Monday, 12 March 2012


One of the major changes to celebrate in London is the fact that it's much easier to get a proper coffee almost anywhere. There never used to be anywhere at all, it used to be all weak, watery instant. Or some lukewarm, burnt filter coffee, if the cafe was at all sophisticated.

This is strange, as in most other European places I've visited even your basic cafe can produce a proper coffee. In Italy the coffee is from heaven, but even in Spain and France it's pretty good. It's not seen as a luxury, decent coffee, it's taken for granted.This is strange when you think that we've had Italian coffee bars here since the 1950s with actual Italians manning the machines, you think we'd have picked it up by now. I still don't understand it.

(By proper I mean a coffee with heated milk - I don't understand people who call themselves coffee drinkers, who drink a quarter inch of pitch black, bitter liquid evilness which is more or less like imbibing an electric shock. It should be leisurely and pleasurable, not like banging down amyl nitrate then speeding around like a lunatic.)

But now there are coffee shops all over. I don't even mind the chains, anything is better than nothing. But here are my top tips for you... stalls and sit-down cafes.

  • A man in a hole in the wall in Columbia Road market. He makes the best cappuccinos. Don't bother with the flower market, head straight for him.
  • Coffee stall outside Bethnal Green tube. This saved my life in the morning, when I lived in Hackney. They make it with a proper kick to it, and at £1.50 it's the best deal out there.
  • Allpress Espresso This is my favourite new cafe, in Redchurch Street. Run by lovely friendly antipodeans, they have a huge roasting machine in the corner. The coffee is beautiful, they have all the papers, the cafe is really mellow (gets packed on the weekend though.)
  • If you ever find yourself in the Westfield in Stratford, bypass all the coffee chains for Grind coffee bar which is in front of Waitrose on the ground floor. It's away from the madness and is really good. Nice, bright, alert staff too. Went there recently with a friend and her baby and had a lovely time chatting over the proper coffees at leisure & have been back, it's always good.
  • There is a really good, quite new coffee shop which used to be a secondhand furniture place at the top of Brick Lane, run by a charming girl of unknown nationality (not British though - I'm sensing a theme here). It's still old furniture, as they like all that 'vintage' (ie knackered & cheap) look around there. But it's not too over the top. This coffee is perfection and you can get a seat, which is a rarity. Unfortunately I can't remember the name, or find it online. If I pass it soon, I will amend this, because more people should know about it.
I realised writing this that what makes these places stand out is good service. Can't get the staff.

These are all East London based, I know. Do share your damn fine coffee with us, we can make a little coffee map for caffeine addicts.


  1. I do like my coffee- the best I've ever had was in Ethiopia. It almost ruined coffee for me. For a year afterwards, I couldn't taste any coffee without thinking it was just virtually pointless - even in Italy.

    you may not agree with me because I like my coffee evilly pitch black, though not always espresso sized. My favourites:

    Flat White in Soho. Incredibly strong, so one every week will give me the shakes
    Monmouth is very over-rated, but there's a girl who works there who is *so cute*. So I drink a lot of coffee there. One day I'll work up the courage to say hello to her.
    There's a place in soho, right opposite a Nero. I actually don't know its name, but that's amazing too.
    And then Shoreditch grind, as much as I want to hate it, actually makes great coffee.

  2. What's wrong with banging down amyl nitrate then speeding around like a lunatic?

  3. I still like Maison Bertaux on Greek Street - upstairs on a weekday, late morning and it's quiet with a window view. Any music I've heard has been either enjoyable or tolerable and not so loud to prevent eavesdropping. Cafe au lait is always very hot and rich which makes it good for lingering. Staff/owners are usually busy making stuff but I've found the service friendly for the UK!

  4. Nice post.I daily visit a local cafe for a coffee.

  5. Weirdly, the best coffee I've found recently is in the hotel restaurant at Chessington World of Adventures - I take the kid for his swimming lessons there and we all stick around for a coffee afterwards.

    I've been wondering how you make really nice coffee like you get in most European cities. We buy good coffee and make it with a cafetiere at home, but it never tastes the same. Obviously it's better than instant, but it's still pretty meh.

    Somebody bought us a fancy looking espresso maker for our wedding, maybe I should think about taking it out of the box.

  6. Miscommunicant - Ethiopia? Now you're just showing off... I like Monmouth but it's always so busy (maybe it's just the draw of the cute barrista.) I must check out Shoreditch grind - Allpress sounds like it's similar.

    Tim, nothing, but it's not conducive to work. I'm supposed to be calmer and less ADD than the kids.

    I love Maison Bertaux Arabella, one of the last indies, but usually have tea and cake there - must try the coffee.

    Hello, Good Food, thanks.

    I think the secret's in the professional coffee machines LC, and you can't ever really match it at home. Even the fancier home coffee makers don't have the same water pressure. (My friend Em in Barcelona says she never bothers to make coffee at home, because it's so cheap to get it in cafes, there are cafes everywhere and it's always so good.) The Nespresso ones are probably the best you can make at home (I'm not being persuaded by George Clooney, honest.)

  7. Is the Clooney machine the one where you buy the machine and are locked-in to buying their coffee in plastic containers? I was faced with something like that in a hotel and hadn't a clue how to operate it (a ceramic cone and a filter paper would have done nicely!).

  8. If you're looking for a cheap, tasty instant coffee in Old Street go to the Sainsbury's where it's £1.39 for a decent pick me up for the day.

  9. I really dislike the concept of the Nespresso and similar machines because they are so wasteful in packaging terms.

    LC - with cafetieres you are usually advised to get the coffee ground specially so it's not quite as finely ground. I disagree with that - the finer the grind the more flavour I find. I currently use a dessertspoon of Lavazza Rosso and a desertspoon (mixed) of Tesco finest decaf, both finely ground, in a small cafetiere to make enough coffee for one mug. Obviously you aren't going to get an espresso taste because the process is different but for a long black coffee it turns out pretty good I find.

  10. Hey bud - been awhile I know.

    Bizzare one here - M&S cafe in Lewisham Shopping Centre. They do a great Americano.

  11. Who would have guessed you're all such coffee fiends? I guess we all are... I'm surprised the government hasn't tried to slap a health warning on it yet.

    Arabella, yes it is , my dad has one and it does make really nice coffee, though it seems a bit gadget-y.

    Good tip, Tuesday Kid. I miss your blog.

    GSE, I've given up on cafetieres, the coffee only seems to stay hot for about 5 seconds.

    Hello bud. M&S looks good in Westfield - John Lewis cafe too - I guess the big companies can afford the proper coffee machines...

  12. Hope it's OK to keep commenting - this is interesting.
    Cold cafetieres: I admit to once knitting a cosy for the 8-cup jug.
    I make filter coffee at home and if anyone else can't find the elusive ceramic coffee cone, I found one here:
    It's cool because it fits on top of an old ceramic Melitta coffee pot found in the wilds of west Texas.

    Don't get me started on milk pans......

  13. I only ever make enough for one mug so it doesn't need to stay warm

  14. GSE, fair enough.

    Arabella, comment away! I have a ceramic filter from Muji. Yes, do recommend milk pans - I once saw a chef claiming that the way to stop milk sticking to a pan was to fill it with water first then pour it out - but it's never worked for me yet.

  15. I unpacked the espresso maker this weekend. The coffee it made didn't really taste all that different to what we normally get from the cafetiere, to be honest.

    I did just use standard coffee-maker coffee though and, as GSE pointed out, you're supposed to use coffee that's been ground extra fine for espresso makers.

    Much as I'd like to be able to make good espresso at home, it's starting to look like a lot of hassle for mediocre results.

  16. I'm not really a connoisseur (I'm not even sure how you spell it.) But nice quality coffee does make a difference to the final flavour for sure - the best one I've found is Illy that comes in those big silver tins and is expensive. I had Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee as a present once, it was lovely. I also find it makes a difference with my coffee grinder but it's a faff.

    This must be my most middle-class tosser comment ever.

  17. Found some coffee in M&S at lunchtime that's specifically for espresso machines rather than filters, so going to try that out at some point and report back.

  18. Coffee nirvana will be achieved! We will prevail!

  19. Some place in Great Titchfield Street not only does great coffee (apparently, haven't been myself), but also when you finish your loyalty card you get a free coffee and a hug.

    Plus there's my favourite place in Crouch End - which I'm not going to tell you about as it's too good!