Mid-2014 London Coffee Update

It’s an undeniably exciting time for London coffee. New shops are popping up like daisies as enterprising coffee lovers take the leap into business ownership; already established cafes are taking their first steps towards expansion, or adding another location to a quickly growing roster.

It’s a Sisyphean task, trying to keep on top of London coffee news. Just as soon as you think you’ve heard all the latest, something else happens. What’s that? You managed to visit 2 of the new places on your list this weekend? That’s cool. Here are 4 more that opened.

As I write this post, I feel a bit of a thrill that we’re so spoiled for choice; I also feel a bit of despair to know that by the time I return to London in October, I’ll be so completely out of the loop and behind on things that it’ll be pointless to try and catch up. So while I’m gone, you’ll all have to keep up for me and let me know what the “must visit” places are when I get back.

But enough waffling. On to the interesting stuff.

Let’s take a minute to reflect on the state of coffee in train stations here in the UK. Costa and Starbucks can probably be said to be the pinnacle, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to be at a larger station. Imagine my surprise, then, when I was breezing through Piccadilly Circus the other day and saw a familiar red logo. Apparently the “Grind” familyexpanding from Shoreditch and Sohohas opened an outlet underground. Imagine! A decent flat white and pastel de natas, all available in a tube station. Truly we are living in an age of enlightenment.

Down in Victoria, they’ve been enjoying the arrival of Iris and June, a spacious coffee shop serving Ozone Coffee pulled on their La Marzocco Strada in addition to Sandow’s bottled cold brew. They also have delicious, actually substantial food. The soba noodle, wakame and mackerel salad was pretty ace, though I can’t say the aftertaste played nicely with my mocha… If you work in busy Victoria, be happy that some great coffee has finally come your way.

Moorgate, another big office hub, has also welcomed good coffee into its midst. Notes Moorgate is tucked away into the 1 Ropemaker Street building, so you have to nose around a bit before you find it. But when you do, my goodness what a space. The famous spider chandelier from Notes Trafalgar Square has been duplicated here—twice!—and spacious doesn’t even begin to describe it. The outer walls are floor-to-double-height-ceiling glass, following the curve of the building, which makes the space feel more like it should be a cafe at the Tate or MOMA than somewhere in an office complex. As with the other stores, there is a variety of food, beer, and wine on offer; of course the coffee is really on point as well. I’ve heard rumours that their Bokasso is currently seducing the tastebuds of many a caffeine addict, so get down to Moorgate and give it a whirl.

Despite being quite new to the scene, Blackbox doesn’t seem content with staying in just one place. Ben Murtagh (formerly of Alchemy) holds down the original location at Floripa near Old St, and manages to create quite an experience with limited space/resources. He does espresso and filter drinks, serves a variety of sweets (including cronuts), and manages it all with wry humour and panache. It’s a pretty great spot to go hang out on a sunny day, especially if you can get a Burger Bear burger from across the street for lunch and follow it up with a coffee and cronut for dessert. The new location opened last week in the heart of Hackney. Right off the town hall square, in the bar for the Hackney Empire, you can find Blackbox #2. This week it’s being manned by Lee Gaze (formerly of the brilliant but short-lived Silhouette Espresso in Chinatown), who is serving Extract coffee. Next week the barista and coffee will probably be different, but I trust that Ben will find some great baristas to help him out.

This next shop has to be my new favourite place. I know a lot of times it’s hard to say that one place is really your favourite, especially one so new, especially when there are so many amazing places in London that all have different strengths and qualities that make them stand out. But sometimes you visit a place and things just click. It has that je ne sais quoi that speaks to you and makes you feel right at home unlike any other place. (This happened to me in Los Angeles at Menotti’s. Despite being on a 4-day reckless mission to visit as many coffee places as humanly possible, I ended up spending an hour or so at Menotti’s every single day just cause it was that good, and it felt like a home away from home. But I digress.)

Brooklyn Coffee feels a bit like that to me. Bryan and Reina were extremely welcoming from the moment I walked in. To be honest, I  was already impressed at the fresh, minimal design and immaculate cleanliness of the place. Eschewing the warm tones and bare bulbs found in many cafes, Brooklyn is decorated in a monochrome palette of cool grays, white, and black. It feels like it could easily transition from coffee shop to Shoreditch art gallery to design start-up office. And with good reason, because according to them, Brooklyn Coffee is just the first iteration of a collective these NYC creatives are hoping to start.

Bottom line: it’s slick, but not soulless—and that’s entirely down to the warmth that Bryan and Reina give the place with their friendly service. “Yeah but… the coffee?!” you cry. Well, don’t worry, it’s not just a pretty face. They’re pulling Caravan coffee on their shiny new Linea PB, and quite expertly so. The milk they’re using, Ivy House, is some of the best milk in the UK in my opinionbuttery, creamy taste and a dream to steam. After seeing the almond milk on the menu, I asked for a weird “flight” of sorts: an espresso, a piccolo with their Rude Health almond milk, and a normal piccolo. The espresso they’re currently using is Caravan’s new Market Blend, a super sweet blend of Fazenda Ouro Verde (Brazil), La Placer Estate (Colombia), and Finca la Argentina (Nicaragua). Alone the espresso had notes of orange peel; when paired with almond milk, the acidity still cut through but notes of hazelnut were lurking in the background; with the milk, it was much mellower, with a nougaty, creamsicle flavour coming through. I found it interesting that the acidity was so pronounced with the almond milk but not with the normal milk.

When you visit Brooklyn Coffee (when, not if) you also have to try their Special Brü, especially now that summer seems to be in full swing. It’s made Japanese-style by dripping hot coffee over ice, instead of soaking grounds in cold water for hours and hours. The blend I had was Nicaraguan and Guatemalan, and it was so incredibly sweet and flavourful straight out of the cup. It was one of the best cold brews I’ve had this summer so far. Again, bottom line, since I’m waffling: you need to visit this place.

Speaking of cold brew, no one is helping usher in the summer of cold brew in London like Sandow’s. These guys are working day and night (literally) to brew and bottle insane amounts of delicious cold brew coffee, complete with sleek, eye-catching graphic design, and distribute it throughout London. Their hard work paid off in a big way, as they are now being stocked at Selfridge’s. They’ve also been serving up fresh cold brew on tap to the thirsty shoppers there a few times a week. You can find them there on Thursday and Friday this week, but check their Twitter in the future to see where they are. Also at Selfridge’s for their Meet the Makers festival is Origin Coffee. Selfridge’s have brought in a variety of food and drink producers who are passionate about their craft, from cocktails to meringues to beer to coffee, to showcase what food and drink can be when done right.

While we’re on the topic of coffee on that side of London… well, we need to talk about Fitzrovia. Something’s happening. Something big. For a long time, if you wanted good coffee in west London, you were quite out of luck even before you hit Regent St. It was a vast wasteland, stretching out to Notting Hill until you got to the specialty outpost that is Talkhouse Coffee. Workshop’s Marylebone location and Mother’s Milk, puttering quietly away on a side street, started to bring the profile of the area up a bit, but it largely remained devoid of choice. Now, in the space of a few weeks, we’ve seen two more excellent places take up residence in the W1 postcode.

Curator’s Coffee has opened a two-story outfit on Margaret St, with rich, sepia counters and a smattering of hexagonal tiles spilling out from below the coffee machine onto the floor. The first shop is well-known for their matching turquoise machine and grinders; here we find a more muted accent, with the EK43 and Strada bearing matching aubergine hues. They also have a gorgeous line of copper Hario kettles, waiting patiently to make you a delicious pour-over. When I visited I was very happy with every single drink I tried: the single origin Yirgacheffe in a flat white, which had the most delicious funk of blueberries; the matcha latte, which is such a wonderful drink that I still get mad that more London cafes don’t offer this; and the cascara fizz, made from a concentrated cascara syrup, a bit of lime cordial, and some fizzy water. I tried the cascara syrup alone, and it was tasty enough to make me want to drizzle it over my pancakes in the morning (though I doubt I’d sleep for a week if I tried that).

Two streets north, the new Workshop is a study in coffee shop opulence. When they opened their Holborn site, tongues were wagging about that white marble counter. I’m not sure if the counter was already chosen for the Fitzrovia site when they heard all the feedback about Holborn, but I like to imagine they chuckled to themselves and thought, “That counter? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Fitzrovia is a good deal smaller than Holborn, but what it lacks in space I think it makes up for in charm. It’s simply unlike any other cafe in London right now. Where a lot of cafes seem to go for clean minimalism, Workshop has opted for a showier semi-maximalism. That counter is black marble with eye-catching opalescent flecks running throughout, and is echoed on the tops of smaller tables in the back room; shelves near the door and mirror have tiles with floral patterns on them; textured light fittings cast a dappled light throughout the store; gold accents are found everywhere throughout. As with other Workshop stores, and perhaps even more so, the service and drinks are impeccable.

The most exciting thing about the miniature burst of cafe activity in Fitzrovia, though, is the idea that maybe we are beginning to close the gap in west London. Maybe we’re finally starting to fulfill a specialty coffee Manifest Destiny of sorts, creeping ever westward towards Talkhouse; maybe the day is close when we’ll have an unbroken stretch of great coffee straight across our great city of London.

But wait! There’s more! (/Billy Mays) That’s everything that is already open. Let’s check out what’s coming up.

Daily Goods, formerly of Kinoko Cycles in Soho, has picked up their outfit and moved south of the river to Peckham. Hopefully opening next week on Camberwell Church St (next to the Camberwell College of Art and across the road from Twitter foodie favourite Silk Road), the cafe will feature Workshop coffee and possibly guest roasters on filter, as well as Fetco bulk brewers (which seem to be enjoying a recent revival). In chatting with Carter, the owner, he sounded especially excited that he’d finally have a cafe with seats. “I just want to create a nice place for the neighbourhood to meet up and spend their days,” he said.

Good news: M1lk is opening another cafe! Bad news (for some of us at least): M1lk has stayed south of the river for their new shop, much to the dismay of all of us who might be forgiven for thinking that you need a visa to get to Balham. The new cafe, called Fields, is opening up in the middle of Clapham Common in August. Along with it we’ll be welcoming yet another beautiful, otherworldly Kees van der Westen to Londona custom job with cream-coloured enamelas well as some Fetco brewers.

Notes, not quite satisfied with just one gorgeous new cafe, will be opening another one in the new King’s Cross development in September. I pressed Fabio for more information, but all he said is that it would have a similar style to the Moorgate one.

Workshop has had a recent burst of expansion, but it isn’t quite over yet. They are now looking for a huge new space “encompassing a significantly increased roasting capacity, a retail coffee bar, green coffee storage and potentially our head office, too,” Tim Williams-Styles shared in an email. As with the Clerkenwell location, the roasting will be done out in the open, because Tim believes that having the production department as a “visible, open and accessible” part of the business is important. While they’ve got their eye on a few locations, it’s a bit too early to say yet where this new Workshopolis will be.

Matthew Ho of Union Coffee will soon be taking his Tottenham cart, Craving Coffee, to the next level. The cafe, simply called Craving, will be somewhere in Tottenham, serving Union as the house blend with other coffees rotating through the second grinder. He hopes to open in September; until then, you can find him at Tottenham Green Market on Sundays.

Last, but not least, DunneFrankowski at Sharp’s is dead. Long live DunneFrankowski… just not at Sharp’s. Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, we have to deal with a London coffee scene devoid of their cafe talents. But if you, like me, enjoyed the unique atmosphere offered by a cafe in a barbershop, you won’t have to give up on that experience at all. Michael Cleland has been holding it down like a boss, and starting this week, David Robson (formerly of Association) will be taking over as the new head barista there. Taking his role at Association (old news by now I think) is the illustrious Nico Halliday, ensuring that the team stays at the top of the London coffee game.

And, well, I guess that’s just about all that’s new in London coffee. At least for the next few minutes.

More reading: Phil Wain’s blog for even more insights into the scene, covering new shops, barista moves, and even book news; Chloe’s blog for a much more in depth look at the new buzz in Fitzrovia… err, “West Fitzrovia”.

6 Comments

  1. Great post, super-thorough – although I wouldn’t consider Fitzrovia to have been a coffee wasteland with T-A-P, Kaffeine, Lantana, Sharps (RIP), Attendant, Mother’s Milk – and Store St ‘Spro and Nude both 2 mins from the periphery! Got to be one of the densest areas for good indy/specialty coffee in London. Very happy it’s even denser now with Curators and Workshop (also Kin almost right outside Attendant is a spot worthy of inclusion above [http://www.kincafe.co.uk/]).

    Any thoughts on areas like this reaching saturation and/or cannibalisation starting to be an issue?!

    • I haven’t been to Kin – I really want to go!

      When I say Fitzrovia I guess I meant specifically that area right off of Regent St. If you get much further west of that it gets into coffee no-man’s land. I guess I could amend it to “West Fitzrovia”?

      I don’t think saturation or cannibalization will be an issue. Soho and Shoreditch are also pretty dense with coffee but I think that they manage just fine. Good points though! :D

  2. Hi Kate,

    Lovely post. You’re right, of course, so many great places, so little time to visit them all. I’m impressed you made it to so many of them!

    I see you liked the counter at the new Workshop in Fitzrovia; glad to see that I’m not the only one!

    We’ll do our best to pick up the slack while you’re away.

    Brian.

  3. London is full of coffee shops these days. So many to visit and never enough time.

    Could anyone here recommend any specific coffee shops worth visiting in central London?

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