As the London speciality coffee scene becomes more and more crowded, it’s hard for one cafe to stand out and rise above all others. Here comes Rosslyn, one of London’s finest coffee shops. In a short time, less than two years since opening, they’ve built a loyal community and won the praise of the industry’s leading experts. A Sprudgie Awards finalist in 2018, Rosslyn is also “one of the best new cafes in the world” according to Drift magazine. One of the world’s most decorated chefs, Alain Ducasse (who also delves in speciality coffee with his Paris roastery), is a fan and personally paid them a visit.
No, Rosslyn isn’t your average coffee shop. Let’s start with the location: this isn’t a cool warehouse space in East London. Rosslyn is a 40-square-meter wedge-shaped cafe surrounded by food and coffee shop chains in Queen Victoria Street. We are in the heart of the City, one of the centers of London’s financial world. The Bank of England and St. Paul’s Cathedral are a few hundred meters away. The City is an old, historic, and crowded neighborhood, home to brokers, insurers, and lawyers; it’s also quirky, full of character, and a true melting pot of people. While Rosslyn isn’t the only speciality coffee shop in the City, it is certainly among the busiest. I recently snuck in during a slight pause in the action and had a chat with James Hennebry, who together with Mat Russell founded Rosslyn in early 2018.
The Aussie-Irish duo met while working at Caravan Coffee Roasters in London, but their coffee journeys started on the other side of the world, in Melbourne. It’s there, at Five Senses Coffee on Rosslyn Street, that Hennebry says he “learnt how to make coffee.” Russell grew up not far from there and also started his coffee career in the city, learning the trade of roasting at Reverence Coffee.
Coming from different countries, Hennebry and Russell have found “the idea of working in London, to contribute to the city and to the local area,” something that they really enjoy, says Hennebry. Their experience in Australia’s hospitality industry and wholesale background also makes them perfectly suited to grow a successful brand and face the challenges of the London market.
Rosslyn’s aesthetic is dominated by minimal wooden furnishings; white and light grey walls and floor-to-ceiling windows; shelves lined with coffee bags, Mörk Chocolate, and handmade ceramics. Pinned up on the wall are the pink paper pages of the Financial Times, whose shiny new headquarters are located right up the street. Two doors create a natural flow of customers coming in from the right side, right up to the till, moving to the left side of the counter to collect your order, then going out through the door on the left side. Before you’ve even placed your coffee order, you’re met with a smile and an offer of still or sparkling water. It’s not something you take for granted in London and one of the small things that sets Rosslyn apart. The machines, as would be expected, are some of the best in the industry: a La Marzocco KB90, Nuova Simonelli Mythos One grinders, a BUNN batch brewer, and Marco SP9 single brewers.
On the coffee front, the menu is split into three categories: black (espresso or long black), white, and batch filter. The bespoke Rosslyn blends are roasted by Origin Coffee in Cornwall and delivered to London in tin cans in an effort to minimize their environmental impact. The milk is supplied every day by The Estate Dairy in reusable buckets and thus saving an estimated 13,000 plastic milk bottles per year.
In addition to Rosslyn’s own coffee, the bar serves a rotating selection of the best single origins from the leading roasters in the world on pour-over. I taste a washed Kenyan “with plenty of red berries in the cup” from Bocca Coffee of Amsterdam. In past months, Rosslyn showcased a washed Ethiopian by Roasted Brown (Co. Wicklow, Ireland), and a natural processed Kenyan roasted by Proud Mary in Melbourne, and Cat & Cloud coffee from Santa Cruz, California. Hennebry keeps track of all of them in a thick binder, which he proudly shows me while recounting anecdotes about each coffee.
Everything at Rosslyn—from the coffee to the cups, from the machines to the baristas and the front of the house—is the best it can be. And they make sure to keep their staff happy too: Rosslyn is proud to pay the London living wage, one of only two certified coffee shops in the city to do so.
At the end of the day, there’s one thing that matters the most. “Whether it’s a restaurant or a bar or a coffee shop, it needs to be a nice place to be,” Hennebry tells me. “Some places forget the most important thing: there’s no point making great coffee if it’s not a nice place to be.”
Hennebry and Russell have worked hard to create a nice and positive environment. “We make sure, first and foremost, that we know our customers by name and by order,” says Hennebry. “If we were to close tomorrow, a piece of people’s day would be missing and that’s genuinely something we are really proud of.”