Is this railway arch roastery the future of London’s coffee scene?
Watch House Roastery takes the meaning of ‘bean counting’ to a whole new, glorious level
Though the usually teeming streets around Tower Bridge are eerily quiet for a Wednesday morning, there is a small, socially-distancing crowd outside the newly opened Watch House Roastery in Bermondsey. The smell of scientifically-brewed coffee has lured them from their pandemic hideouts.
The space, tucked into one of the railway arches on Maltby Street, is welcoming; despite the urge of this writer to shy away from all forms of non-essential human contact, until the end of time. But Watch House’s well-crafted coffee might just tip into the bucket of essentialism. Head of Coffee Ryan Garrick, a self-styled brew nerd, is enthusiastic and knowledgeable; weighing his beans on scales to the milligram, while describing their origin down to the street name.
He talks about coffee like a sommelier talks about wine; noting the ‘balance of craftmanship and controlled precision’ required to make a truly great cup. He’s convinced there’s a market for exceptional coffee in the UK – think: £14 for a flat white – in the same way as very special wines. Although the price points remain closer to earth for the time being, Garrick (who qualified along with his Watch House team to the World Barrista Championship in Melbourne this year, since postponed by the pandemic) thinks the Maltby Street Roastery is the perfect playground in which to develop these ideas.
After months of rigorous tasting trials, five beans (split into three ‘moods’ – Rituals, Ventures and Rarities) are available. The Businde variety from the Rarities collection is of particular note. ‘Coffee blossom, strawberry jam, Assam teaI,’ read the tasting notes. To this untrained palate, it simply tastes really good. ‘The average customer might not tell the difference in the same was as a coffee expert might,’ says Garrick. ‘But it’s about the pursuit of better.’
The space – which is one part coffee shop three parts experimental laboratory – was designed by London-based architecture and design studio (and Square Mile Coffee veterans) Kirkwood McCarthy. A U-shaped bar made from the same terracotta bricks that scale the walls is an impressive focal point of the arched building, which used to house Monmouth Coffee. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer views of the roaster and training room, giving visitors behind-the-scenes access to the Modern Coffee experience. At the back, a quiet ‘cupping room’ is the training ground for Watch House baristas and will be open for customer tastings and workshops as lockdowns ease. The darkened space (a cooling respite from this summer’s awkward heat) is separated from the factory floor by wooden sliding doors to create a fully immersive, and safe, experience.
While the Maltby Street flagship is new, there are four other, smaller outposts dotted across the capital; meaning you shouldn’t have to travel too far to curb your Watch House craving. If you’d prefer to not leave your house at all, a recently launched subscription coffee service has you covered. §