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 our choices? Add your suggestions to the comment box below.
Best coffee shops in central London
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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.Read more
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.Read more
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 The uniform fittings have been replaced by second-hand tables and an eclectic selection of pews to perch on.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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
Best coffee shops in north London
This nice little place opened in November 2011 and it’s a big hit with young locals. It’s easy to see why they come. From the copper lamp fittings to the quirky decor to the massive windows giving a full view of the street scene, this is very pleasant place to while away an hour or two. There’s just one coffee on offer, Union Coffee Roasters’ Revelation blend, and it’s well handled with just one complaint: the cup wasn’t hot enough, so inevitably the brew wasn’t, either. The food ranges from cooked breakfasts to sandwiches, baked spuds and a daily soup and salad. Plus the inevitable baked goods, most of them made on the premises.
The Bottom Line: Well-made bakes and brews in a quirky Archway caffRead more
The famous adage about the three keys to success in retailing – ‘location, location, location’ – might have been coined with this place in mind. It shares a building with Central St Martins, and right on its doorstep lies the vast King’s Cross development. The huge stripped-industrial space, originally a grain storage facility, was doing a roaring trade on a wet Thursday lunchtime. And it wasn’t all thirsty students: there were families, suits, tourists. The offering duplicates that of the original Caravan in Exmouth Market: a large, eclectic menu majoring on brunch and breakfast classics, small plates on the main menu, and reasonable prices; a drinks list where wine and cocktails are taken equally seriously; and, of course, the coffee, which is roasted in plain view. The food is terrific; so is the coffee. A textbook espresso (fabulously fruity blend) and a beautifully feathered flat white. The noise-averse might have problems. Everyone else will love it. This place is great.
The bottom line: A brilliant success on all fronts – this caravan’s an oasis in the King’s Cross concrete desert.Read more
Opened in February 2013 by a refugee from high finance, Camdenites are embracing the Coffee Jar enthusiastically. There’s seating for just ten people, with minimal decor based on large quantities of reclaimed scaffolding board. The house beans come from Monmouth, with a changing roster of guest. Our espresso came from the hand of a barista who worked meticulously, right down to warming the cup with a puff of steam to ensure a properly hot shot. The food offering is sharply focussed: a few sandwiches, plus baked goods both bought in and produced on-site. Add on friendly service and you’ve got a winning formula. We can see why most of the customers during our visit were regulars.
The Bottom Line: A minimalist caff in Camden with beans from Monmouth CoffeeRead more
The Fields Beneath is a classic of local history written about Kentish Town by long-time resident Gillian Tindall, and the name is appropriate for this coffee bar: TFB has a real neighbourhood feel. It isn’t surprising that K-Towners have taken to it enthusiastically since it opened late in 2012. The place is tiny, with just one long(ish) table for communal sipping, but ample space for the takeaway crowd (many emanating from the Kentish Town West overground station next door). Beans are rotated fortnightly with Roundhill, Notes and Butterworth all making a regular appearance. An espresso made using beans from the Roundhill Roastery was flawless, with an especially fine crema. But you could easily come here just for the food. A monster cookie, dense with dark chocolate, was sublime and sizeable. Even better is their beef donut, braised shin inside a lightly sweet bread case. On our visits we have watched the crowds come in search of sandwiches to take away, while our table companions chatted merrily to each other and to the staff. TBF already feels like part of the KT family. Let’s hope the love continues.
The bottom line: A tiny operation, almost brand-new, which has already won the hearts and minds of Kentish Town.Read more
Sungjae Lee learned to love good coffee in his native Seoul. Since moving to London in 1988 he’d thought about opening a coffee bar. Late in 2012, after a year of planning, building and training, he achieved his ambition. The tiny space (table seating for 10) used to be part of Mr Lee’s estate agent office, which he still operates next door, just 30 seconds or so from the tube station. There are a few pastries from Gail’s Bakery and a good set of teas and a few soft drinks. But mostly there is espresso and its derivatives, made with beans from Monmouth. And what we tasted was exemplary: great beans perfectly brewed to give a beautiful crema with the rounded sweetness that makes Monmouth’s espresso blend so distinguished. Finchley Road is not exactly crowded with great places for coffee, and that makes this diminutive spot not just unusual but very welcome.
The bottom line: Miniature in size but mammoth in quality, a welcome addition to drab Finchley Road.Read more
Best coffee shops in south London
Birdcage is about as unpretentious as a five-star coffee bar can get, but that doesn’t mean it’s artless in its approach. Everything is intended to soothe and relax, from the lovely colour scheme to the retro furnishings and the jolly cluster of pictures adorning the long wall. But the best thing is the staff, always including at least one of the two owners as far as we can tell. They make this place buzz with their obvious enthusiasm for coffee, catering and their customers. A mid-morning weekday crowd ranged widely in age, and included several children happy to eat superior baked goods or nurse a hot chocolate while their parents talked or read. The sandwiches are great, but the warm banana bread is well-nigh impossible to resist. Partnered with a perfect espresso made from Climpson & Sons beans, it’s a guaranteed cure for rainy-day blues. Aspiring baristas take note: if you want to see how an espresso machine should be tended, come to Birdhouse.
The bottom line: The effortlessly chilled local coffee bar of everyone’s dreams; lucky Battersea.Read more
Even on a day when the wonderful Brixton Village market wasn’t at its busiest, Federation was bursting at the seams. This corner spot is not a large place, and it is very popular with a clientele of every age and many nationalities. Seats with a view of the covered market are the ones to grab. Take a perch and eavesdrop (in several languages when we were there) or just enjoy the sights. The food is made on the premises, and in addition to standard (and enticing) sweet stuff it includes daily-changing specials with an Antipodean but internationalist outlook. Nothing is very complicated, but neither is it expensive. The espresso beans are roasted at a nearby unit in the market, and the house blend is quite high roast, best suited to milky incarnations rather drinking as espresso. Service is friendly and there’s a real neighbourhood atmosphere here. For that, and for the location, Federation is top-drawer.
The bottom line: A hugely popular spot in Brixton Village market, buzzing and jolly.Read more
Monmouth is always busy, except on Friday and Saturday; on those days, it’s rammed. Roll up on Saturday and prepare to join a queue that snakes a good way round the corner of this prime spot on the southern border of Borough Market. Nothing here speaks of flashiness or trendiness. It’s the coffee, stupid, and the simple, well-chosen food offerings (breads, pastries, etc.) that go with it. Espresso and its derivatives are well made, but brewed coffee – from the company’s peerless range of single-estate beans – is the real star. On a midweek visit there were takers for both, and the relatively small crowd made it possible to dawdle among the young trendies and middle-aged gourmands who were scoffing pastries with their chosen brew. Seating is not exactly the lap of luxury (wooden benches, perch, or stand) but it’s comfortable enough. Still going strong after 35 years in business, Monmouth is as good as coffee gets.
The bottome line: The public face of the grandmama of high-class UK coffee, self-assured and always busy.Read more
Best coffee shops in east London
This popular corner spot, with tables and a counter at one end of the light-filled room and the coffee roaster at the other, is deeply embedded in the Shoreditch scene. Just before closing time the place still had a good few customers, equally divided between drinking-in and takeaways. Allpress makes terrific coffee, both filter and espresso-based. An espresso was textbook stuff, perfect crema and lush berry flavours and deep, dark chocolate. But the filter brews from a changing roster of beans are best for a more leisurely spot of sipping. Both drinks would be reason enough to come here, but the food makes for an even more compelling reason. Baked goods are outstanding, and the sandwiches are imaginative. Green goddess egg and jamón, salmon celeriac remoulade… you get the picture. Still the star turn in Shoreditch.
The bottom line: Enduringly popular for its unhurried atmosphere, lovely service and great food.Read more
Deeply brown, nicely buzzy and never overheated, Climpson’s wood-lined coffee shop has the same great qualities as its excellent flat whites. It occupies a little niche on the west side of Broadway Market, so you might miss it entirely on a Saturday when this street becomes a hive of street stalls, artisanal food-snobbery and folk-busking. But this haven of laid-back enthusiasm, with friendly Antipodean staff who aim to serve, not sneer, is open every day of the week from 7.30am when it’s a nifty morning-paper hangout for equally laid-back locals. With its no-frills attitude, plain wooden benches, handy power points and helpful blackboard graph explaining the strength and taste of the available coffees and how they’re made, this place is about coffee first, conversation second. Climpson’s is a great example of the kind of pared-down, taste-focused cafés which have sprung up all over Dalston and London Fields, bringing hip mums, students and twentysomething remote workers together to enjoy keenly priced retro cakes, avocado on sourdough, and good strong coffee, locally roasted at Climpson’s nearby roastery.
The bottom line: Buzzy, laidback, enthusiastic, with locally roasted beans – the perfect coffee shop for Saturday nights and Monday mornings.Read more
Even at 4.30pm on a Tuesday this original branch of Nude boasted a sizeable crowd, a tribute to its enduring popularity – and to the quality that keeps it going. Nude has become as much a food destination in recent years as a coffee destination. The menu follows the same format year on year – breakfasts, brunch dishes, a few fairly complicated assemblies, salads and baked goodies – but the selection changes from day to day. All-day food keeps packing ’em in, and at weekends the long ground-floor room can be a bit of a scrum. But a jolly, well-managed scrum, thanks to staff who know to work and be friendly at the same time. If it’s coffee you’re after, the offering is espresso-orientated, and you’d be advised to get some milk into the mix because the house blend is a very high roast short on sweetness. Well made, just a little too hardcore for many people’s taste. Get it with some form of milk, order pastry to go with it, and settle in.
The bottom line: Serious attention to food is one of the top draws for both locals and touristas.Read more
Opened in 2012, Oz-owned Ozone is a major hit with the office workers around Silicon Roundabout. At 2.30pm on a grey Tuesday we found the street level room completely full. In the basement, where the beans are roasted, was a different story: we were the only people in that charmingly un-refurbished room. Ozone has made a big deal of its food from the very start, and if anything it gets more serious with time. Even with standard dishes there’s a nice tendency to add a taste of the unexpected: fried shallots and salsa verde with kedgeree, for instance. Soup of the day is always interesting. Coffee comes in brewed form as well as espresso and its offspring, with a daily changing pair of ‘slow-brew’ specials. Kenyan peaberry given this treatment was a silky treat. A word of warning if you sit in the basement: coffee making the descent from the busy ground floor room has a tendency to cool off a bit en route. Apart from that, no complaints.
The bottom line: Popularity has risen stratospherically – crowded upstairs, easier downstairs.Read more
Best coffee shops in west London
This Australian-owned place (as you might guess from the name) packs in appreciative customers. There’s no simple way to describe the clientele – apart from affluent, since this is, after all, the Parsons Green end of New King’s Road. Late at lunchtime on a dreary Saturday it was buzzing with young families, middle-aged locals wearing thousands of pounds worth of very understated casualwear, and twentysomethings gathered in small, lively groups. There’s a small room at the front with a good view of passing traffic and a larger back room where the serious lunchers seem to congregate. Coffee here is a pleasure, with beans from the Caravan Roastery treated carefully and served immaculately. But the food is taken equally seriously: the usual brunch dishes and an international array of other things that is very tempting. In an area not well served with quality coffee in casual surroundings, Barossa stands out.
The bottom line: A deservedly popular wizard of Oz in sedatest Parsons Green.Read more
The few patrons in place on a Thursday mid-afternoon were dawdling luxuriously in this big, airy neighbourhood hangout, and it was a treat to join them. This is not just a coffee place. It’s an ex-boozer, and alcohol still features prominently. As does a short menu bringing in international touches alongside more traditional pub grub, such as a sausage sandwich, in this case using bangers from the renowned Ginger Pig butcher. Nearly everything is made on the premises, including bread, and when something has to be bought in, the barista said, it’s a form of ‘cheating’. Beans come from Coleman Coffee, and alongside the house espresso blend there are single-estate coffees – rare in espresso. The barista wasn’t satisfied with his first two attempts for geeky technical reasons, so he persevered – and the third one was glorious, with bright berry notes. His perfectionism sums up a lot about this gem. Maida Valeites should cherish it.
The bottom line: A lovely local with lots of room and a really warm welcome.Read more
L&B opened in summer 2010, and many locals consider it a godsend after years of a serious lack of local independent coffee places. The food offering is small but outstanding, with good soups, sandwiches, salads and assorted other savouries. Sweet things are equally splendid (check out the blueberry cheesecake and banana bread), and prices are very reasonable. This is a neighbourhood hangout par excellence, with an atmosphere that’s like being in someone’s living room – staff talk to customers, and customers talk to each other. The food is served on a delightful jumble of unmatched crockery, but the perfectly brewed coffee – with beans from Monmouth – comes in well-warmed white cups. It’s warm, welcoming and totally laid back: we all wish we could have a café like this one on our corner.
The bottom line: A tiny, eccentrically decorated place with total commitment to quality in everything.Read more
The espresso here is very Parisian – and that is not necessarily meant as a compliment. Perfectly good of its type, but nothing to write home about. The food is also very Parisian, and this is definitely meant as a compliment. Yvon Coignard has a five-star CV, and he knows his craft well. A small oval of the Languedoc bread called fougasse had a topping of meltingly sweet caramelised onions and salty lardons; wonderful. But it’s the display of jewel-like patisserie that will really make you think you're in St Germain rather than Ealing. Divided around equally between chocolate and fruit, they are a pleasure to look at. And, based on the evidence of a miniature tarte tatin, a pleasure to eat. Ealingites are lucky. We hope they know it.
The Bottom Line: Perfect Parisian-style pastries in an Ealing shopping centreRead more