The London coffee market is crowded. This is as true now as it's been for a decade, when an earlier generation of international coffee professionals put the city on the map as home to championship-caliber baristas and world-class coffee roasters. But here in 2020, if you're going to stand out, you might start by stacking up the accolades. So it goes at Kiss The Hippo, an independent speciality coffee company opened in the summer of 2018 in Richmond, an affluent residential neighborhood in southwest London. Kiss The Hippo is home to both the 2018 as well as the 2019 and 2020 UK Barista Champions—Joshua Tarlo, who serves as Head of Coffee, and Paul Ross, who is the brand's Wholesale Manager, respectively.
It took me nearly a year after their opening to visit Kiss The Hippo, not for lack of interest, but because I never quite found the time: when I say this cafe is in the suburbs, I mean deep in the suburbs. To give a sense of scale for readers outside the UK, a return trip to Richmond from central London to visit the cafe is roughly a half-day trip. It was a home brewing workshop led by Tarlo that finally lured me out, and immediately I wished I'd gone sooner. The spacious, bright, and welcoming space—spread over two floors with the coffee bar at the front, roastery at the back, and workshop room upstairs—ticks all the boxes. Over on the counter, you’ll see world-class equipment from industry leaders like La Marzocco, Victoria Arduino, and Mahlkönig. The brand identity—with its tongue in cheek name and trademark red hippo logo—is attractive and catchy, and their suburban location allowed Kiss The Hippo space to grow as a wholesale brand while also building a local customer base, without facing the fierce competition of central London coffee shops.
We don't traffic much in raves on Sprudge, nor do we formally review or grade coffee shops. That said, the coffee I drank that day was the best filter I’ve tasted all year: a vibrant and aromatic natural Gesha from Finca Auromar in Panama, which just so happened to be Paul Ross’ 2019 barista competition-winning coffee. And that was enough to turn me into a Kiss The Hippo fan.
And so I kept going back. On several other visits to Kiss The Hippo, I tasted flat whites with their house blend George Street: big body, low acidity, and robust flavors meant to shine through milk. The beans used in this blend change each season, but currently are 50% Colombia (Los Vascos) and 50% Honduras (La Cumbre). Their other blend, The Donna, is a darker roast for those looking for something a little more traditional, but still sweet and without a roasted bitterness. A range of single-origin offerings rounds out the shop's menu, with four sub-categories meant to make ordering simple for the general public: Mellow & Balanced, Vibrant & Bright, Unique & Interesting, and Rare & Acclaimed, which includes a number of Cup of Excellence winners.
These days it’s become a lot easier to drink Kiss The Hippo’s coffees on a visit to London, or for city-dwellers living in the urban core. In September of 2019 Kiss The Hippo opened a second coffee shop in the coffee-mad London neighborhood of Fitzrovia, taking over the former site of Curators Coffee Gallery, which has been featured previously on Sprudge. Kiss The Hippo undertook a subtle revamp of the space, focused on polished warm wood surfaces, warm spotlights, and shelves stocked up with coffee bags and accessories emblazoned with the brand's popular logo (so popular, they were out of stock my last two visits). The cafe was packed both times I went there with people from nearby offices on a coffee break and freelancers working on their laptops in the quieter downstairs room.
Here you'll find a smart breakfast menu (served from morning to early afternoon) from Chef Jenny Parker featuring dishes prepared with local and sustainable farmers’ produce, including a standout eggs benedict croissant. All the pastries and cakes are baked in-house—including their best selling white-chocolate-iced cinnamon roll.
Sustainability is a marketing buzzword trope in 2020, but Kiss The Hippo does more than most when it comes to backing up claims with actions. The brand supports a range of organizations working on projects to sustain coffee into the future, including World Coffee Research and Kew Gardens Coffee Research Program, home to one of the most advanced coffee research teams in the world. They are also long-term partners with Rainforest Trust UK, who works to protect threatened forests and wildlife worldwide, and Just a Drop Foundation, to help bring clean water to 228 students at Mwambui Secondary School in Kenya. At Kiss The Hippo all straws, cups, containers, and cutlery are compostable and the plastic used is recyclable. The roastery uses a Loring S15, one of the most environmentally friendly machines on the market, burning approximately 80% less fuel than traditional methods. Kiss The Hippo is also in the process of being able to roast coffees carbon neutral by January 2020, which would make them the first speciality coffee company roasting carbon neutral in the UK.
It's really hard not to like what's happening, and as London's status as one of the centers of the coffee world grows into a multi-generational legacy, it feels all the more vibrant thanks to young new brands like Kiss The Hippo. No matter where you live in the world—whether it's a tube ride from Shoreditch or an all-night flight from Seattle—if you love coffee, you should go here.