5 TO 9: COFFEE AFTER DARK
On sunny days, it sucks to be stuck inside at your desk. That’s why we’re spending the next few months looking at the hours outside of your office; the 5 to 9 that makes the 9 to 5 bearable. And we’re kicking off perhaps not where you would expect: with coffee in Dalston.
Dalston’s Gillett Square will be familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of East London nightlife as the home of the infamous Vortex Jazz Bar. Open later than most, and always rammed with a riotous party crowd, the Jazz Bar has established itself as a lynchpin of late-night Dalston; but there’s much more to this area than hedonism.
Another mainstay of the Square is Kaffa Coffee, run by cheerily hawk-eyed proprietor Markos. Serving up extra strong buna coffees – a traditional Ethopian favourite – with beans roasted by him on the Square itself, he watches over the square and its daily comings and goings: from the burgeoning army of young entrepreneurs to local layabouts, Gillett Square is a microcosm of London life.
Named for the Kingdom of Kaffa in what is now Ethiopia, Markos has been serving coffee in London for ten years. With a family coffee smallholding back home, Markos explains that opening up a coffee shop was a completely natural thing to do: “I come from the birthplace of coffee, so why not bring it over here?”
Starting off in Camden market, Markos quickly developed his business and it became an award-winning and successful outfit in the Stables, serving the likes of Winehouse and McCartney as well as thousands of regular customers, before it tragically burned down a few years back. He lost everything.
“If you burn grass, it grows back stronger” were his Mother’s sage words of advice in the aftermath, and encouraged him to get back on his feet and restart the business, as well as meeting his wife and starting a family.
He met with the proprietor of Gillett Square and impressed him with his CV and experience, securing himself a booth and establishing himself as a custodian of the space. “Always praying” when he first arrived, Markos has watched over the changes to the area through his booth, spearheading a revamping of the space through music, coffee and above all, communication. “The Square is the opposite of Londoners’ worst trait: not knowing their neighbours,” Markos explains, “it’s like a family – everyone talks to each other and so many people on the square know each other through getting a coffee here.”
Now the Square’s proprietor considers Markos to be “irreplaceable.” As you spend more and more time there, you start to appreciate the way it works as a social space; after all, Squares like this were put in place by town planners as far back as the Greeks with the idea of them being social & trading spaces.
But it’s the coffee that brings everyone together. Markos’ signature is the buna: served in a small, handle-less espresso cup with an Ethiopian flag printed on the side, buna is smooth and rich – the concentrated essence of coffee that perks you up without making you feel jittery. What makes his coffee special? He roasts the beans (up to 20kg a day) in the shop, combining his traditional roasting technique with a modern espresso machine and his years of family experience in coffee.
Serving right through the day until late into the night, Markos’ coffee is the lifeblood of the Square, making it the kind of interesting and addictively fascinating space that the word ‘vibrant’ was invented for. With good company and great coffee, who needs the late-night bars that Dalston is now known for? Grab a buna, pull up a chair and have a chat. Coffee after dark is the future.
Find out more about Kaffa coffee here: