Arabica (% Arabica), a lifestyle-oriented Japanese speciality coffee shop with cafés and franchises across the world, has opened its first London café at 5 King Street in Covent Garden. It will also open a second at 33 Broadway Market, the popular, cobbled market between Hackney Road and London Fields, 1 November.
A bright, white interior and exterior makes the brown of its cups and coffee and that black % logo pop — if a coffee shop were ever ready for Instagram, this is it. Drinks, early doors, are well made: a sweet espresso; a silky flat white that uses a more developed, darker roast than many speciality cafes in London to its advantage. It bustles, with two machines to handle what is already a considerable volume of drinks.
There should be substance here to match the style: % Arabica uses custom-made Slayer espresso machines, manufactured in Seattle, and previously partnered with Ninety Plus Coffee, a grower and producer that regularly provides coffees for baristas competing in the World Barista Championship and World Brewers’ Cup — the latter focussed on filter coffee, rather than espresso. It now works with Latorre and Dutch. Slayer’s dedication to letting baristas ‘craft’ drinks, with highly and easily adjustable controls for the flow of water through coffee when making espresso, can compromise on speed and reliability at high volume, which is one reason — along with price and ease of servicing — why they are infrequently seen in London’s coffee shops. Slick, powder-coated prestige doesn’t always mean performance.
Arabica’s striking merchandise, including water bottles, tote bags, backpacks, and even sneakers, marks it out as a coffee brand that is selling an approach to life, as much as a drink that so many Londoners drink every day; the question will be whether its coffee can fall into their daily habits — Covent Garden’s captive tourist audience will readily leaven that concern for at least one location.