Marco Arrigo is the Head Of Quality for world renowned coffee brand illy. He also runs the University of Coffee in Islington where he has taught countless baristas who now serve London’s thirsty coffee drinkers, ensuring that they can easily rustle up at least a cappuccino, a latte and two macchiatos in a couple of minutes with flashy leaves and love hearts in the milk. He’s been in the coffee game for over 20 years, is an excellent teacher and has hundreds of stories up his sleeve, including being one of the inventors of the espresso martini, which Kate Moss was the first to try. He told a few of them to Josh Jones as he taught him how to froth milk and pour a cappuccino properly.
Is the Kate Moss story true?
Yeah, yeah. Well these two things happened kind of separately. We were doing an event at Pharmacy and (super bar tender) Dick Bradsal was pulled in by a vodka company to do some cocktails and we were pulled in to do the coffee. I’m not sure I knew Dick then, I think that’s when I met him, it was a long time ago. He was on one bar and we were on another bar and when it wasn’t busy we were swapping ingredients. We’d been playing with the vodka espresso thing that afternoon and later on Kate Moss came up and said “I want something that wakes me up and then fucks me up.” So Dick thought ‘caffeine + vodka… vodka espresso’. It wasn’t true that it was invented for her right there on the spot – we’d kind of been doing it for the last two hours, but it was invented on that day. People get it wrong – even top barmen – by pouring hot espresso onto ice, which makes an espresso into basically a filter coffee.
Who does the best coffee in the world?
Whoever has had the correct nightlife the night before… It’s so dependent. Every time you make an espresso, there’s 1700 variables that could go wrong. The coffee takes 25 seconds to come out, it takes 18 seconds to froth the milk, you’ve got to find your pace. Once you’re in your pace, that’s the fastest you can go – you can’t go any faster than the ingredients coming out. In Italy you can get a great coffee, but you can also get a bad one!
Where do you drink coffee in London?
People ask me that all the time and I never ever have an answer because in 20 years I’ve got so many customers out there – this week I’ve got to look after Quo Vadis and I need to keep an eye on John Lewis, Sloane Square as that’s who I need to see this week. I don’t particularly go anywhere craving coffee. Except Tony Conigliaro at 69 Colebrooke Road because he puts alcohol in it. There are very few places that are consistently good – lots of places are up and down. Some places make them very beautifully, but the actual coffee is shocking.
Are there any surprising places to get a coffee in London?
I’m always a bit surprised when you go to an Indian or a Thai place and they do it well. That always surprises me. I like the Spanish cortado too. I’ve been doing this new menu for a while with some customers – it’s a bit of a global menu. I think everyone’s stopped, they don’t know what to do next. I think you should be able to go into a bar and get a cortado or a Vietnamese coffee all on the same menu. I think that’s the thing to do next – go a bit global. I think the drinks need to be very strong, we’ve got so many wishy washy drinks now. A 16oz latte is a pint of milk! With a dash of coffee. It’s a ridiculous drink, it’s been killing me for years. We used to put a dash of milk in our coffee and now we put a dash of coffee in our milk. It’s all gone a bit wrong.
What do you think of Civet coffee and stuff like that?
Isn’t it funny? I was at London Coffee Festival and this guy came up to me and said “Hey up, I’ve got some Kopi Luwak coffee.” and he put this bag of shit coffee in my hand. The quality of the beans was rubbish. And he asked me, “what’s it like to have great quality coffee in yer hand?” I was just on the machine and Barry Kither from Lavazza was pissing himself laughing watching. This guy showed it to me and said it was £70 for the bag. I said “You’ve been done, look at the quality of the beans.” I showed him all the nicks and the insect invasions and the worm holes, the fungus and the mildew. I showed him all the defects. You don’t have to be a bloody expert to go to Tesco’s and look at 100 bananas and say 15 of them should go in the bin? It doesn’t make you a banana expert does it? It’s bloody normal to look at something and if it’s gone brown with a lump on it, you know it’s not good. When I look at a coffee bean and I see one with a cut on it, that’s what I see.
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Photos: Tom Medwell