It’s long been a sight to behold. A big bearded barista poking out from the roof of a London black cab to serve a delicious latte or espresso! It could well be the most consistently photographed sight from the myriad of colourful goings on at London’s famous Brick Lane market.
But who is that man behind the beard boldly turning the London icon into this memorable food truck? And how did this brilliantly bizarre little piece of Brick Lane coffee history come about?
Let’s get you closer to Gray to hear the tale in his own words…
Brick Lane has been a part of my life for longer than I care to remember. Why? Well, most recently and for the last 8 years I have been working on the famous Brick Lane Street Food market. Selling my coffee beans and making fresh espresso for thousands of people coming to catch a bit of the thrill, the throng and the atmosphere of Brick Lane at its most bonkers.
Before that, it was my night time hangout, post clubbing, where I would gorge myself on Salt Beef, Mustard and Pickle Beigels from the legendary Brick Lane Beigel Bake. I’d be more than a little inebriated, simultaneously crying from the heat of the mustard and smiling from the satisfaction of having this greasy treat making its way to my belly. Brick Lane and the wider Shoreditch area has always attracted the more eccentric elements of society and those that want to express themselves and their creativity in whatever way that manifests itself. Nowadays, it’s moustaches, 70s sportswear and mismatched clothing. Back in the day, it was ravers and clubbers. I bridged the gap between them, the man in black with a beard and tattoos who created the coffee vibe on Sundays.
Twelve years later, from the moment we first made the cab conversion, I fought, long and hard, to get a pitch at this market. It was popular (not as busy as it was in its heyday, but busy nonetheless) and many traders wanted to get a piece of the action. From all of London it was clearly our first choice spot.
Then, one day, the battle paid off. Emmy and I were given the opportunity to set up at this crazy market with our first, crazy cab. We started, early doors, green and wide-eyed not knowing what to expect. The generator we used back then to power our electrical appliances was loud enough to wake the dead! Our table, to display all our fine baking, looked more ‘Women’s Institute cake stand’ than ‘cutting-edge, East London hipster chic’.
Standing there with our finest vintage togs on, exposed to the elements but proud to be operating the first prototype coffee cab. We finally felt that we’d made it. We raised some eyebrows and not necessarily for the right reasons. But, one thing was true. Our coffee was amazing and word started to spread. The customers made bee lines for our food truck, making a pit stop for their ‘favourite coffee of the week’.
Time continued and now a full 7 years worth of regular Sundays of shine & rain, snow, and more rain, wind, and countless trouserless weirdos later, I’m still making fantastic espresso, selling fantastic coffee beans and raising my eyebrows at the new cultures that are moving into the area. Traders have come and gone, others remain. My good friend Enzo and I have our regular morning coffee and pastry talking about the weather and trade over the week. The Ribman has now departed so I don’t get my weekly helping of delicious rib roll and hot sauce. Though my taste buds pine for it, my waistline is thankful for this particular change in Sunday habits.
Graffiti has long been a foundation of Brick Lane’s style. Ever since the smiley face mural and the street tags marking up the area. The more notorious and famous artists have visited putting the location on the art tour map. I recall one morning when the battered old red doors (to nowhere) had their lives remarkably upgraded by @Zabou spraying her mural.
I came at the end of the process and happened to meet her and discuss her fantastic piece. It’s changed over time and it’s current rendition is as beautiful as the last. Forming the backdrop to the coffee cab, it’s been such an iconic aspect of my time on Brick Lane. I thought it something we should incorporate into our brand. This is why you can now see a cheeky glimpse of it on the new label of our Brick Lane Coffee Blend.
Brick Lane Coffee Blend
A delicious blend of Brazil & El Salvador coffee beans, perfect for a strong hit of espresso or, more appropriately, your hipster ‘flatty’ or cortado made with oat milk by someone with hand tattoos, strong vegan principles and an unclear sense of their gender.