As we all know, London is a huge, huge city, with a lot of different and unique areas. So how to choose the 10 best cups of coffee I had the pleasure and joy to sip while in London? Why even to try and do it? Surely there would be better things to do on a Thursday evening you might wonder. Yes, surely there is – but I don’t know what.
A few words about the criteria. For there were coffee shops I liked purely on subjective basis because they served amazing coffee in my favourite London district (Soho/Bloomsbury depending on the mood of the day), because they were not only amazing coffee shops but also very conveniently located (Brixton), or, plainly because the coffee’s amazingness matched that of the atmosphere in general (Borough).
From this, it can be deduced that all coffee shops in the list serve objectively amazing coffee and rest of the criteria is based on subjective premises – such as surroundings, feel of the day, atmosphere and so forth.
So, here we go.
10 Fleet Street Press, 3 Fleet Street
Ah, historic London: IT’S EVERYWHERE.
But especially around Fleet Street.
Fleet Street Press is situated almost next door to Twining’s original tea shop, and there are a lot of other addresses for a lover of history to check out around Fleet Street. Coffee shop culture was partially responsible for the birth of newspapers, and Fleet Street was in the centre of all this: although, one of London’s very first coffee shops in Fleet Street, next door to a book shop, was frown upon for the “evil smells” it produced by roasting its own beans. But modern traveller doesn’t need to worry about the smells of coffee on Fleet Street anymore, so pop in, take a seat, and enjoy the view!
9 Alchemy, 8 Ludgate Broadway
A tiny corner shop coffee in the shadows of St Paul’s Cathedral, Alchemy masters the secret science of making a golden cup of coffee. There is not much sitting area indoors, but on you travels around most historic London, it is a perfect location for a refreshing pit stop. Alchemy is located in the ancient neighborhood of the Romans, and when coffee shops came to London in the 17th century, one of the first cafés, London Coffee-house was established in the area – selling copyrights for manuscripts and serving “Arrack, Rum and French Brandy“ on top of the black nectar of life.
8 Barber & Parlour, 64-66 Redchurch Street
Some of the very first London coffee shop owners, such as Don Saltero and James Farr, were barbers; making this historic connection (and seeing the huge pieces of cake) in my head it was a joy to visit Barber & Parlour. Barber & Parlour is located just around the corner from the famous Brick Lane markets so a combined visit to both makes a nice Saturday trip in London.
7 Gentlemen Baristas, 63 Union Street
On the south side of Thames, Gentlemen Baristas is located a few hundred meters from London Bridge and the Shrad and offers a cosy, smallish space for coffee enjoyment – with a clever (mis)quote from P.G. Woodehouse. Old, brown bricked Georgian houses and green iron railroad tracks above the street level spice up the area with a drop of urban decadence: the coffee shop itself has a cave like back room to enjoy your cuppa before hitting the rougher side of the river again.
6 London Review Cake Shop, 14 Bury Place
Ah, to stroll around Bloomsbury once more, pop into the London Review Bookshop and sit down in the courtyard for a cup of coffee and a piece of savory pie! The bookshop and adjacent coffee shop is located just around the corner from one of London’s most massive tourist attractions, British Museum, but in atmosphere it is miles away from the hordes of selfie-stick zombies: this is the Bloomsbury of Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot and a must visit for any coffee/tea loving book worm in London.
5 Fernandez & Wells, Somerset House, Strand
Another conveniently located coffee shop (all three of them!) is Fernandez & Wells. From all its venues my favourite is the one in Somerset House: on a hot summer day you can sip on your stumpy coffee (trademarked for F&W) by a window giving to a huge courtyard with children playing in the water fountains and adults chilling out with glasses of wine from one of the surrounding restaurants. Somerset House is worthwhile visiting for its art exhibitions. Or just for the coffee.
4 Foxcroft & Ginger, 3 Berwick Street
Soho has so much history, so much coffee history, so many good coffee shops, so much to miss! But to choose one favourite Soho café, I choose Foxcroft & Ginger. Why? For purely subjective reasons, naturally.
Coffee: objectively good.
Atmosphere: subjectively alluring.
Surroundings: a mixture of old and new Soho, a mixture which eludes definition, a mixture that invokes contemplation.
3 Monmouth Coffee, 2 Park Street
Monmouth Coffee in the Borough was one of my favourites in London because of its location next to the popular Food Market, and its busy, at times even frantic, atmosphere. A lot of people seem to like to work on their laptops in coffee shops, but I typically go for a coffee to get rid of my laptop for a bit: I love busy coffee shops and the hassle and bustle around – which is exactly what you get in Monmouth.
2 Prufrock Coffee, 23–25 Leather Lane
Ah, Prufrock, Prufrock, Prufrock: perfect coffee, perfect location, perfect name with a décor to match. Perfect Prufrock. Apart from coffee, T.S. Eliot is somewhat of an obsession of mine (I have translated him into Finnish) and Prufrock epitomizes the amazingness of London: good taste in puns spiced up with some literary sophistication, and you’ll have one tasty cup of coffee – indeed, one visit to Prufrock, and I am glad that I am measuring out my life with coffee spoons. So, you might wonder why Prufrock then isn’t my first choice. I tell you why: even with full house, it is too calm and quiet. And I grew up with calm and quiet! If I want calm and quiet, I stay in Finland! This, and only this – a flaw in me if you wish – made Prufrock to fall from the first spot, which is reserved for…
1 Federation Coffee, Unit 77–78, Brixton Village
Yes, not only the always perfect coffee but the whole experience of walking from my tiny flat through Brixton, past the old book shop with a dog in its window, crossing the street to the Market Halls, strolling through the first hall and then entering the other, meeting my hard working husband for a quick cup and then taking out my notebooks and immersing into work with lively Brixton around me, yes, this is the coffee shop I miss the most, this is the part of living in London I miss the most.
So, cheers to you, London’s coffee shops!
May thy cups be forceful and plenty when we meet again.
P.S. Find out here my ultimate list of 10 Cups of Coffee in Cape Town!