Unlike the reputation of its politicised proprietor, Trew Era café is inconspicuous. Nestled between a barber and a printing shop, it’s easy to miss. Russell Brand’s venture – a potentially awkward coalition of coffee and community action – is located just metres away from the New Era Estate in Hackney, whose residents recently fought off eviction, arm in arm with Mr Brand himself.
This particular arm of Brand’s ‘Revolution’ is a non-profit social enterprise, funded by proceeds from his book and run by people in abstinence-based recovery from addiction. At its opening, Brand announced: “Politics is dead, this is the end of politics. What we are discussing now is what comes after… and it will start with small enterprises such as this, which put the power where it belongs – with people.” Cue eye-rolling from those who don’t believe Russell Brand to be the arbiter of societal sea change.
And yet call me an undiscerning apologist, but I think it’s nice. It feels sincere, warm even; a far cry from popular complaints about Brand’s apparently shaky integrity and narcissism. Granted, the seating is coolly uncomfortable and the décor ‘stripped down’ chic, but it is certainly the only coffee shop I’ve been to in Hackney that isn’t almost exclusively frequented by MacBook-toting white people.
Indeed, New Era resident Ann Taylor proclaimed at the opening: “This will be our meeting place.” And she wasn’t lying. Every time I have been to Trew Era, something remarkable happens – strangers talk to each other. During my last visit, I ended up abandoning my emails in favour of a rather heart-warming conversation with an 80-something woman waiting for a Dial-A-Ride taxi and a couple of long-serving primary school teachers. Amongst all the talking and activist posters, it actually feels like there’s such thing as community.
The coffee and sandwiches are arguably secondary in the midst of revolutionary ambitions. Nevertheless, as they say, the revolution will be fuelled by flat whites and toasted sandwiches. There is breakfast food aplenty and cakes made by locals. The main menu changes often, depending on who’s working and is locally-sourced, organic and vegetarian. Recently there has been a vegan chilli and various vegetable soups. There are also appropriately healthy juices, including one called Chai Coff Ski. The prices are reasonable (as they should be). As a benchmark, a latte is £1.80.
Everything that I’ve tried is tasty, though you get the feeling that if you wanted something completely different, that’d be fine too. If this café is to be the headquarters of a post-politics, people’s revolution, you’d better show your face. If not, it’s definitely worth a visit anyway. You don’t even have to meet Russell Brand. But you might; I did, and he bought me a coffee.
Trew Era Café
30 Whitmore Road, N1 5QA