A Coffee Snobs Guide to London

The first thing I do when I travel/move to a new area is to seek out a place I can get good coffee!  But, wait…you may ask “What about a certain global coffee chain that has invaded every corner of the world?!” Oh yes, Starbucks. To put it bluntly — I don’t like Starbucks. The coffee is over-roasted so that it tastes burnt and often (no matter what country you’re in) it’s twice as expensive as the local (and much tastier) alternatives. Therefore, when I first moved to London I began my arduous search for quality coffee. Thankfully, London offered numerous options that satisfied my taste buds and my caffeine addiction!

Monmouth Coffee Company (Covent Garden)

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As mentioned in my previous post —  American Favorites in London — Monmouth Coffee Co. was my go-to coffee place in London. I was lucky that it was popular enough to have more than one location and that it was distributed to several other local coffee houses. The location I frequented was, of course, on Monmouth street in the Seven Dials area of Covent Garden. The shop has a friendly, yet bare-basics atmosphere and the staff are incredibly helpful. However, the shop is constantly busy and there is often a queue (line) out the door. I recommend buying a latte to go and if the weather is nice; walk to the famous Seven Dials pillar on the junction to sit and enjoy your coffee with ease.

The Speakeasy (Carnaby Street)

The Speakeasy was the usual destination to catch up with friends who had also moved to London or were down for a visit! It’s a small cafe located just off Carnaby Street. Despite that the place is surrounded by large chain stores, the cafe manages to give a very boutique feel. The coffee is consistent and the pastries are worth a try! It’s a perfect spot to sit and rest for awhile after maneuvering around Oxford street.

The Coffeeworks Project (Islington)

My Canadian friend, Andy, described The Coffeeworks Project best when we stopped in for an afternoon coffee break — “This is the most hipster place I’ve seen outside Montreal!” It’s true, the Coffeeworks Project has a very rustic yet minimalist vibe with recycled furniture and high coffee bar stools. The baristas are friendly and have their intricate coffee art down pat. The clientele is all under 30 and working away on an iPad or Macbook. Friends from Seattle: I give you your home away from home! In all seriousness though, the coffee here is up to standard and goes superbly with one of their rich brownies.

Ginger & White (Hampstead)

Located in upscale Hampstead, Ginger & White offers delicious espresso courtesy of Square Mile Coffee Roasters. This is truly a neighborhood cafe and has a very local feel. Unlike some of the other coffee shops on this list, G&W’s location is ideal for avoiding crowds.  I stopped in for a coffee on a cold autumn day before heading to Hampstead Heath and was struck by how laid back the atmosphere was. The coffee will get you in the door but the cafe itself will keep you coming back!

Kipferl (Islington)

This was a treasure I discovered right before I left London and was disappointed I hadn’t found it sooner!  Having visited Kipferl, I feel like I got a good sampling of a Viennese Cafe. When you order a coffee it comes with a small glass of still water (as is typical with Austrian coffee). The coffee is strong but not bitter and perfect with one of Kipferls homemade pastries. I enjoyed my latte with a slice of their apfelkuchen (an apple cake with lemon and cinnamon.)  Kipferl is less than a minutes walk from The Coffeeworks Project and a short way from Angel Tube station. If you’re looking for more of a European cafe experience rather than intricate coffee art and hipster baristas — this place is for you!

Next time you’re in The Old Smoke, I urge you to set aside the convenience of Starbucks and get to know a little bit of London’s coffee culture!

Photo credit to Andy Melan for Monmouth Coffee Cup image

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American Favorites in London

When people ask me what I miss the most about the the States, my answer is immediate — the food. Unfortunately, my adopted country isn’t filled with many flavorful options (with the exception of really good curry and cream tea) and it has caused some homesickness. Thankfully, since moving to London, I have discovered a few places that serve some of my favorite things.

Espresso

The U.K. takes its tea very seriously but i’m from Seattle — a city that takes it’s coffee seriously. Note that when I’m talking about coffee — I’m not referring to Starbucks. Bearing all this in mind, the first thing I set out to look for when I got to London was some good espresso. After several unsuccessful finds — a fellow coffee lover put me onto Monmouth Coffee Co. Located on Monmouth St in the Seven Dials area just a stones throw from Neal’s Yard. There is always a queue out the door, but the service is fast and friendly and the coffee is spot on.

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Donuts

Electric Donuts in Notting Hill serves up delicious donuts made fresh daily. It’s based in the lobby of Electric Cinema, one of the oldest cinemas in London, on Portobello Rd. Electric Donuts run a small operation that only has four flavors of donuts at a time which are alternated every week. The flavors come in traditional chocolate and vanilla and venture into some more interesting varieties such as Maple Bourbon and Mexican Chocolate.

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Red velvet cake

It is true that there is red velvet cake in Britain — but it’s made with buttercream icing. True red velvet cake has sweet cream cheese icing. After complaining to an English friend of mine about the blasphemy of British baking over this icing issue, she pointed me towards Hummingbird Bakery. It’s a small chain in London that is known specifically for it’s red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing. In fact, they are Hummingbird’s best seller.

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Burgers and floats

Nostalgic 1950’s style soda shops and diners are not difficult to find in the U.S. They always sell thick milkshakes, good burgers, and there is always a jukebox with old hits playing. It’s an iconically American franchise, so I was surprised to walk into Ed’s Easy Diner in Soho on a rainy afternoon looking for lunch. I was thrilled to sit at the counter and get a good burger and a root beer float. Root beer is not available in most places in Britain and usually has to be imported by specialty shops, so the float was a rare treat. Ed’s even has the old rock n roll playing jukeboxes at every seat. All the money that goes into the jukeboxes are donated to charity.

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Pancakes

L’Eto Caffe was a recent find when a friend came to visit. We were on the hunt for a breakfast place we had heard about but when we arrived, the queue was wrapping around the building. Thankfully, we stumbled onto a great alternative — L’Eto Caffe. The place was one of those charming yet quirky cafe’s where everything is homemade and the prices are cheap. My apple pancakes came fresh made with real apple slices and creme fraiche as well as a side of fresh fruit. The best part is they weren’t heavy and cakey like a lot of pancakes I have had in the past.

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Photo credit: Monmouthcoffee.co.uk, electricdonuts.com, Andy Melan