Photo by Ben Willis
The English may stereotypically be tea-drinkers, but in recent years London has emerged as a coffee powerhouse with few rivals. Since London hosted the World Barista Championship in 2010, the cafe scene has exploded. Perhaps this is most poignantly demonstrated by the fact that London has its own coffee guide book, now in its second edition! The Independent Coffee Book – London features more than 36 different cafes- a daunting number for even the more committed cafe crawler.
Armed with said coffee guide book and a willingness to push our caffeine tolerance to the limits, the Compass set out to find 5 shops serving proper espresso on our London coffee crawl.
Fernandez and Wells
Whether it be the cured meats imported from Spain, the carefully selected wine list, or the freshly baked croissants, Fernandez and Wells is a gorgeous combination of Old World tradition and contemporary craft. Thankfully, they pay no less attention to their coffee. Their espresso is a custom blend roasted by Hasbean, which when I visited was a combination of two coffees from El Salvador (one natural process, one washed). A stone fruit acidity, a wine-like mouthfeel, and a lingering finish were a few of my tasting notes. More simply put, it was delicious. Their Kensington location is just a stone’s throw from the Victoria and Albert Museum and one of the few cafes serving craft coffee on this side of the city.
Photo by Ben Willis
The cafes formally known as Tapped and Packed are a bit of a maverick in the London coffee shop scene. TAP pioneered the multi-roaster model in London, only to open their own roastery. When I stopped by their original location at 26 Rathbone Place, roaster Hugh Duffie was behind the bar. First, Hugh pulled me a shot of their Ace of Diamonds espresso, a bright but balanced combination of their Guatemala Finca La Perla and the Costa Rica Finca San Luis. Next, Hugh brewed me a “coffee shot”, a la Perger, strained through a v60 filter. Since watching the the 2013 WBC I’ve been wanting to try this iconoclastic brew method, and I have to admit, it was really tasty.
Photo by Ben Willis
The last time I visited Workshop Coffee‘s Marylebone location it operated under the moniker Sensory Lab. The name may be different, but the coffee is just as good as ever. Unlike Workshop’s roastery in Clerkenwell, which features a full-service restaurant, the focus at Wigmore St. is solely on coffee. My shot of the Cult of Done Espresso, an espresso roast profile of their Kenya Thunguri AB, was one of the best I had in London. Bright citrus notes were complemented by a berry acidity and a creamy body. It also tasted wonderfully balanced in a cappuccino- a rarity for a single origin espresso!
View The Coffee Compass Map in a larger map
In the shadow of the iconic Gherkin, Association is a haven at the heart of London’s business district. The elegant interior, impressive array of equipment, and hospitable staff make this cafe the complete package. I enjoyed a shot of the Ndaroini, Kenya single origin espresso, roasted by Square Mile and brewed with Association’s gorgeous Synesso Hydra. This espresso was thin on crema and light on body- but big on flavor: specifically, a bright citrus acidity with a sweet, lingering aftertaste. But man does not live on espresso alone, so I couldn’t pass up trying an Aeropress of the Kagumoini, Kenya. This delicate, tea-like coffee was one of my favorite filters I had in England.
Look Mum No Hands!
Coffee and bicycles go together, and Look Mum No Hands! proves it. This cafe/bike shop pumps out shots of Square Mile espresso on a customized Kees van der Wesson Mirage for a largely lycra-clad cliental. I felt a little sheepish strolling in on foot, but enjoyed watching their mechanic truing wheels while I waited for my order. My shot of Square Mile’s Sweet Shop espresso lived up to its name: palatable, tasty, and approachable. I even picked up a new cycling cap to boot.