Department of Coffee and Social Affairs is a bloody lovely coffee shop. It is also EXACTLY THE COFFEE SHOP I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR.
You see, I come to London from the land of indie coffee roasters and sexy baristas. No, not Brooklyn.
Way before Starbucks emerged, Shiva-like, to smash and then subjugate the empires of Tully’s and Seattle’s Best Coffee in its quest for world domination, when Dunkin Donuts was still considered the pinnacle of great coffee in New York City, when Amazon was just a twinkle in Jeff Bezos’ eye and Bill Gates hadn’t yet made his first billion, Seattle was teeming with independent coffee houses staffed by stern, tattooed baristas who could pour a hell of a fleur-de-lis out of steamed milk. Coffee culture in Seattle is so much a part of Seattle that it’s really just “culture.” Seattleites spend the entire rainy winter (i.e., all year) sitting in cafés and the competition is so fierce a café is dead in the water if it doesn’t deliver on every front.
In London, however, I’ve felt a bit like Goldilocks. This one’s cakes are dry. That one’s baristas are too hip to be friendly. This one hates having people linger so much it doesn’t have a bloody loo. (You know who you are and you should be ashamed.)
But last week, like the proverbial bolt from the blue, a cheerful chap named Lawrence tweeted me, “you really need to check out @DeptOfCoffee for your reviews. Especially the cherry choc cake.” Never one to shy from a challenge, I sallied forth to Clerkenwell.
Rising proudly from the bustle of Leather Lane market, DoCaSA’s readerboard beckoned me like a beacon: “FRIDAY SPECIAL! Cherry Chocolate Cake!” It was my lucky day. Lawrence recommended I have a flat white or its manly cousin, the piccolo, but I opted for its surly grandpa, the short pull espresso. Not everyone can master this, but DoCaSA nailed it; the coffee itself is excellent, and my espresso was rich and velvety with just the right amount of crema.
But what you really want to know about is the cake, right? The cherry chocolate cake is like the cake you always wanted, but never got, at your childhood birthday parties. It is outrageously moist, densely chocolatey, and not too sweet. Lovely cherries nestling at the bottom provide an added pop of flavour. Blanketed with a silky dark chocolate ganache with just a hint of cherry tang and lightly dusted with grated coconut for crunch (because who doesn’t like coconut), this cake is a miracle. It is worth a special trip just to try this cake, and I don’t say that often about sweets. The lemon drizzle cake was astonishingly inviting as well, and the sandwiches looked delicious, although I couldn’t manage one since the cherry chocolate cake was so formidable.
I hung around for nearly two hours just to see if DoCaSA staff would start pointedly sweeping and clearing tables around me, but no. When they happened to be near me they just gave me a gentle smile. In fact, the service at DoCaSA is pretty freaking awesome. The sandwich ordered by a woman at the next table was toasted just a shade too brown and the server practically begged her to accept a free piece of cake or coffee as compensation. (She turned him down, because she happened to prefer her sandwiches roasty toasty.) Amazing.
DoCaSA is a damn nice place that gets everything just right. I’ll be back, and I’ll see you there.
Department of Coffee and Social Affairs
14-16 Leather Lane, EC1N 7SU
Price per person: £5.50 for an espresso and a piece of heavenly cherry chocolate cake
The verdict: Must try!