Algerian Coffee Stores through the years....

Hello and Welcome to our March blog!

We thought this month we would do a little introduction to our shop and its history; we also have some fabulous old photos of the shop, its people, and some papers.

Algerian Coffee Stores was opened in 1887 by an Algerian gentleman called Mr. Hassan. That is where we get our name from. Unfortunately, we know very little about him or the shop back then. No records were kept, that we have found. All we have is this photo of him and the staff, below, it is one of our most treasured photos. Quite a few years ago Paul did meet Mr. Hassan’s granddaughter, she came to the shop one day to visit.

The shop was then sold in 1928 to a Belgian man called Mr. Boerman. He retained the name and grew the business. The shop was still open for trading during World War II, and we are so very lucky to have survived any bombing as many parts of Soho were hit, including our neighbours. The photo below is from May 1941, and you can see that the Admiral Duncan and establishments to their right were destroyed.

Another photo shows our window boarded up for security, a part of it has been damaged by shrapnel from a nearby bomb.

In 1946 the shop was sold to an English gentleman, Mr. Jones, our grandfather.
Paul Crocetta joined Algerian Coffee Stores when he moved to London from Naples, Italy, after he married Mr. Jones’ daughter, Francesca, our mum – This year he has been here for 50 years! 

After Mr. Jones passed away in the late 70’s Paul took over the business.
Paul and Francesca had two wonderful daughters (ahem) Daniela and Marisa....and we are here too! It is mainly us at the helm nowadays as we try and get Dad to have a very well-earned break.
Daniela and I have always come to work to “help” Dad out since we were little, but we have made things a little more permanent since then – and are now actually helpful! Daniela has been here full time for about 26 years and me, I am going to guess about 18 years.

Algerian Coffee Stores has always had a wonderful variety of coffee, we have found an old coffee stock sheet showing coffee bought in 1944 and the following years, you can see coffees from India, Jamaica, Cameroon, Madagascar, Congo, Brazil - today we have even more, and are always looking for new and exciting coffees to bring to you. The coffee stock sheet shows how many sacks were bought of each lot, rotation numbers (this is a location number to find it in the coffee warehouses), price, and which warehouse the coffee is held at - the paperwork is from 1944, and today, 78 years later, we do things pretty much the same way!

The shop has sold a wonderful variety of goods alongside coffee beans over the years. We have always had a lovely selection of coffee machines; you can see them displayed in the shop and window throughout all the photos. We also used to sell fine French wines, mainly Bordeaux and Burgundy, Madeira, and Port! Paul even remembers a bottle of Cockburn 1955 used to retail at £6.50 a bottle. We have even found a few bottles of Port that had been forgotten about from the 1960s, we plan to enjoy them over a leisurely cheeseboard one evening! The bottles were stored in tea chests in our cellar for customers. Once they bought them, the bottles were labelled with their name until the customer was ready to collect and enjoy them. Below is a photo of our grandfather, Mr. Jones sampling some fine wines to buy. He the gentleman knocking it back (I know where I get it from!)

We no longer sell alcohol but today we still have a lovely selection of machines, a large selection of loose-leaf teas and a delicious variety of confectionery. You can see that our selection, and prices, have increased since our 1977 tea pricelist below. 

Although we now occupy the whole building that was not always the case. On the first floor there used to be a Dentist, you can see the sign for him in the photo during the war, and on the upper floors’ families used to live there. In 2005 Paul had the privilege to meet Lucy and Tony who used to live on the top floor of our building, the wonderful story is that Lucy was born on the top floor in 1917, and in 1937 gave birth to her son Tony on the top floor also. We were luck to be sent photos from their visit, below.

Obviously, areas of the shop have changed over the years, but we try to not change too much and to retain the character. Our counter is still the original counter and so are the shelves.

The glass paving in front of the shop used to be a hatch, and raw coffee was delivered and passed down through there into the cellar. Paul recounts that there was a knack to offloading the sacks. Each sack was about 70KG, so as the sack was slid down a ramp into the cellar, you had to stop the sack at a certain point, turn yourself around and load the sack on to your shoulders, to then carry it to the correlating pile of sacks stored in the cellar. Drop it, and you’ll need a couple of people to pick it back up again! To create our famous house blends an empty coffee sack was put on large cast iron scales (that remain in our cellar!), and the various raw coffees were weighed into the sacks and mixed. It was tough and heavy work, blending perhaps 24 sacks of just one blend, each sack weighing 56lbs. At our weekly coffee delivery, the sacks of blended raw coffee were swapped for roasted coffee. Here is Paul below with the piles of raw coffee sacks. 

With such a heritage behind the store comes a heritage of customers, we are so very lucky to hear of the generations of families visiting us. Customers who remember shopping here with their grandparents as children and still shopping with us today. We also have a customer, a lovely lady, who Paul remembers coming shopping with her parents as a child and he always used to give her sweets from the sweet jar, and she still visits us – and sometimes still even gets a sweet off Paul! We love getting to know our customers, and we often stop for a chat in person or on the phone with many.

Once just flat farmland the development of Soho began around the 1670’s around Golden Square, the first houses were erected in Frith Street and Greek Street in the 1680’s and by the early 1690’s Dean Street, Old Compton Street, and Wardour had been developed. Many Soho streets still retain their original name. Frith Street is named after the developer Robert Frith who built the houses there, likewise, Bridle Lane after the developer Abraham Bridle, Beak Street after its developer Thomas Beake and Broad Street - later changed to Broadwick street to distinguish it from others of the same name. And the Countess of Carlisle lived in a large residence on the west side of Soho Square leading to the name Carlisle Street.

At first Soho was largely populated by aristocrats and other members of the upper class, especially around Golden and Soho Square, but soon also provided refuge for Greek Christians and French Huguenots fleeing war and persecution. And the House of St. Barnabas on Greek Street was established in 1846 as a refuge for vagrant women, today it is a non-residential charity helping the homeless.
However, Soho never had an overall landowner to ensure the quality of buildings or tenants and by the mid-18th century the area was in decline and the aristocracy and upper classes started to move elsewhere and by the mid-19th century they had mostly gone. Soho was badly hit by an outbreak of cholera in 1854, many died and those that survived did so as they turned out to be drinking something a little stronger than the water!

The photo below is from early 20th century, we believe the lady at the window could be Lucy's mother. 

Soho has always attracted a vast array of characters. It is what makes Soho, Soho. Almost from the beginning artisans, traders and immigrants moved into the many streets of Soho. For much of the 20th century, Soho was the base for the sex industry in London. In recent years the gentrification of the area has left only a few remnants of the sex industry and now Soho is now a fashionable district, full of upmarket restaurants and bars with many media offices and studios.

The face of Soho has changed throughout the years in so many ways. I suppose places will always change and take on new forms, we have seen many shops, residents and friends come and go. What is beautiful is that you can come to Soho and be who you want to be and that is a rare quality. However, throughout it all, one thing remains, Algerian Coffee Stores, since 1887.

I hope you have enjoyed our brief look at the history of Algerian Coffee Stores and our photos. We have so many more to share with you so look out for our future blogs and social media. 

Bye for now, Marisa x

  • Jonathan Dibble says...

    Ah ha! Been a customer of yr store with varying intensity for over 20yrs. I do remember asking Paul several yrs ago what the Algerian connection was, I think he was sick of explaining but did give some sort of v. short explanation but I was left wondering what the history was ever since…..thanks for this entry!

    On Aug 25, 2022

  • Altheer Rowena says...

    An interesting and enjoyable history, thank you.

    On Apr 30, 2022

  • Bill Edwards says...

    Fantastic photos and stories. I’ve always wanted to see old photos of your shop. So much history. Thanks for posting.

    On Apr 25, 2022

  • Ian says...

    Thank you for the fascinating history of your shop … I really enjoyed reading your blog ..

    On Apr 21, 2022

  • Kevin Bryan says...

    Have been a customer for over 30 years but have recently moved to Suffolk so now have to rely on your mail order service which is excellent much like your coffee love the blog you are a soho institution much like ronnie scotts keep up the good work

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • Dr Anton baumohl says...

    I loved reading the story and seeing the photos. The Italian connection was of special interest as my wife’s family is from Northern Italy – I believe they are now willing to speak to those from the South!! Family businesses are few and far between and we love the special feel of a family shop. We will always give you our custom – you have a unique history and it makes what you do now unique

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • Sean Tracey says...

    Has hardly changed over the years. My favourite shop of any in London.

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • Ed Ricardo says...

    Wonder how many books and authors have been fuelled by Algerian Coffee Stores coffee?

    That would make a good subpage on your webpage, authors who lived on your coffee.

    I have been a customer since 1971. Most recent Algerian Special fuelled book:

    Bob Dylan’s Hibbing. Hibbing : EDLIS Café Press, 2019. ISBN: 9781091782891

    and it includes coffee.

    “In Hibbing even the coffee you drank could be Communist. Note the hammer and sickle symbol on Red Star products. Red Star Blue Star White Star brands are Pure Foods. Sold only by Co-operative Stores. Wholesale Grocers and Bakers. Consumer, producer, co-operation.”

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • Alistair Findlay says...

    My wife and I have been shopping with you since before we got married and that will be 50 years ago in August.

    Lovely produce, helpful staff and beautiful old shop. And a very interesting article. Here’s to many more years for you and us!

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • Richard Cohen says...

    I have been buying my coffee from the Algerian Stores for years now and I always enjoy coming in to the store. Thanks for this fascinating history! A great read.

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • julian aston says...

    Fascinating and informative ,
    In fact my own late mother ‘s family had a dairy in Berwick Street back in the 1920’s and my family was very part of that village atmosphere . They supplied milk ,butter and ice cream
    They had a horse in the front room.
    And it was mum who first introduced me tp the store back on the 1950’s
    I have been buying my coffee there ever since . So a customer for 60 years!
    I particularly love the friendly hustle and bustle, the knowledgeable and helpful staff – utmost of all the heavenly aroma .
    Long may it go on.!

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • Helena Johnson says...

    I’m too far away in Coventry to come for a chat so I do the next best thing – online. I can’t imagine not having your coffee, it is a must every morning. Keep going, I’ll come to see you next time I go to London

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • Gerry Buckland says...

    Love the blog and the photographs; I started buying coffee here in the 1970s; graduating over the years from Veluto Nero to Huehuetenango to Bolivian organic… Moved to near Poitiers in France in 2005, but I still managed to get back regularly to stock up with the best coffee; now with Brexit and the pandemic halting overseas delivery I have to rely on the generosity of friends and family bringing the best coffee in the world…. Love to you all….

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • Will says...

    What a fantastic and interesting article. I lived in Soho 30 years ago and visited as a customer, now I live away but still get my coffee online. I love the old feel and smell of the store, lovely to read about the people behind it – thank you.

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • Jo Currie says...

    Lovely to get your monthly newsletter
    I have loved your coffee and your tea since I first came to your shop over fifty years ago
    I seldom get to Soho now and make do with supplies on line but still always enjoy buying from AGS

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • Ian says...

    Really find your monthly blog interesting

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • Shufan says...

    Thanks for letting us know the history of Algerian coffee. I love the coffee beans here, which is amazing

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • David says...

    I’ve been shopping at this great store since the early 1980s – and it just gets better and better. Highly recommended, even just for a look around. Great people too..

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • Joyce says...

    Cannot be without your coffee and enjoy trying different ones.
    Mail order mostly, but my partner and I did visit the shop last summer and we will do so whenever we are in London.
    The blog is fascinating. Good to read about the history of the company!
    Keep up the good work, very best wishes to you all☕☕☕

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • Paul says...

    Fascinating to learn the history behind this great business and the shop itself is just brilliant. Whilst I have fine tuned my choice of go to coffeeI I still from time to time enjoy trying different blends.

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • Ian says...

    Thanks again Marisa for an interesting account of your and the store’s roots – fascinating and so important. Look forward to hearing more.

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • Niru says...

    Such a lovely read! Feels good to be connected to a place teeming with history. I’ve been a regular for 4 years now and feel so much love for you all continuing this legacy. Online shopping can be convenient at times but it cannot bring the magic of that personal touch and connection one feels stepping into the store. Thank you!

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • STUART KING says...

    A fascinating story. I have bought my tea from the shop for many years when I was in London regularly. After retiring and during lockdown, I discovered your internet shop and usually top up my order with a few delicious confectionery items. I have discovered so many interesting teas: Russian Caravan, Keemung Mao Feng and more recently Ti Kwan Yin. Your shop is a national treasure.

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • Ann Penfold says...

    Your blog is a joy, Marisa. My mum used to bring me to the shop on Saturday mornings in the late 40s/ early 50s, and I have been coming for my Veluto Nero beans ever since. (I’m 78 now). You are part of many Londoners’ history. We also used to buy bread from a Madame Floris. Does anyone else remember her?

    On Mar 31, 2022

  • John Tuffin says...

    I am a new customer too but I’m a very enthusiastic one. Please keep going, you’re perfect just as you are!

    On Mar 26, 2022

  • Jenny Lucas says...

    I have just been reading your blog which is so interesting. I live in Cornwall and was introduced to your coffee through my son who used to work in Soho and discovered your wonderful shop. Thank you for your amazing coffee. There is nothing like it. If I ever get to London I will definitely be paying you a visit.

    On Mar 26, 2022

  • Robert Wilson says...

    Wonderful to know the history of everyone’s favourite coffee store.
    I worked nearby in the theatre for 33 years and only stopped because of lockdown but, even though I can’t get to the shop any longer, it is nice that my online supply arrives regularly, but I do miss coming into the shop and seeing you all.

    Keep up the good work, you are treasured!

    Best wishes,

    Robert ~

    On Mar 26, 2022

  • Ben Fletcher says...

    Thanks for the great blog. Wonderful history to go with great product! And lovely people of course!

    On Mar 26, 2022

  • Pam Roberts says...

    Love your shop & now we are mostly living in London, are able to pop in once every couple of weeks. And what a fascinating history! Congratulations on your longevity & may it continue for many years to come.

    On Mar 26, 2022

  • Adam Moore says...

    A very interesting read and excellent pictures thank you. My first job was as a runner for a TV company in Soho and that’s how I first discovered your wonderful shop – 30 years ago!

    On Mar 26, 2022

  • Lynda Sharpe says...

    Fascinating to hear the history of the shop. I have been coming to London since I was a small child and have always loved the shop and atmosphere in Soho. As I live in Ireland it’s mostly mail order for me but I always visit the shop when I’m in London.

    On Mar 26, 2022

  • Chris says...

    Loved reading the history of my favourite Soho shop. I haven’t seen much of you over the last couple of years due to lockdowns and have been shopping with you online. Keep the blogs coming, it helps to stay in touch.

    On Mar 26, 2022

  • Lorraine Richards says...

    Absolutely love the blog and photos. Doubt there are many shops in London that still have the original counter!! Keep up the good work.

    Although I live in Sussex, I ONLY buy my coffee from you (I did try others during lockdowns but nowhere matched up to your quality)

    On Mar 26, 2022

  • Maria says...

    Really interesting blog – love the history and the photos – thanks for putting it together!

    On Mar 26, 2022

  • Matt Ambown says...

    I always make the trip into town to buy my coffee. Your shop is a wonder, the staff are incredibly helpful and the quality of the coffee is fabulous. During a very testing time working on ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’ , where we stayed in a caravan park in Rhyl in the winter for two and a half months, a supply of coffee from your shop kept us going as we had something to look forward to in the morning.
    Great blog, really good to know the history of one of my favourite shops and to see Paul’s moustache in full before he tamed it!

    On Mar 26, 2022

  • Marilyn cameron says...

    As a new customer I was thrilled to find such an interesting shop in the middle of London

    On Mar 26, 2022

  • Judi Lomas says...

    Thanks for this, it’s so fascinating.

    On Mar 26, 2022

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