London swings like the pendulum do, and the coffee scene’s no exception. From sleek, fast-paced downtown espresso bars to trendy East London cafes, from Fitzrovia to Hoxton, this city’s coffee map is like a best-of album: the hits keep on coming.
We’ve covered the London coffee scene extensively on Sprudge, with several different writers (including London-based staff writer Kate Beard) contributing to our lively and essential London tag. It is very hard indeed to pick 10 favorite features from these archives, but here’s exactly that—10 cafes that form a starting point for visitors and London residents. Cheers.
It’s an unusually sunny, spring Sunday morning on King’s Road in Chelsea, London. Tucked away on the second floor of the Habitat interior design store, looking out over the chichi boutiques and mums with strollers, is a pop-up… but not a pop-up as you know it. There is no charmingly mismatched seating, no drinks in Mason jars, no hint of exposed lightbulbs or loveably last-minute decór. In fact, if you were to wander into this pop-up, you’d probably think it had always been a part of Habitat’s Chelsea store: an elegant, well put together, professionally-designed cafe. However, in the case of the Noble Espresso crew, they were there for one weekend only, yet this was no reason to do things by halves.
Feature by Kate Beard.
In the new cafe, you can see echoes of both the old Kaffeine and of other trendy, of-the-moment specialty coffee shops. This space eschews minimalism for a sleeker touch that makes the space feel very much like an all-round food and coffee experience. White subway tiles give texture to the lower half of plain white walls, bordered by a strip of copper and broken up by panels of oak wood and a grey concrete-latex blend. Oak benches line this left-hand wall, with a convenient bar for resting your feet on hovering about a foot off the floor, and tables mirroring the blond-and-grey panels on the wall. The right-hand wall is bare, only adorned by a sleek coat of black paint, a simple black menu board with white lettering, and a neon yellow “Kaffeine” sign in their instantly recognizable round type.
Feature by Kate Beard.
Department of Coffee especially stands out of the crowd by promoting their motto: the key ingredient to success is the people. The meaning of the second part of the name “Social Affairs” defines not only customers’ coffee drinking experiences but also the team’s support for domestic and international communities through various charities. As well as serving specialty coffee, the company has been actively involved in humanitarian work in the UK and abroad, such as Pump Aid, training new recruits at The Afri-CAN Charity, and regularly volunteering at the Central London Rough Sleepers Committee.
Feature by Audrey Fiodorenko.
“Ultimately, I feel coffee is overlooked in restaurants because demand isn’t that high and people tolerate what they’re given more often than not. Restaurants tend to use relatively cheap coffee and machinery on contracts, which means they have low overheads and a high profit margin. We’re approaching it in the same way a coffee bar might, which is a significant investment. It’s around ten times more outlay than a “normal” set up in a restaurant. It will take time to recoup the money we’ve invested in doing this. One of the reasons that we’re able to, however, is because we’re an all-day restaurant, so people come in just for coffee and we also offer take-away, something that most restaurants can’t or don’t do.”
Feature by Vic Frankowski.
Members-only clubs have a long, illustrious, and sometimes outrageous history in London. Many, like The Groucho Club, Home House, Shoreditch House, and The Hospital Club are still going strong. In a 2.0 tech-ready 21st century kind of way, co-working spaces continue the members-club tradition, albeit without the clear class distinctions. You pay to have access, and depending on which one you join, you get a certain set of perqs (a fixed desk or access to a communal beer cooler or whatever). Members-only coffee shops are a natural progression in this milieu. It’s not as crazy, or pretentious, as it sounds.
SL28 is less of a co-working space’s cafe concession, and more like a fully-fledged specialty cafe that happens to call a co-working space home. Of course, due to the nature of the co-working space being accessible only by members, you have to belong to access the cafe. Luckily there is a membership tier available just for the intrepid coffee drinker: for £10 a month, you get access to the delicious coffees of SL28, with three free cups included in your monthly dues.
Feature by Kate Beard.
The Clove Club in East London pulls off no small feat. Neither fussy nor vainglorious, it’s a restaurant dedicated to the customer’s sensory enjoyment, paying extraordinary attention to details and ingredients. Skilled sourcing of raw materials is credited to a killer head chef, Isaac McHale. The restaurant’s hyperfocus won it a Michelin star last September.
Conceived in apartment-based supper clubs and gestated in a residency above The Ten Bells in Spitalfields (as part of the Young Turks), Johnny Smith, Daniel Willis, and ex-Ledbury Isaac McHale made this wing of Shoreditch Town Hall their permanent home in early 2013. I’m a fan. The food is remarkable, and the beautiful bar is a place I’d park myself in any mood.
Smith, Willis and McHale care to extremes about what is placed before a customer—and this includes coffee. The La Marzocco Linea stands sparkling clean on the bar, and the staff can make you an espresso that has a thought process that goes far further than glib grind ‘n’ tamp.
Feature by Nico Halliday.
In a refreshing change from the cookie-cutter ‘grungy’ café, and as its name indicates, this place is reminiscent of an impeccably curated art gallery. In fact, it actually sort of is an art gallery, with a raft of paintings adorning the walls. This space is all about clean lines, with polished white surfaces jazzed up by a unique hexagonal design, a signature purple scattered throughout, and attention to detail evident in everything from the succulents behind the baristas’ heads to the ceramic bath filled with cold drinks.
A similar and laudable degree of intent has also been applied to the coffee. Espresso-based drinks use a custom ‘Exhibition’ blend from Nude Roasters, but the headline acts are the Chemex filter coffees made on Curators’ handsome copper brew bar. They also offer a flavour-intense cold drip and an iced cascara and espresso punch; both are refreshing, but the punch in particular puts a distinctive, intellectual spin on coffee and the fruit from which it’s borne.
Feature by Jamie Waters.
Taylor St Baristas, the venerable London specialty coffee outfit, has just opened its newest location in the city: a three-month pop-up bar in Tower 42, a towering skyscraper at 25 Old Broad Street. Founded in 2006 by three Australian siblings, Taylor St has played an important role in the coffee boom in London, and this pop-up, serving their own Taylor St coffee imprint alongside Koppi coffee from Sweden, marks an astonishing ninth location in London.
Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium brings a rather British twist to the cat café by offering full afternoon tea services to those who wish to fine dine with felines. The entire café has an appropriately grandma-chic feel to it, with food and drinks being served in mismatched antique china mugs and plates. Scattered throughout the rooms are plush cat beds, discreet litter boxes, toys, perching shelves on the walls that are carpeted with astroturf, and copies of Your Cat magazine. Downstairs is a cozy hangout for the cafe’s visitors and permanent hosts, its main feature being a huge antique bookcase with plenty of hidey holes for cats who need a moment to get away from the stress of celebrity.
Feature by Kate Beard.
Opened in March of 2012, The Association is a much-welcomed respite in the middle of London’s busy “City” limits, a square mile parcel in the very heart of the city. Association is tucked away down Creechurch Lane, with an aesthetic dominated by a combination of exposed-brick walls, modern lighting, and simplistic seating arrangements. They feature a rotating selection of coffees from Square Mile and Workshop at the bar, with filter coffee methods that include AeroPress, V60, Woodneck, and syphon, and shots of espresso pulled on a lovely-looking Synesso. The Association isn’t far off from the Tower of London, and only a short walk from the Aldgate Underground stop, making it a convenient coffee shop for tourists. Be sure to visit on a weekday, as Association is closed on evenings and weekends.
Feature by Ben Blake.