What do you mean you don’t have filter coffee? A Guide to London Coffee Shops

I wish I had been diligent enough to do a proper coffee shop review of every cafe I visited in London but at this stage in the game that would be simply impossible. I am going to attempt to backtrack through all the coffee shops I have visited giving them quick scores and pointing out the ideal features of each. Coffee is truly blossoming in London so don’t be intimidated by the perceived ‘only tea’ culture.

As the title of this posts hints at, the one thing yet to develop is strong cups of black, filter coffee. Artisanal shops that will be explored in this post do have pour-over, chemex and V60 options but they are simply lacking good ready made coffee–paper filters, large batches, hot mugs you can wrap your hands around simply do not happen in most London shops which is a huge shame. Looking past this, visiting cafe is an awesome way to see London, each neighborhood can be characterized by they handful of coffee shops that reside in it. So I’ll break it down by region, trying to record every coffee shopI can recall. It’s going to look like a daunting list but life is better when drinking good coffee. The Southbank and East London have unfortunately been painfully neglected in my coffee pursuits but I will try to outsource some recommendations for these areas. The greatest London coffee blog for filling in the blank map spaces is Cups of London Coffee. They have an interactive map that has displays the massive density of London’s coffee shops allowing you to zoom and click cafes to display recorded times and information. It’s brilliant!

As a reminder coffee shop reviews go a little something like this: cafes are marked out of 5 on location, barista cuteness, coffee knowledge/expertise, ambiance, and food/pastry selection.

Convent Garden/Aldwych

  1. Lundenwic-4(Lundenwic is a newer shop on Aldwych that is teeny tiny. the place has two tables and a three-seat counter so not ideal for working or hanging out but if you do snag a table you are right in the middle of the action, merging with the queue of people and baristas bustling about from the mysterious kitchen downstairs. From this basement emerges a selection of toasties and salads for lunch. I have had hits and misses with lunch but highly recommend the cranberry sauce, chicken, and squash toastie if they have it. The sandwich tastes like Thanksgiving dinner between two slices of sourdough bread. Be wary of the amount of kale and fennel in the salads, it’s a lot of kale and fennel. The location is ideal if you are a uni student at LSE, which this writer might be. Unfortunately if you our not headed to lecture there is really no reason to be walking along Aldwych as it has no tourist appeal and is crowded with students and professionals. However, Lundenwic is near some theatres so if you are headed to a play and worried you will not stay awake either because it looks to be extremely dull or you are very tired, grab a strong flat white, and chat with the extremely handsome baristas before the show).
  2. Fernandez and Wells-Somerset House-4.5(There are two things keeping F&W from receiving a 5 much to my dismay. First, the coffee is just simply not that good. The espresso is often burnt and flavorless so it is best to get tea because they will top up your pot with hot water, give you honey and even steamed milk if you like. The service is certainly not lacking at Somerset House that is for certain. Second, while the Spanish-style savory options at F&W are divine, their pastry selection is weak and very expensive. Now that we have those critiques out of the way let’s move to the highlights. Somerset House, is one of my favorite places in all of London and you can see my full post here. The setting of the cafe is minimal and airy, the light wood furniture and large tables makes it a fantastic place to spread out and do work. Their music selection is consistently on point, playing an eclectic mix of soul and indie songs. Most of the the baristas are incredibly friendly and the table service for food is quite enjoyable, I highly recommend their soup specials, particularly the chicken tangine. The soups come in a huge steaming bowl with some crucial pieces of sourdough bread for soaking up the last bits).      13102718_10208147040907100_3434636631585142432_n
  3. The Black Penny-4.5(The Black Penny will always hold a special place in my heart for the lunch deal they used to have which included three salads and a protein for under 10 quid, although the lunch deal is no longer the food selection is still expansive and delicious. The coffee is top notch quality as well. The place is nicely situated off the dense crowded Convent Garden area closer to Holborn station. It’s ideal for a longer uni lunch or a break from the tourist scene. The inside is very rustic and warm Edison bulbs hang from the ceiling and the back has a large communal table and several squished two-tops.There are shelves adorned with books and magazines  situated over built in cubbies for single seating. The exposed brick wall adds to the Brooklyn chic vibe. The baristas and servers match the warm interior and are very friendly, and always more than happy to point out their favorites of the day).
  4. New Row Coffee-4(This tiny kiwi-owned coffee shop sits on New Row Street in Convent Garden. New Row rivals Lundenwic in it’s size as it only has two tables and two counter seats. The pastries are all homemade daily by Tom, the owner of the shop. The coffee quality is stellar and the small space is not over designed or sparse. There is a coffee grinder serving as an expensive flower pot. The teal dishes add a little quirk and brightness. I’d recommend getting a cappuccino and specifying without cocoa powder because it tends to overpower things. The tall lanky baristas are the essence of the London aesthetic so no need to worry about that. I recommend the Anzac cookies and almond croissants).img_4253
  5. Fleet River Bakery-3(Fleet River is not in a very idealic location sandwiched between Kingsway and Lincoln Fields Inn, in a non-descript part of Holborn. Again, for an LSE student it is pretty convenient. Known for their pastries, correction expensive pastries It’s best to run through either to get a goof cup of coffee or quick lunch. I have never been too impressed with their offerings but people swear by their toasties and salads so I’ll leave a little hope. The space is very drafty and unadorned, Fleet River is packed at lunch so try to grab a spot quick or check out their downstairs area. If you are in a hurry, Fleet River is also not the most expedient so be aware).
  6. Fleet Street Press
  7. Notes-Convent Garden

Soho

  1. TAP No. 193-5                                                                    12809736_10207890381890785_2470534023979204042_n
  2. Flat White-4
  3. Nordic Bakery-3.5
  4. Foxcroft and Ginger-3

Fitzroviia

  1. Kin-5
  2. Attendant-5                                                                                                                                                   13184660_10208941295280255_1076025989_oimg_4319 img_4321
  3. Kaffeine-4

7 Dials

  1. Monmouth Coffee
  2. Timberyard
  3. Department of Coffee and Social Affairs

Shoreditch

  1. Fix 126(Fraser’s Pic)
  2. Attendant
  3. Shoreditch Grind

Clerkenwell

  1. Workshop

Islington 

  1.   Vagabond No. 7 4.5(This coffee shop tucked away in Islington is a hidden gem in the London coffee scene. The narrow space is bigger than it appears with repurposed wooden spools as tables in the front area and  a cozy back room. Studying in the back room, you can work amongst the roaster, espresso machines and sacks filled with coffee–ideal for any person who literally runs on coffee. You are also working on a suspended wood table that has ample room to spread out your books, coffee, and food. On to the food, the almond croissant I had was the best almond croissant I have ever had in London, let me repeat—the best. That is saying something. The prepared sandwiches are also simple and hearty. There is also a kitchen tucked away that manages to pump out full English breakfast among other brunch fare served all day long. On my last trip to Vagabond, I discovered the secret side courtyard that is quaint and peaceful. Filled with mismatched iron furniture, the outdoor space is somehow sandwiched in a small, awkward corner between two buildings, Vagabond is an architecture marvel that seems to expand after you enter. The coffee shop also has a derelict appearance with crumbling walls and vacant fireplace stuffed with a combination of junk and books, it almost resembles the ruin bars of Budapest. A friendly staff serves high-quality coffee to match their impressive food fare and interesting space. I am only docking it for its location, north Liverpool Road is not quite a cultural hub but the hipsters are sure to come).

 

Coffee Shop Review #16: Malmaison

Blowing dust off the DC map and bringing you a new Washington coffeehouse. Categories out of 5.

Location-3.5 (The location of Malmison can be seen as both very good but also inconvenient. Malmaison is located off the Georgetown Waterfront on K Street and is the last warehouse before the Potomac Parkway begins. Once you manage to get all the way down to Mailmaison’s cafe you are rewarded with coffee and treats that you can take to the waterfront and enjoy).

Barista Cuteness-3.5 (The baristas at Malmaison are cute and charming. They are not out of this world gorgeous but so genuine instead. Some are more experienced than others and are eager to talk coffee with you. Other baristas just carry friendly general conversation).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-3.5 (Due to Malmaison’s location I only travel there to spend have a beautiful waterfront day. This makes for my main purchase to be iced coffee. However, the ice coffee they prepare is very unique. Last time I tasted my iced coffee it was so striking I had to compliment the barista and inquire on the preparation method. I learned that he pulled a single origin Guatemala drip through an espresso machine to make the drink, so weird but so good! The result was very bright brew that was super zesty and fruity. The cafe serves up Mad Cap a great roaster out of Grand Rapids, Michigan that has a Lab and Training Facility in D.C.).

10262175_10202851870131140_6385053352369392682_n

Ambiance-2.5 (Another reason I only visit Malmaison during the Spring and Summer season is because there is indoor season. Malmaison is also a full fledged restaurant serving brunch and dinner so you are going to have to battle the diners for the limited seating. The interior is very posh and lux, which supports the modern French mood but it is not the most warm and inviting atmosphere for a coffee shop. If you do sit inside you will probably be subjected to the upstairs lounge, which becomes a club at night so it is far too swanky for casual coffee sipping).

Food/Pastry Selection-4.5( the pastries at Malmaison are absolutely phenomenal. I am completely addicted to their almond croissant, which is filled with creamy marzipan and topped with toasted almonds. The treats are crafted by the French pastry chef, Serge Torres, a cousin to the famous Jacques Torres chocolatier. Baking certainly runs in the family because his desserts shine at Malmaison. I have also sampled an apricot pastry and was not disappointed. Next on my list to try is the macaroons. I wish there were some savory options to pair with the cakes, cookies, and other sweet baked goods locked under glass domes at the coffee bar).

10592839_10203735738707302_4355109151964747727_n

Overall Rating: 3.5

 

Coffee Shop Review #15 St. Mark’s Coffeehouse Denver

The long-awaited next coffee shop review installment has come at last. If you can still recall, from way back when, categories are out of 5.

Location-4.5 (Taking a break from the coffee wasteland that Boulder has become, I headed down to Denver to meet my awesome friend Serena for an after work cafe catch up. We drove to St. Mark’s Coffeehouse which is near City Park in Northeast Denver. This parkside neighborhood is super cute and has lush trees covering up small, ornate houses. The neighborhood is not the most easily accessible from say downtown Denver and parking can be hit or miss but it has carved out it’s own little niche of the student/worker vibe).

Barista Cuteness-5 (For the first time, I think in my coffee outing lifetime I saw a single barista behind the bar handling everything from ringing up customers, doling out baked goods, and, of course, finessing the espresso machine. This single barista was also quite handsome and very personable. He executed all of his jobs with great ease and he served up perhaps the most efficient service I have ever seen. Sometimes less is indeed more).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4 (The simple menu yielded the standard cappuccino test but I did see a line of jars of coffee beans that I will be eager to scan more thoroughly on my next visit. The barista made some cute and comical attempts at naming his coffee art blobs and the espresso had a bit of a singed, bitter taste. This saddened me, as I had high hopes for the amazing creamsicle colored espresso machine and the man behind it).

IMG_2233

Ambiance- 4 (Both inside and out were eclectic and humming with a nice relaxed tone. One table was paired with two chairs with insanely large sculpted backs that almost connected to make a canopy over the table. A bar very reminiscent of an Italian stand-up espresso shop sat empty and a touch out of place in the middle of the room. The outside was very pleasant with lots of umbrella coverage and sturdy iron tables. However, the creaky, metal folding chairs were in dire need of some love and oiling. The huge open sliding window gave a great view into the front of the cafe which had perfectly reasonable tables for working and chatting with Edison bulbs strung over them).

IMG_2234

Food/Pastry Selection-4.5 (From the case of glistening cookies, cakes, scones, croissants and more we elected to share a peach tart. The pastry was extremely buttery and light while the peach filling was nice and tangy, not too sweet. It was quite a hard choice to make so another trip back will surely be needed to satisfy further pastry indulgences. The panini menu looked simple and was actually quite affordable as far as coffee shop standards go, with sandwiches ranging in price from $5-$6. A group across the way got a savory treat that smelled very good so I have a feeling that the taste probably lined up).

IMG_2232

 

Overall Rating: 4.4

 

 

Coffee Shop Review #11 The Cup Espresso Cafe

What are Boulder’s Baristas serving up? Find out (categories out of five).

Location-5(Located in Boulder, Colorado The Cup Espresso Cafe is competing with a fleet of independent coffee shops on Boulder’s downtown pedestrian walk, the Pearl Street Mall. The main drag of Boulder covers about 5 blocks and includes, restaurants, retail, and lots and lots of coffee options as aforementioned. Ambling on the mall is a Boulder must and the east end of the mall, where the Cup is located, is steadily growing in popularity).

Barista Cuteness-4.5(The barista’s are rocking it at The Cup, as you would expect from a exceptionally fit and healthy town. They are also  very charming and happy to chat. My only note would be that, while yes, good drinks take time to prepare, there always seems to be an exceptionally long wait time for beverages).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4(The Cup is all about their fair trade coffee, so for the environmentally conscious it is definitely a great option.  Conscious Coffees provide all the beans for the cafe, which is kind of a no brainer. The selection of beans is almost overwhelming and you can really get the exact flavor your heart desires. Espresso drinks are good at The Cup, but my main staple is their Florentine-divine! Whatever the swirling chocolately goodness is that they are pairing with the drip coffee is wonderful. The espresso drinks are prepared with the correct quantities of milk, foam, and espresso but the espresso seems to be very mellow in flavor, making the drinks a little flat). 

Ambiance-4(What The Cup lacks in inspiring design they make up for partly in their garage door opening and outdoor seating. Since it is sunny almost every day of the year in Colorado, I would highly recommend basking in the sun and watching the troves of bikers pass by. The interior is pretty basic with very standard wooden tables and chairs. There is a nice area of additional seating in the back of the cafe that is a pleasant, quieter space to do work).

Food/Pastry Selection-4.5(I have only every had one treat miss at The Cup and this can be partially blamed on pure faulty ordering, really you should never order a gluten-free carrot or apple anything-it’s just bound to be dry, chunky, and overall distasteful. However, the rest of the sweets at The Cup are great, and the cookies are massive and exceptional. If the peanut butter cookie is present, which is off and on,you are a outright fool if you don’t snatch one or five up. The Cup also serves up lots of sandwiches and bagels if you are in the mood to make it a meal. Everything is made fresh, in house, which is the benefit of having a full kitchen in a coffee shop, a luxury that many more urban cafes can’t get away with. I recently branched out from my cookie obsession and got a a rosemary scone that was perfectly baked and full of flavor, so make sure to try something new too).

Overall Rating: 4.4

Coffee Shop Review #7 The Wydown Coffee Bar

Still catching up on coffee shops, back in DC and categories out of 5.

Location-5(‘Lil Brooklyn/U Street continues to be the apple of my eye and with the discovery of a host of new vintage and housewares stores it will continue to draw me back. Grab a coffee at They Wydown and take a lovely stroll down 14th Street to see a plethora of even more interesting shops and galleries).

Barista Cuteness-4.5(Baristas are attractive but definitely a little hit and miss with friendliness).

Coffee Knowledge/Selection-4.5(I am still looking for a cafe that serves a Florentine, my secretly coveted drink that I have also heard called “a poor man’s Mocha” because it is chocolate steamed with drip coffee rather than espresso but I prefer it to a Mocha myself. I saw great promise at The Wydown but alas, no Florentine for me. I have gotten a very splendid cappuccino and an Intellegencia Ethiopian pour over which was slightly bitter for my taste).

Ambiance-5(The Wydown is an awesome place to do work or hang out with friends and has a great atmosphere. Two long, beautiful wooden tables flanked with either benches or chairs provide the feeling that you are at a buzzing Bohemian Biergarten. The Wydown is, essentially, a large, open, rectangular box so there are no funky corners and light streams in from the front windows, which one can also sit at. There is additional seating along a wall composed of bucket chairs and milk crates for tables, in classic hipster fashion).

IMG_1528 IMG_1531

Pastry/Food Selection-4.5(The baked good selection is small but mighty. I have had a delicious apple turnover that was lightly warmed for optimal consumption. The salted caramel brownies are an absolute must, they are rich, moist and delectable).

IMG_1512

Overall Rating: 4.7

Coffee Shop Review #6 Bohemian Coffee House

While it seems like ages since I was in Baltimore, as promised I am doing an extended coffee shop review of Bohemian Coffee House. If I recall correctly the categories are still out of 5 (hee).

Location-4(First, remember this coffee shop is in Baltimore for all of you local DCists. Bohemian is located in an area deemed Charles North, an up-and-coming neighborhood by the Baltimore Train Station. While there are other restaurants around Bohemian you won’t find any local shops to explore or the feel of an established neighborhood. Baltimore is gritty, embrace the grittiness)!

Barista Cuteness-4(The cluster of baristas behind the bar that seemed to be randomly moving about were cute but  you’ll have to break them from their indy task-oriented trance to order).

Coffee Knowledge/Selection-4(Oddly, when I went to order my standard cappuccino I was told that there was no espresso-based drinks at the moment. Whether this meant their machine broke or they ran out of coffee beans I will never know. I decided to go for an Ethiopian Gelana Abaya pour over from Square One Coffee. My cup of coffee was painstakingly prepared and I believe I may have intimidated my barista by watching her intense preparation of my coffee. She immediately offered to make me another cup right after I tasted my first sip if I found any inadequacy, this was completely unnecessary because the coffee was prepared perfectly. I cannot describe the pour any better than Square One who even use the greatest phrase “Cupping Notes” to preface their description of the beans stating the Yirgacheffe beans as containing a “Ripe blueberry and strawberry sweetness, tart lemon with a dark chocolate finish”–delicious)!

Ambiance-4.5(Where Bohemian lacks in location they make up for in ambiance. The coffee bar with popping red stools is very inviting and sits across from a row of cozy booths. I would imagine that the outdoor seating is also quite pleasant on a Summer day).

Pastry/Food selection-5(I had an Alfajores, a delicate Argentinian dolce de leche sandwhich cookie. The baker went above and beyond to serve my treat in the most elegant manner which made it even more enjoyable to eat. The selection of other baked goods looked equally as inviting and the Bohemian also serves dinner and lunch options that consist of hearty asian-inspired dishes like Lions Head, a traditional Japanese street food meatball dish, that looked quite scrumptious).

Image

Overall Rating: 4.3

Coffee Shop Review #4 Filter Coffeehouse & Espresso Bar

Filtered into five categories (out of five points)

Location-5 (I’ll be honest in saying I walked straight past Filter’s Dupont Circle location the first time. Filer is tucked down a few steps on an unassuming stretch of 20th Street NW behind Dupont Circle. The location is quaint and really makes you feel that you are at a neighborhood coffee shop, literally in a neighborhood, surrounded by no shops, restaurants, or other cafes. This slightly-off the beaten path location of Filter is fitting for the vibe the coffeehouse has sought out. However, you are still conveniently around the corner from the bustling Connecticut Avenue. On my second trip to Filter I was able to scoop up a to-go cappuccino and stroll to a great boutique and a vintage store on the main drag).

Barista Cuteness-4.5 (Baristas appear to be cute albeit somewhat aloof. On a busy Saturday myself and a few other patrons after placing our drink order were asked if we could be helped, by the same barista that took our initial orders, better to be extra attentive and slightly absent-minded than presumptuous though).

Coffee Knowledge/selection-4.5 (For my first visit to Filter I dined in and asked the barista to recommend his current favorite single-origin for a pour over coffeee. He pointed out the Ethiopian Worka that turned out to be the best single-origin cup of coffee I have ever had. The coffee was brewed to perfection and the deep fruity notes of blackberry, strawberry, and grape came seeping out. I greatly applaud Filter’s choice to serve Ceremony Coffee Roaster’s beans, simply divine. My cappuccino was not as spectacular as my cup of coffee but the bar had been set pretty hight. I would have liked to see a little less foam and a stronger espresso taste. Staying in with a book and ordering a french press or pour over is definitely the way to go).

Ambiance-4 (To get into Filter you go down a flight of stone steps and into the shop. This basement/cavernous affect is a little gloomy and and dungeon-like. The place was packed so I had to grab a seat at the bar located right by the entrance. Sitting with your back to the entrance and facing an exposed brick wall is a little daunting, the space is also not extremely will-lit which could have improved the atmosphere for those relegated to these seats. On the other hand, the tables along the wall opposite the espresso bar are brighter and promote a more social vibe. Again, I ran up against the common problem of a lack of good seats. The best improvement would be to have a long communal table instead of individual two-seater tables, this would not only accommodate more people but also embrace the enhance the grotto-like setting).

Pastry/Food Selection- 3.5 (I have still yet to go when the Almond Croissant, and Black Forest Proscuitto & Gruyere Croissant are in stock but those are the menu items that are definitely catching my eye. Stay tuned for and update in this section).

Overall Rating: 4.30