Best coffee in London?

After yet another maddening on-the-way-to-work wait for a gritty, feeble, bitter café latte, I’ve been doing some pondering forward-slash getting angry.

(A) Why is it that so many people who work in cafés in London have absolutely zero interest in actually serving you any coffee? This morning I pretty much had to jump up and down on the spot to get served, before being put through a testing display of incompetence that involved three members of staff and an abused Gaggia machine that sprayed coffee grounds into my to-go. I’d name names, but the coffee shop is the closest one to Smith HQ, and in a caffeine-crash crisis I’d have to go there, and I’d like my coffee to be foaming for all the right reasons.

(B) Why is it that almost every city in Europe (bar London, it would seem) is bursting with amazing cafés – and even rubbish cafés – where you can purchase a hot, smooth cup of simple caffeinated deliciousness without having to select from a ridiculous menu of stupidly named beverages? What kind of person drinks a pint of choca-mocha latte with extra almond syrup anyway? It’s more like a hot, liquid knickerbocker glory than a coffee. In this ‘can’t make a simple coffee’ category, I’m including all those fancy places that ought to know better: you’d be surprised how many ‘it’ restaurants and five-star hotels still can’t make a decent espresso. Way to ruin the end of a great meal. Gahh I’ve worked myself up into a right state just thinking about it!

Conclusion: I’ve decided to set out on a renewed Smith-style quest to find London’s best cafés and superior coffee shops. And then maybe the best café in the world. But let’s not run before we can walk.

To kick things off (and since the topic cropped up in Mrs Smith’s last Inside NYC blog post), I did a little background reading on Oliver Schwaner-Albright’s most excellent New York Times coffee blog. The pictures alone… mmn, it’s like coffee porn. Oliver, we salute you. I never knew there was so much to know! My inept offerings will doubtless by comparison be akin to rummaging blind in a large cloth bag, or trying to select wine from a menu of 350 without offending the sommelier. Oh well. If I could justify the journey (eg: scouting for boutique-hotel openings/checking up on Mr & Mrs Smith’s Danish hotels, Front and Avenue Hotel in Copenhagen), I’d have hied me hither for the World Barista Championships in Copenhagen. Although a quick look at this year’s results ranks the UK as only 10th best in the world as a country of coffeemakers. Which explains a few things

Next time on Coffee Break: we will grill Oliver for his superior coffee knowledge (and just generally have a chat, because he is a top chap), and attempt to find the best coffee in London. Any tips greatly appreciated. And please don’t tell us to go to Starbucks.

PLUS Coming soon: coffee shops we have known and loved, an international guide

Read our posts on the best coffee in Australia; and the best cafés in Melbourne

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This article was written by

As well as wordsmithing online, in print, in the press and for Smith TV, Lucy Fennings has been a driving force in making the Smith Travel Blog an award-winner. Mr & Mrs Smith's Group Editor cut her travel teeth early; as daughter of a hotel PR, she visited far-flung flophouses from French châteaux to Ethiopian tukuls. After a year in Dubai (working on Emirates Woman magazine and enjoying the kind of dives that require a wetsuit), Lucy went to Glasgow University to study art, literature and whisky. A stint as production editor at Legalease publishing was spent discovering how to be creative with copy about tax, followed quickly by a stint discovering more interesting things across south-east Asia. When Mr & Mrs Smith found her, Lucy was at Harper’s Bazaar, keeping her finger on fashion’s pulse and sharpening her editorial knife on hapless hotel PR copy.

There are 75 comments for this article
  1. Lucy Author at 9:55 am

    Well don’t leave us hanging Joe – where is Allpress coming to?!

  2. gordon at 12:14 am

    I just dropped into Java Bean Cafe in Gloucester Road today – superb coffee – they roast in house, had a little fern in my coffee, loved it so much I bought some of their Columbian medium roast.

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  4. Lucy at 12:50 pm

    @ Emily – I feel your pain; and I fear you’ll have to go to rural France or the southern States, where the unremitting tide of espressi hasn’t yet flooded out all the ‘old-fashioned’ coffee, to get your fill of non-Americano-dubbed filter!

  5. William K Wallace at 12:52 am

    There are plenty of good places to grab coffee in London. There is however too many of those second rate American coffee chain type cafés kicking about.

    And Sonya Ragginio you have obviously never been to London, the coolest city in the world, maybe you were looking in the mirror when you said what you did!

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  7. Lucy Author at 12:39 pm

    I think it’s a bit of a moveable feast so the jury’s still out (and enjoying a nice coffee somewhere, hopefully)! Pick of the day? Gail’s on Chiswick High Road, for its proper-fern-pattern-topped lattes made with Union coffee on a perky little La Marzocco machine. The bakery chain even holds its own Coffee Olympics periodically, to keep its baristas on their toes (as if the caffeine wasn’t enough…)

  8. fabio at 8:25 pm

    Ciao ragazzi, se volete lasciarvi deliziare ed incantare da un caffé italiano veramente good, cercate Felmoka. Lo trovate in tutta la provincia di varese e milano. Utilizzano macchine da caffé Nuova simonelli WBC. Il caffé non é tutto uguale, caffé Felmoka ha qualcosa in più. Contattateli per poterlo degustare anche nella fantastica Londra.

  9. Olivia at 3:16 pm

    As a self-confessed coffee fiend, I too am in constant search of the best beans in town. Check out the Milk Bar in Soho – none of this mocha-frappa nonsense, just great coffee, great people watching, the true coffee lovers kind of place.

  10. Lucy Author at 3:17 pm

    @Skinner Union (not your real name, surely? Or are you genuinely named after the carburetta manufacturer?)

    St. Ali – it’s a coffee shop in Melbourne. One for our Australian comrades to try out I think!

  11. hunt at 6:16 pm

    foxcroft and ginger on berwick street rocks!!! cool interior, great coffee and OMG amazing food.

  12. Sabine at 1:29 am

    Newsflash… as a Melbourne resident moving back to London, I’ve been genuinely scared about the lack of great coffee to welcome my return. However, just knowing that St. Ali (one of Melbourne’s best coffee-roasting cafés) has opened in our fine Clerkenwell means I’m actually looking forward to moving home now… . Such incredible news, their blends are wonderful and the industry down here is very serious about all things coffee-related. Deep sigh! See you soon…

  13. Hai Van at 11:41 am

    Good Morning Vietnam,

    London is so far and luxury to me! Wish to go there to see my Harry Potter,swim in the Thames and enjoy some London coffee.

    Still, as any time to love to come to sunny Vietnam for unique civet coffee tour and see our Vietnam Cofee Hometown – Cumgar, Daklak, I would love to host and share you all my coffee passion.

  14. Noor Mahmud at 12:02 pm

    I want to share a couple of the best coffee places in London, since you seem to possess a genuine interest in the java drink. I would highly recommend Cafe Oporto on 62 Golborne Road and the Coffee Plant on 180 Portobello Road. Cafe Oporto is a Portuguese cafe, so not only do you savour the rich and frothy taste of the coffee, but you can also treat yourself to a typical Portuguese sweet! A bica or a galao are the regular requests in this classic Portuguese cafe.

    The Coffee Plant is a great, less traditional and more of an informal cool vibe on Portobello Road. However, this place is serious about java from the diverse coffee selection that one can purchase at the back! They are categorised by light, medium and dark roast… Moreover, they have coco, which if you put a touch of into your coffee, it is literally a match made in heaven… a taste of summer!

    Both cafes are phenomenal venues that serve an incredible cup of coffee, where one can enjoy amongst the locals in a friendly, informal vibe.

  15. Liane Baio at 4:48 pm

    If you want GOOD coffee in London; go anywhere. Unless you’re trapped in a shopping centre, eventually you’ll stumble upon somewhere which doesn’t rhyme with nunchucks and neck a decent cup of coffee! However if you want THE BEST cup of coffee London can offer; head to Soho! Big names include Monmouth, Milk Bar/Flat White, Nude (if I do say so myself), ST. ALi and many more!

  16. Android at 3:31 pm

    “This blog entry struck a chord with me… we ran out of coffee at home on Friday morning, I purchased a Carluccio’s latte and it basically ruined my day.”

    I love good coffee – Flat White, Nordic Bakery and Lavish Habit are some of my favourites – but for fucks sake “ruined my day”???? There’s a billion hungry people in this world.

  17. Katie at 7:39 am

    I have been going to a little Italian cafe in Swiss Cottage recently which is newly opened. It’s called Gastronomia la Delizia. The coffee there is very delicious, the best I’ve had in North London – and it’s so hard to find a good coffee in North London!!! So this place has become my regular. They have a deli there with Italian meats and cheeses and I’ve also sampled some of their pasta dishes, which were again really delicious – simple but extremely well done, for example the gnocchi with pesto gives me cravings whenever I think of it now! This is a great place with friendly staff who are passionate about Italian food and coffee. It should be tried by many!! It’s on Fairfax road in Swiss Cottage if you fancy trying it out!

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