London's best cafés and coffee shops
On the hunt for a classier caffeine kick? Here's Time Out's guide to the latest wave of London coffee shops creating a buzz
There’s more to London’s coffee shops than just great brews. The last few years have seen an explosion of coffee culture in the capital, and these are the places to check out this creative community. Do you agree with the choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.
It’s been a labour of lav turning this former public convenience into a charming little coffee bar. The aromas wafting up from the subterranean cavern are now of roast arabica and scented candles, even though many of the original fixtures remain in place, from the Victorian urinals to a veteran hand drier. The loo has been locked up and unused for the last 50 years; now the transformation from piss-stop to pitstop is impressive. The beans are supplied by Caravan Roastery; our flat whites had rich flavour and a thick crema. On another visit the barista, obsessively committed to his craft, apologised because the blend might have a little too much citrus flavour from sitting for just three days after roasting (he likes six). It was citrusy, but it was wonderful. He offered to brew a free cup of something else, so we could compare and contrast. There’s a small selection of made-to-order sandwiches and hot snacks, and the cakes are more than decent. This central café is definitely worth spending a penny in.
The bottom line: Coffee that wakes you up before you go-go, served in a former men’s pissoir.
- Basement, 27A Foley St, W1W 6DY. Oxford Circus.
There may be seating for as many as six people here, and it isn’t strong on comfort. But Curators is a place to cherish nonetheless if you value beautiful beans and expert brewing. The house espresso blend comes from Nude Espresso, guest beans mostly from Square Mile. We had a guest filter, the improbably sweet Colonia 8 Estrellas from Bolivia, perfectly brewed. Anyone adding milk or sugar to this beauty should be booted out. Bought-in food is simple but shows the same care that goes into the coffee. A steady stream of City slaves keeps this tiny treasure buzzing with takeaway orders. It’s easy to see why.
The bottom line: Serving City workers with well-curated coffee beans.
- 9a Cullum St, EC3M 7JJ
This former Prêt was transformed in spring 2013 into an independent coffee shop. The uniform fittings have been replaced by second-hand tables and an eclectic selection of pews to perch on. Their back wall is decked out with a line of drip filters for sampling single origin coffees such as fruity, Ethiopian Konga Natural Yirgacheffe. The house espresso blend is sourced from Union Coffee Roasters, but beans from other roasters (such as Caravan and Workshop) also make an appearance. From their La Marzocco machine, you can opted for their house espresso – the dark-roasted Foundation Blend (a mix of Guatamalan, Indonesian and Indian beans) or their ‘guest espresso’. On our visit it was a soft-bodied, citrusy Brazilian number with a decent crema (head). To fill your belly, there’s the usual selection of pastries, sarnies and quiches. They’re a little on the pricy side though, with a grilled pork and cheese baguette setting you back a substantial £5.90.
Espresso: £2 (double shot)
The bottom line: An indy café that’s thrown off the chains.
- 23 Southampton Row, WC1B 5HA. Holborn.
Newcomers may be puzzled by the name until they learn that there’s a bicycle repair shop attached: this is a hangout popular with two-wheels-good folk. But on a grisly Saturday lunchtime, it wasn’t just cyclists here; half of the residents of EC1 had turned up. Singles, couples, families with young children. It’s easy to see why they all love the place, even with so much competition in the area. LMNH is a joy, with an ample food offering (proper cooked dishes, plus salads, baked spuds and the like) and baristas who know their business. The staple beans come from Square Mile but there are guest coffees too. This is wheely good, with or without oil-marked trousers.
The bottom line: On two wheels, four wheels, or even on foot, a hugely popular and friendly local hangout.
- 49 Old Street, EC1V 9HX. Old St.
Notes has been on this site since 2011, and opened branches in Covent Garden and Leeds in 2012 and 2013 respectively, but in 2013 it also took the major step of doing its own roasting in King’s Cross. The result, as judged by a single-farm Yirgacheffe brewed using the slow-drip V60 pour-over filter, is a major success. The room is singularly attractive, big and light with well-spaced seating at both small and refectory-type tables. It was very busy in mid-afternoon on a weekday, with a clientele ranging from suits in meetings to friends hanging out. Food is simple but takes pride in buying the best raw materials, such as charcuterie from the Ham and Cheese Company in Bermondsey. With Trafalgar Square just minutes away and the Coliseum even closer, Notes is an extremely useful place to take note of.
The Bottom Line: Hitting the high notes with in-house roasted single estate coffees.
- 31 St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4ER
Hardly anything has changed at this big, bright, comfortable room, renowned for its devotion to artisan coffee. Monday to Friday, everyone here’s in a bit of a hurry. (More so after a couple of shots.) At the weekend it becomes a place for exulting in the what’s-the-rush pace. The coffee is always produced to the very highest levels. For those who don’t want espresso or espresso with milk, top-notch brewed coffees are made using several different methods, including the Chemex filter system (for two). Food is displayed on the counter, and a small selection of daily dishes chalked up on a blackboard. Leather Lane may be nearly empty on Saturdays, but Prufrock makes it worth a visit.
The bottom line: One of London's very best, and equally distinguished with filter-type brews and espresso.
- 23-25 Leather Lane, EC1N 7TE. Chancery Lane or Farringdon.
Rapha Cycle Club’s Soho store shows that there is much more to the cycling-coffee pairing than Lance Armstrong-style performance enhancement. The café area occupies a little less than half the floor space of this very smart cycle clothing shop, and it provides ample seating for those wanting to rest their feet after picking up a pair of merino knee-warmers. At the table next to ours, two young Japanese people relaxed with shopping bags nestling at their feet. And it is a remarkably relaxing place, largely because of the chatty but efficient staff. And man, do they love coffee! Their main suppliers are Germany and Sweden, but we ordered a guest espresso from a single estate in Uganda; they talked us meticulously through the technical details and later, unasked, brought a freebie of the same beans brewed in a different way. Food is standard coffee-bar fare, mostly supplied by the same outfit that sells to The Fields Beneath. A haven near Piccadilly Circus.
The bottom line: A chilled-out place in unlikely surroundings, and some of the nicest staff around.
- 85 Brewer St, W1F 9ZN. Piccadilly Circus.
This is the third branch of what was formerly known as Tapped & Packed (the other two are on Rathbone Place and Tottenham Court Road), and don’t be surprised if it’s not the last. The formula is simple and very effective. Buy good beans and treat them with respect. Create a space that’s unintimidating and relaxing – a very long space in this case, with skylights running almost its full length. Employ waiting staff who know that a smile and a friendly word are just as important as efficiency. It pays off. Even though this branch is the largest of the three, it wasn’t easy to bag a table at 2.30pm on a weekday. There were a couple of informal office meetings taking place, but also a lot of people sitting on their own. Average age: low 30s. Food: majoring on sandwiches and salad of reasonable prices (by Soho standards), plus the usual baked goods. A completely satisfying experience. Leaving was a wrench.
The bottom line: You’ll have to force yourself to get up and leave. Expect TLC from Tap.
- 193 Wardour Street, W1F 8ZF. Oxford Circus or Tottenham Court Rd
Branching out from its Shoreditch original, Timberyard’s second café brings its brand of wi-fi and caffeine to Theatreland, putting on a splendid show of strong brews, great bakes and light bites. Has Bean company providing their signature Jabberwocky blend, from which baristas deliver A-grade, big-on-floral-flavour shots. If you have a bit of time to spare, there’s also drip-fed Chemex filter coffee on offer, which makes for a smooth and aromatic brew… even if it does take time. Teas are also taken seriously with each cuppa accompanied by its very own timer to ensure a perfect brew.
The bottom line: Get wireless as you get wired at this caff in Theatreland.
- 7 Upper St Martin's Lane, WC2H 9DL
The original Workshop in Clerkenwell couldn’t be more different from this Marylebone branch if it tried. Clerkenwell caters for crowds of locals looking for food, a long drinks list and a buzz; at weekends, it’s heaving. This branch, right at the back of Selfridges and St Christopher’s Place, is a tiny space (seating 14) with an equally tiny food offering (a few sandwiches and pastries) and complete calm in which to lunch quietly. There is little in the way of decor and little to distract from the quality of what they sell. Sandwiches are tasty and ample, and the coffee (roasted at the Clerkenwell site) is several cuts above the London norm. Sit at the counter if you like watching baristas (skilled and friendly in this case) at work. An unassuming gem. A third branch is opening in Holborn soon.
The bottom line: A perfect place for a simple lunch in a crowded area – and for a seriously good cup of coffee.
- 75 Wigmore Street, W1U 1QD
Little remains of the original Wren church of St Nicholas Cole Abbey, wrecked by German bombers in 1941. But this is still a singularly striking place. It was converted in April by St Nicks Talk, a ‘mid-week church’ that takes over for half an hour every Thursday. The rest of the time it’s a place to have a relaxing time in a far from relaxing precinct of the City. Food is simple and good, whether sweet or savoury. The coffee comes from Workshop, and the sweet, creamy espresso blend, flawlessly brewed, would have been perfect if it had been properly hot. Service is charming and friendly. This is a lovely place in every way.
The bottom line: Heavenly espresso in an atmospheric church in the City.
- 114 Queen Victoria Street, EC4V 4BJ
Other great places to drink coffee in central London
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What about patisseries and coffee shops in the suburbs - Yvon's artisan Patissier in Ealing Broadway has excellent coffee and pastires and cakes and good service.
Great article! Love the idea with the tube map. There are a whole load of NonProfit cafes in East London that could be added, especially on Brick Lane, Kahaila Cafe has great coffee and cakes! Keep up the good work TimeOut. Cheers
I've placed all the cafes reviewed in central London on a map. I did it because I'm doing my own bit of research. The reviews on here have been very useful, thank you TimeOut. I hope this map can be of use to others. http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF&msa=0&msid= 205388326386877886143.0004f1be3d59d4b47621f
For the east of London, there is a new place that should be mentioned, Stepney City Farm, not only sells beautiful coffee, (using Climpsons and Sons beans) Tea, (from Joes Tea Company) and hot chocolate (from Jaz and Juls).But it is a little peice of something else, set in the middle of a city farm, where you can watch the donkeys and goats while enjoying your drinks! The food is pretty spot on too, and its all localy sourced! Truly the only place in london to get an 'Affa-goat-to'
You need to check out The Urban Chocolatier in Whitechapel. This chocolate coffee shop is amazeballs!
What must be London's tiniest coffee shop - a minuscule battle waged between this slip of a place and the hole-in-the-wall that is StArt coffee on Columbia Road - opened today in the coffee mecca that is Fitzrovia (... it is said that all barista's tampers in London are positioned to face towards this arabica-dense area). In yet another unorthodox venue - wedged, Senkaku-like, in between a Chinese and a Japanese restaurant - Fitzrovians can yet again sate their desire for an espresso and a chat in non-conventional environs. With Attendant having opened on Foley Street only months ago, the wise money is on the next coffee shop opening between floors 16-20 of the BT Tower, the daily menu scrolling across its expansive LED screen for your convenience. Ridiculousness aside, this place pulls a decent shot from some serious kit (Nude's 'East' blend via a La Marzocco), the flat white I ordered providing a muted citrussy-zing and finish of toasted nuts. The interiors of the place could best be described as following TAP's deconstructed flea-market-chic vibe (which arguably 'fits' this particularly small space better than a full-sized cafe), with two stools optimistically placed outside for those braver and more garrulous than myself. The man behind the operation, a smiling, personable chap whose name I didn't manage to obtain, assures me he's here for the long-haul (as opposed to filling a gap in an under lease or similar) and seems pleasingly bullish about his chances in the area. When I mentioned the quality of the competition in the area, his response was "I know... good, right?". Excellent stuff. This said, to assume direct competition with the likes of Kaffeine, TAP etc would be to miss the point: GSE fills a different, smaller niche (if you'll indulge the metaphor) - and I'm sure the passing commuters and residents of the area will appreciate this newcomer for what it is.
Went to FreeState Coffee after reading this guide yesterday. Coffee, and staff very good, but no toilet!!! How can you put a cafe without a toilet on this list???? Another (subjective) point that I didn't like was that it is relatively small but with an enormous glass facade, so very hard to feel you have escaped the 'hustle and bustle' which is what I look for in a cafe.
Disagree with Barossa. Customer service is absolutely abysmal. Food is nothing to write home about and venue is small and not well laid out. Afraid to say it but the coffee was not on par - I sent mine back and my mates forced theirs down. Don't waste your time. Pop over the river to Grind instead.
DISAGREE entirely re: Lola& Simon (Kings Road) - coffee is *not* great. Barely good, and not even enough to elevate the cafe into the great coffee places. This list also managed to omit several obvious west London independents within striking distance, all making great coffee: Hummingbird (Oaklands Place), Artisan (Kings Road), and Lavelli (Askew Road). Your reporters didn't actually do any work for this list.
Tomtom coffee house on Elizabeth Street is by far the best coffee in London. It's a relaxed atmosphere and everything is top quality standard.
NOT a REAL HONEST LIST... it s shocking you missed 'Caffettino' from your south London List!!!! already on many guides and on the top 50 independent coffee shop in London by Evening Standard! Amazing Quality Coffee and the best food ever!!! ... no comment... go and check it out: www.facebook.com/pages/Caffettino/125150564235231