Just a decade ago, it was nearly impossible to imagine a London as serious about coffee as it is today. Outsiders and local residents incurred great risk when ordering a cappuccino — they were likely to receive a bitingly bitter, collapsed-foam concoction in return. Thankfully, those Dark Ages of caffeinating have since lapsed, with London displaying a verve for the art of coffee-making and embracing a 17th-century café-culture-meets-Stumptown state of mind.
Though a string of Neros, Costas and other humdrum high street chains eclipse the number of independent cafés in sheer number, the chasm is shrinking with every passing year and every V60 filter served. Home to some of the world’s best baristas and in-house roasteries, London’s finest cafés are doing their best to prove that coffee has just as much to offer — more, even — than your standard cuppa.
The following six cafés, restaurants and local stands are among some of the city’s current standouts — worth visiting for your daily long black, and to witness Blighty’s most enthused coffee artisans working behind their La Marzocco.
1. The Coffee Works Project
Located at the mouth of Camden Passage in Angel, the Coffee Works Project is a family-run shop whose long weekend queues are a testament to its quality and die-hard popularity among locals. The founders are extremely conscientious about their selection of espresso blends and single-origin varietals, many from stellar Midland roasters Has Bean. In addition to coffees mixed with traces of milk chocolate, cheeses from Neal’s Yard and densely sweet baked goods are sold as tasty counterparts to customers’ brew of choice. 96-98 Islington High Street, Islington, London N1 8EG, 44 (0) 20 7424 5020, coffeeworksproject.com
2. Caravan King’s Cross
The second of Caravan’s outposts (read about the first one here) is a phenomenal, warehouse-esque space in Granary Square, located just behind the King’s Cross tube station and Eurostar terminal, that’s packed to the brim during weekend brunch hours. Caravan’s house beans come from its own basement roastery in nearby Exmouth Market, and the seasonal selections, consistently ranked among the city’s best, are crafted with the utmost of care, the staff working closely with sustainable estates to produce roasts that bring out the beans’ most prominent flavors. Order a serving of cornbread French toast or hearty Welsh rarebit to fully satiate your savory needs. 1, Granary Building, Granary Square, King’s Cross, N1C 4AA, 44 (0) 20 7101 7661, caravankingscross.co.uk
3. Black Craft Coffee
This rogue coffee operation trades in two South London locales: Crystal Palace on weekends and a Wandsworth Town espresso bar. Its proprietor, Anto (“The Anarchist Barista”), is a coffee maestro who sources his beans from carefully selected sources, including a women’s co-op in Honduras. Roasting small batches of interesting coffees to which local “big boys” may not always have access, Anto’s off-the-high-street oases are where locals flock to get a fix and gain insider insight regarding process, drip, and flavor profiles. Wandsworth: 1 Chapel Yard, Wandsworth Town, SW18 4HZ blackcraftcoffee.com
4. Climpson & Sons
Broadway Market is something of a haven for food-obsessed East Londoners. Compact yet densely populated with diverse restaurants, it is also the home to a bustling Saturday farmers’ market frequented by painfully cool locals searching for their Sunday-night game roast. Its gem of a café, Climpson & Sons, has been at the forefront of London’s coffee revolution, continuing to innovate today with the help of an eco-friendly Loring SmartRoaster to produce the cleanest cup possible. 67 Broadway Market, Hackney, E8 4PH, 44 (0) 20 7254 7199, climpsonandsons.com
5. Store St. Espresso
In the heart of Bloomsbury, the historical homeland of London’s intelligentsia (Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster), lies Store St., a favorite of the area’s discerning student population. Priding itself on providing customers with flawless brews using the best locally roasted offerings — beans from Nude Espresso, Square Mile and Workshop among them — Store St. highlights the simple pleasures of coffee drinking. Expect a lively, consistently fresh menu featuring tempting pastries such as skyscraper-high Victoria sponge cakes, punchy grapefruit tarts, and icing-sugar-dusted cream puffs. 40 Store Street, Bloomsbury, WC1E 7DB, 44 (0) 020 7637 2623, storestespresso.co.uk
Antipodeans are often credited with pioneering the about-face of London’s café scene by introducing a steadfast devotion to quality — in brewing, warmth of service and coffee provenance — in addition to the now-ubiquitous flat white. Kaffeine is one such shop, where weekend “guest espressos” from roasters as far-flung as Sweden plus U.K. up-and-comers like Extract feature in its weekly selection. Its food menu is no mere afterthought, either, with unusual salads (zucchini “spaghetti” with roasted red-pepper “pesto,” for instance) and pillowy Lamingtons — a signature Aussie pastry — providing even more reason to return to this West End favorite. 66 Great Titchfield Street, Oxford Circus, W1W 7QJ, 44 (0) 207 580 6755, kaffeine.co.uk
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