There’s something especially poetic about the name Nude Espresso. In the context of a cup of coffee, milk and sugar can hide any number of sins. They can drag you back towards the mean, flavour-wise, rounding the corners off of a less-than-stellar bean. But in the preparation of espresso, there’s nowhere to hide. The path from a Tolerable shot to a Transcendent one requires careful control of myriad factors: beans, roast, grind, tamp, water, boiler, pressure, extraction and on and on. Which is as it should be: as with chocolate and wine, this landscape of tunable parameters ensures that these indulgences can become lifelong passions (and an opportunity for snobbery, to be sure). It’s the same capacity for variation that Neal Stephenson explored so well when he described the Library Grape in Anathem. A “nude” espresso is a direct, visceral experience of coffee’s inner essence, undiluted and unadorned. And while a well prepared Flat White can be a life-affirming experience, I will always go back to the meditation of the nude, continuing my spiritual journey towards the God Shot.
I can’t remember how I first discovered Nude Espresso [warning—autoplay video in link] in Soho Square. It was certainly early on in my exploration of London coffee, probably one of the first I located using the app. It’s in a great location: tucked into the relative quiet of Soho Square, away from the noise and crowds of Oxford Street. (Presently, the area just outside Nude is a construction site, albeit a quiet one: it’s the location of a grout shaft, part of the work of extending the Tottenham Court Road underground station to accommodate the forthcoming Crossrail line.) It’s an easy walk from there to my office, not to mention Fitzrovia and Soho, Charing Cross, and so on.
I love the espresso at Nude, which is their own blend and roast. I don’t think I’ve had a God Shot there, but it’s a consistently good drink, one of the first places I visited to which I knew I would return often. I like to head up the back stairs and sit at a small table in their quiet loft area, enjoying my coffee and the inevitable metal cup of water that accompanies it. Their food is excellent too. I think I’ve had lunch there, and I know I’ve made special trips just to pick up a cookie—sorry, biscuit. Somewhat unusually, they’ve resisted offering free wifi. That’s far from being a deal breaker, but it means that I need to be prepared in advance to be able to incorporate a visit into my work day, perhaps ready with a paper I’m planning to read. Come to think of it, maybe I’ll pay them a visit tomorrow.