of enterprises and had a wealth of knowledge, we just generally got on pretty well.’
Oh my god it was completely different, for one Hidden has been going for nearly 3 years now and through a pandemic. It has definitely made us a bit more resilient, when things go wrong, in the shop we know what we’re doing. I feel we’ve previously we’ve hit some big lows and now we know how to handle those kinds of situations whether that’s in the shop our not.
A year after the first opening of Hidden Coffee, my business partner Harry set up a business enterprise called ‘Send’. We train young adults who have learning disabilities to work in places like this- it’s an 8 month course and we teach them all about speciality coffee. Two other hops that aren’t mine, are a part of this as well.
Send is the roastery we use, we get our beans from them and get involved with their courses as well. The course just ended for us this year, their graduation is actually next week, so we’ll line up some activities for them to do. We had a deaf girl on the course this year, which was our first time, so it was great for us to experience that and just a great opportunity for her. We’re happy for them to stay on for us, however we do feel it would be beneficial for them to move on and learn to work in other environments to build on their skills and keep learning.
Thinking back, me and Harry were going to start a white label roastery which we were going to call Hidden because of the white labels. But then this shop came up and we went for it, it needed a name and we felt it worked.
In terms of other locations, we were timidly looking around but this place came up and it was perfect. My partner Harry is from Camden so he knows a good amount of people here and is a part of the community.
As I walked in, I noticed a very nice little vinyl player, Khruangbin was on and the vibe was good.
Definitely, it plays a massive part. I came from a very musical family, my Dad was an old jazz musician as well as a lot of my family being session musicians. I curate the music in the place and I feel it does play a huge role.
For me not really, my girlfriend just came back from Glastonbury, it wasn’t great watching it all. I have recently just seen Bicep over in Margate, it was good and the first time I’ve been there. It’s a bit of an odd town, there’s something to it and there is some nice places – it is nice but I wouldn’t want to live there.
Not so much at the moment, we did have some plans to, before we had the shop we were definitely thinking about it. We do have some mobile units but it is a lot of work, we’re still finding our feet over Covid, and the lockdowns just killed us every time, so recovery has been hard.
Well first of all check the World Health Organisation to see if there’s any pandemics going on, maybe don’t open a coffee shop if there are. I would actually say move out of London, I feel like it has become quite saturated. When that happens I feel the quality does tend to go down, and everywhere starts to serve a 6/10 coffee – it’s hard to find an 8 or a 9 these day. We take good care of the coffee we pick and we make sure we have a high quality filter etc.
Pretty much all over the place, we did used to roast upstairs, but that started to get a bit small. As I mentioned we get our beans from Send, they tend to go with what tastes good. They mostly roast offsite, they spot-roast and move around quite a bit which keeps it interesting. The good thing with doing this is that we can keep an eye on quality and can get it directly from them. There’s a lot of roasters here in London, but we wanted to keep it local.
We are continuing to grow, we’ve just got our licensing so we’re going to be doing some nice naturals wines and small plates. There’s a really good pizza place just round the corner so we’re looking to partner with them and get some pizzas on the go as well, which will be exciting.
Words and images by Curtis Connor
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