Updated: Dec 30, 2020
Last edited 30 December 2020
London is an incredibly varied city for coffee. There are countless high street commercial coffee shops, independent cafes serving big Italian brands and then there's the specialty scene. Even within the specialty sector there is a great selection of different styles, from the darker caramel roasts of Monmouth Coffee to the lighter single origin espresso of Workshop. This variation and choice makes London quite unique within Europe.
London water is very hard and full of calcium carbonate. This causes big problems for poorly maintained machines, clogging them with lime scale. It also makes well and light roasted coffee taste chalky and unsatisfying.
If buying coffee from the many excellent roasters in England, it's a good idea to use Tesco's Ashbeck water for brewing. It's consistently at a TDS count of around 80 and has a relatively high magnesium content, easing the brew of a sweet cup. Avoid water with too much calcium unless you enjoy very low acidity and a fuller body. Bear in mind that more calcium (or bicarbonate) equates to chalkier tasting cups, giving a rather flat experience.
London has a fair few cafe roasteries where you can tour the production facility and enjoy a cafe experience. The standout and more accessible roasteries are in the East. One of them is Allpress, a cafe readers will know I'm fond of. Staff are unpretentious and welcoming, always giving time to those who want to learn more. The large custom made air roaster is an impressive piece of engineering. Four large vats hold the coffee used in their delicious and consistant blend, vacuuming up measured quantities of green beans and carrying them to the roaster. Head to Dalston Kingsland to take a tour.
Another noteworthy roastery is Ozone, found not too far from Old Street Station in Shoreditch. The contrast with Allpress' interior is vast, with dark brown and brass colours giving off a factory-like atmosphere in a darker environment. The drum roaster is downstairs and positioned well for viewing from above. Turn up during roasting hours and you'll get a bird's eye view of the process; this is a nice experience. Coffee here is good at one of London's oldest specialty coffee establishments.
Mare Street Market is worth a visit too. Flying Horse roastery operates here, along with a whole host of bars and eateries. Check out Vagabond in Islington, too.
Ozone (left) and Allpress
There are a number of London roasters with a chain of coffee shops around the city. Your blogger worked at Taylor Street Baristas, now bought out by Black Sheep but remaining as a roastery. Training here is excellent and you can expect to have a coffee made with maximum care. Each shop had a unique feel, from the booming and club-like atmosphere of Canary Wharf to the pleasant allotment style of the Shed, in Shoreditch.
Another specialty chain with a more uniform style is Workshop Coffee. A lot of care is taken to find uniquely processed coffees and the roasting is relatively light. The coffee here is different and flavourful. These cafes can be found from Bethnal Green to Bond Street.
Grind is another chain with a light and easy feel and a good selection of coffee cocktails. These shops are generally high in natural light and the branch at London Bridge provides sit down meals.
Other chains include Notes, whose filter coffee is well developed in the roast for sweetness. Black Sheep is different in that it has a 100% specialty robusta espresso blend. Still expect this to taste bitter and earthy. Coffee Works Project has shops at Leadenhall Market, Angel and Battersea Power station. Interesting espresso options can be found here.
Standalones and Independents
London is fantastic for its standalone coffee shops and independent cafes. Many of these have a strong food and or dessert focus. The level of quality is generally high, many using coffee from numerous distinguished roasters, including Climpson and Sons, Squaremile, Caravan, Monmouth, Origin, Clifton Coffee, Has Bean and even other European roasters like The Barn, Koppi and Five Elephant.
Prufrock on Leather Lane is a highlight on the London coffee pilgrimage. Doubling up as a school, Prufrock has a minimalist and light interior with knowledgeable and welcoming baristas. Squaremile is regularly on espresso, as well as a guest coffee from Europe. On this same road you can find The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs (has a string of shops through London) and Good and Proper Tea for those fancying a high quality oolong.
The Coffee Studio by 7gr., an Italian company, have a store in both Shoreditch and Stockwell. I recommend visiting the larger eatery and coffee shop in Stockwell for its bright, welcoming atmosphere and the incredible food. The pastry chefs are highly skilled and the savoury food is cooked by a master – the best Italian food I’ve had in London. The range of coffee available is great. There’s always a premium commercial blend for bittersweet milk drinks and a specialty espresso for origin puritans. The lack of snobbery is also a major plus.
Kaffeine, just north of the bustling Oxford Street in Fitzrovia, is another stylish and pleasant visit with a dark interior. It models itself on antipodean coffee houses and uses a good range of guest coffees.
Coffee Island near Piccadilly Circus offers a more eclectic experience, with plenty of brewing equipment, coffee and information on show. It's a good visit but feels somewhat touristy.
Others to look out too for are: Curators Coffee Studio (Aldgate), Gentlemen Baristas (Borough), Alchemy (by Blackfriars Bridge north side), Kiss the Hippo (Richmond), Hej (Scandi style down Tower Bridge Road) and The Watch House (same location). As I refuse to make a long, boring list, please share your favourite local London coffee shops and cafes in the comments.
London Coffee Culture
Finally, every April is the London Coffee Festival. This event has grown year on year and is definitely worth visiting if in the city. There is a party atmosphere with lot of freebies available, including treats, coffee and cupping sessions. Union Hand-Roasted Coffee has a big presence, as does La Marzocco; but there is also a chance to see newcomers to the coffee world publicising their start-ups. This is a nice opportunity to talk to entrepreneurs about their ideas without the carefully crafted presentations made by more established businesses.
For those looking to work in the coffee industry in London, the Coffee Jobs board provides a wall of posts to explore.
Let us know your favourite London coffee spots or any establishment you think deserves attention in the comments below. Sharing is caring.