The Fields Beneath, a vegan cafe and coffee shop in Kentish Town, gets its name from a book by Gillian Tindall. The summary is as follows:
“The streets of London’s Kentish Town follow the patterns of older settlements which in turn were shaped by the natural life of the land. The author shows how richly rewarding it is to uncover your town’s past.” Summary of The Fields Beneath, 1977
But it’s not only the book’s title that this gem of a coffee shop draws from – it also is inspired by its principles of seeing nature and culture as intertwined, with the physical geography of the land determining much of the cultural and urbanised geography of London. The land around us tells tales of its past, from remains of old fruit orchards to waterways and woodlands. While London may be an urban hub, filled with caffeine-addicted commuters and polluters, we must remember and appreciate how much we rely on nature in our everyday lives.
In essence, we need to value what lies beneath – that fragile yet essential layer of topsoil that gives us most of the food and drinks we consume every day.
Coffee is a great place to start.
The Fields Beneath specialises in Direct Trade coffee from Colombia, called Yacuanquer, which is then roasted at a site near to the Tate Britain in London.
Direct Trade goes one step further than Fairtrade, cutting out the middle men who further dilute the payment back to coffee growers. On average in the UK, we consume 70 million cups of coffee per day, coming to approximately £2 million per day. This is compared to the 38p a day farmers get for their whole crop. Fairtrade improves this by giving stable pricing, partnerships and capacity building to local farmers, yet a close connection between the retailer and the farmer is still somewhat limited. By cutting out middle men, such as manufacturers and multi-national processing units, you get a closer person-to-person relationship but also more efficiency and profit along the supply chain, with a 25% increase in profits to the farmer. Direct Trade is essentially ‘crop to cup’.
The Fields Beneath is proud of this relationship. The label on the roasted coffee beans gives information to the customer about the exact geographical origin of their coffee, along with a description of the tastes you will savour when you sip it: chocolate, almonds and pear.
Now you have knowledge and senses satiated, but what about sight?
Alongside the beautiful coffee art (which, with a diverse array of alternative milks, really is an art), customers will now be able to see beautiful, deep green plants adorning the shelves in The Fields Beneath.
Gavin, the owner, purchased some coffee plants a while back, and today, with the help of a local food growing educator, I re-potted them to give them extra space, sunlight and love. I must admit I also nabbed one for my home, which is now proudly perched in my bathroom to maximise humidity and temperature.
The message that The Fields Beneath is giving is an important one. London is a busy place, and we can often rush into stores to automatically purchase and consume products. Take some time, even a few minutes, to look, to smell, to taste, to value the natural world around you. Look up at roof gardens and vertical, flowering walls, and look down at the soil and fauna. It’ll help you to reflect, re-think and respect how the geography and people of London, and overseas, have allowed you to enjoy everyday sustenance.
Broaden your horizons and see you soon.
Cafe information: https://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/the-fields-beneath
Location: Next to Kentish Town West Overground Station – 52a, Prince of Wales Rd, London NW5 3LN
Opening Hours: 7-4pm Weekdays, 8-5pm Saturday, 9-5pm Sunday