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The Changing London Coffee Scene

December 3, 2015

A guide to my neighbourhood coffee spots

London was once lambasted for its lack of decent coffee, then along came the chains such as Nero and Pret et Manger and you could get a good coffee... but not a great coffee. The coffee scene has totally changed now with great independent cafes and top baristas in every neighbourhood. Here is a rundown of a few neighbourhoods and where to get that great coffee ...

By Susan Harte

Being a newly transplanted Sydneysider in London town, it was possibly more important to me to find a good coffee than the right house or school. Coffee is something we antipodeans arrogantly take very seriously, although the arrogance is often justified given how good coffee is down under. So I took to my new task with great early morning zest and enthusiasm – driven by the need to also fight off jetlag.

The coffee haunts I have discovered are by no means exhaustive. I am pleased to report the world of coffee is thriving here – but the places I have highlighted tend to be around the areas where I have lived – I would love it if you wrote in and told me of your London coffee experience and your best finds …

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Let’s start with my first real find and a place I continually return to, The Little One,  located at the end of the quaint curved Regents Park Rd in prettily name Primrose Hill. It is indeed little, a sliver of a store in fact, but very fast service and top of my list – coffee served small and strong. As a bonus, the owner makes, fresh everyday little choux pastry type cheese balls – small cheesy, doughy balls of deliciousness that I insist I’m buying for the children, then eat them all myself – very dangerous. The upside of getting a coffee in Primrose Hill is that you could easily bump into Jamie Oliver, Harry Styles or more excitingly for me, Alan Bennett although I would assume he’s more of a tea drinker.

The Little One

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The Little One

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Sadly we moved out of Primrose Hill for a few weeks to Belgravia – not known for earthy, trendy hipsters or good coffee – the two do often go hand-in-hand it seems. I did, however,  find Tom Tom, not surprisingly owned by Australians and offering a very good coffee indeed with just the right about of warm milk; they also do a very good fresh squeezed orange juice .

Tom Tom

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The area of Maida Vale and St Johns Wood was home for a few months; I searched high and low for good coffee and was prepared to walk or even drive for it. As it turned out it was just across the road from the Maida Vale tube station – The Elgin, an old pub that has been stripped back and up cycled. Sounds like a contradiction, but you know the style – rough sawn floorboards, exposed brick walls and 1940’s flour bins. Very comfortable with friendly staff, open early and coffee is consistently good. You could see the care the barista took; each time you ordered a coffee you felt it had been made with love – it seemed a crime to put the lid on and not stare and the lovely patterns that appeared on top.

The Elgin

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The Elgin

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Firmly ensconced in Notting Hill now, I refuse to move again, so it was important to find good coffee. You’d think being in trendy Notting Hill the place would be heaving with good coffee, but we had to hunt it down between the chains that are sadly making their way into Notting Hill. First port of call is the ‘oldy but a goody’ as the locals told me, The Coffee Plant on the famous Portobello Rd. From the outside it doesn’t appear too flash – a fairly ordinary shop front, no trends, no design statements and they wont serve you if you are talking on your mobile – fair enough. As it turns out it’s just plain old good coffee. As the queue will attest too – they are always busy, have a great system, very friendly baristas and at £2 a pop, very good value.

The Coffee Plant

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Around the corner and new on the block is Peddlars – a very hipster/Shoreditch-style general store selling everything from enamel mugs to French glass carafes to hipster hats and bags and very cool dog collars. Out the back of the store is a homely café selling Allpress coffee and a few things to snack on but coffee is so good I shall alternate with Coffee plant – depending on queues.

Peddlars

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Peddlars

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Peddlars

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No London coffee story is complete without the aptly named Flat White in the heart of Soho, where London’s good coffee scene is said to have started. Flat White opened in 2005 bringing an Australian and NZ coffee style to London. With its sister café Milkbar just around the corner expats and locals alike flock to this bastion of good coffee.

Flat White

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Flat White

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Flat White

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Marylebone – another favourite haunt and important to know where to score that caffeine hit before hitting the shops. Souli food is the place to go – especially for that little taste of Rome – the coffee is from renowned Saint’Estachio Il Caffe (est 1938) …even the name sounds like it would taste good – and it does .

Souli Food

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Further afield south of the river Flotsam and Jetsam in Wandsworth is new on the scene and started by New Zealanders with Sydney connections – so good genes – coffee is perfect, and their breakfasts give a good café in Bondi a run for its money .

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There is no shortage of hip and groovy spots to grab a coffee heading East, nor is there any shortage of beards or funky hats – promising good coffee. A couple of places definitely worth a visit are S Jones – just off the very busy Columbia Rd famed for its Sunday flower markets, which was once many moons ago an old dairy with cows out the back. It now serves fantastic local food and extremely good coffee. Grab a table out the front and enjoy a leisurely breakfast listening to good buskers and watching the armfuls of blooms go by, or grab a quick coffee from the window out the back .

S Jones

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S Jones

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As you step out of the very busy Kings Cross Station – possibly off the eurostar – and after a few days in Paris you will be very ready for a good coffee – youll find Noble Espresso – a very understated kiosk that specialises in nothing but very good coffee with very good baristas . Founded by a young team of baristas – this is their one main outlet but don’t be surprised to find them popping up all over London as popups .

Noble Espresso

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Noble Espresso

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Since 2001 Monmouth Coffee has been operating alongside the fantastic bustling foodie heaven that is Borough Market – still considered by many as the best coffee in London . They also have shops in Bermondsey and Covent Garden .

Monmouth Coffee Covent Garden (left), Borough Market (right)

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As I said earlier this list is by no means exhaustive, simply all the good coffee I have found so far on my travels. There are so many more to discover – but I’m a one cup of (great) coffee a day girl – so it will take a while to get around them all. PLEASE please send in your suggestions and discoveries of good coffee I’d love to try them and pass on your ideas.

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