High-street coffee shops offer thousands of variations of coffee. But although cream and syrups can be added left, right and centre, if the basic brew is not to your liking, all those accoutrements often simply disguise the flavour of the base blend. Which is why connoisseurs turn to David Higgins, the “coffee man” of HR Higgins tea and coffee emporium in Mayfair, who claims to be able to find every aficionado’s perfect match or create their ideal bespoke coffee blend (from £10 for 250g).
“When a customer comes into the shop I ask how they like their coffee – from strong to rounded, mellow to sharp,” says Higgins. “I’ll then mix a couple of blends using a combination of beans from different countries and individual coffee plantations. Sometimes customers want to compare the brewed varieties, but more often than not we just smell the beans; in most cases, I can find the ideal in one or two blends.”
Higgins is the third generation to run the store, which was started by his grandfather during the second world war. Egon Ronay and Sir Alec Guinness both had their own blends created but it is the Queen who is the coffee master’s most celebrated bespoke customer – HR Higgins holds the Royal Warrant as official coffee merchants.
“In 1977 we got a call from Buckingham Palace,” Higgins says. “My father, who ran the shop at the time, didn’t believe it but the man described what the royal customer was asking for. My father made up a sample and sent it off to the palace. It was a success first time and since then we have been supplying the Queen.” So what is in it? “We don’t discuss the blend,” Higgins says, crisply.
Other bespoke customers also remain loyal, ordering the same blend time after time. “Sometimes a small change is asked for. But it’s usually the original combination of beans.”
HR Higgins also boasts a small café to try its many established blends – newly revamped, its old-school atmosphere is just the place to soak up the aromas.