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 #13 Big Bear Cafe

Big praise for Big Bear out of 5.

Location-4(Big Bear Cafe occupies an island corner at First and R Street NW, just off Florida Avenue. The location is a little odd and it is hard to determine where the hoards of people are coming from. There is a lot of residential apartments around but not much else in terms of shops and restaurants. It appears that as the Shaw-Howard area is developed more there will be more spill over to old corners such as Big Bear’s).

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Barista Cuteness-4.5(Barista’s are charming, helpful, and seem to be in a very joyous mood. They often chit chat with people sitting at the bar and will periodically circulate to make sure everyone is satisfied. There is not a clearly defined system for calling out drink and food orders which leads to a bit of confusion, but if there voices weren’t muffled by their oversized chunky circle scarves, they wouldn’t be true hip baristas now would they)?

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4.5(I have kept my drink orderings pretty simple at Black Bear, ordering a house coffee and pot of tea thus far. While I have not been able to apply the cappuccino test yet I can comment on the drinks that I have had. Counter Culture Coffee, one of my favorite espresso roasters extremely impressed me with their drip coffee beans. While I do not know the specific name of the house brew being served up I know it was one of the most delicious, house brew black coffees I have ever had. There was definitely blackberry and other fruit flavors present along with a strong boldness and crisp finish. On my second outing my friend and I split a large pot of Jasmine Pearl tea. Our first cup was great but the tea turned soapy in taste pretty quickly and we had no obvious way to remove the over soaked leaves from the pot, sadly).

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Ambiance-5(Big Bear knows hot to do cute decoration and simple furniture choices. The inside look is very rustic with wooden tables and chairs. The colors are rich and dark, burgundy bar stools do not clash with the wooden atmosphere and carved out booths are spacious and comfortable. There is a great, sturdy, communal table that anchors the room and slender windows that perfectly frame cozy two-tops. The outdoor seating is also a treat and there is a canopy of Edison style lights over the entire patio. There is a lot of seating but a pretty high demand, so snagging a table is the biggest challenge).

Pastry/Food Selection-4(Camping out at Big Bear is easy because it doubles as a Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner restaurant as well as a cafe. On my first leisurely Sunday I enjoyed an amazingly zesty pulled pork sandwich that had an incredible sweet and tangy BBQ sauce. The bowl of navy beans I chose as my side was quite cold and sad but they were very fresh in quality. The second trip to Big Bear was all about getting work done via pastry motivation. My friend and I split a brown sugar cookie and vegan peanut butter cookie. The peanut butter cookie was really good and you couldn’t even tell it was vegan, always a plus. The brown sugar cookie was a chocolate chip cookie minus the satisfying chocolate chips, so it tasted great but was slightly disappointing. We decided having standard chocolate cookies would have been far too mainstream).

Overall Rating: 4.4

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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