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New London Coffee Shop Rejects ‘Speciality’ Label

Formative has opened in Victoria and looks to move away from “tribal marketing”

London coffee shop Formative will reject speciality coffee as a label Formative [Official Photo]

A new speciality coffee shop that will not be calling itself ‘speciality’ at all has opened in Victoria. Formative, run by Ian Kissick and Kasjan Orzol, is now open at Butler Place, serving coffee from Colonna. There is no exposed brick or pendant lighting.

Kissick, meanwhile, is at pains to reject the trope-heavy collection of cultural signifiers that have clustered around the ideology of speciality coffee. Rather brutally describing London as “a labyrinth of homogenously [sic] humdrum cafés seeking to serve coffee to the public in an ever duller manner,” Kissick believes “it’s damaging for some of our cities best and worst coffee shops to brand themselves with the same coat of arms.” He also plans to make his finances, operational strategies, and day-to-day checks transparent.

He has chosen, instead, to call the shop “quality-focussed,” which, while cleaving from a signifier he sees as damaging, is also, of course, a statement that boils down to a similar idea: this is better than ‘the norm.’ It’s worth remembering that “speciality,” as a term, inaugurated as a scoring system for coffee when tasted in a standardised way — its swelling to encompass this ideological bent is a more recent invention.

Colonna, meanwhile, is the roastery from Colonna & Smalls, established by Lesley and Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood. Maxwell found global success competing in the World Barista Championships for the United Kingdom on three occasions, as well as opening Colonna & Smalls in Bath, which became and remains one of the U.K.’s destination coffee shops. Not often found in London — aside from at Curators’ string of coffee shops, and at Rosslyn in the City — it’s is one of the U.K.’s more recently established quality roasters.

More soon on whether Formative can live up to its lofty goals.