FreeState Coffee has entered the fray as yet another excellent London Coffee Spot competing for my attention in the vicinity of the British Museum. It doesn’t help that the museum now has a lovely Members’ Room serving some excellent Italian espresso. And I’m a member…
However, FreeState is making a strong claim for my business. Open for just four months, it’s already made its mark. As well as serving excellent coffee, the owner, Tom, has recruited some wonderful staff. Anita and Chris, who were on during my second visit, are as passionate about their coffee, and as dedicated to giving you great customer service, as any I’ve had the good fortune to meet.
Tom has also created a fantastic space for drinking coffee. Although it looks like FreeState has been furnished from a clearance sale, at second glance it’s clear that an awful lot of thought has gone into both the furnishing and the layout. The provision of a separate brew bar, at the back of the main seating area, is a nice touch, while the wooden floorboards, furniture and counters (the latter made from wood reclaimed 1920s boxcars) combine with the plain walls to create a harmonious whole.
January 2022: FreeState (as was) closed a while ago, although New Row Coffee and the rest of The Espresso Room group are still going strong.
September 2023: Tom, who founded FreeState and New Row, has gone on to other things, setting up East One Coffee Roasters in New York City. You can see what I made of its Midtown coffee shop when I visited in September.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
I made two visits to FreeState Coffee, one on my way to the British Museum for a cheeky espresso and a proper stop on my way back. So, let’s cut to the chase. I really liked FreeState. Forget the coffee (which is excellent), forget the space (which is lovely), FreeState has the cutest green cups I’ve ever seen! Sadly I’m not sufficiently good enough as a photographer to fully capture the colour, so you might have to take my word for it.
FreeState is on Southampton Row, at the corner with Sicilian Avenue, where they meet at a 45° angle. It’s an awkward shape, a rectangle with one corner cut off, but the space has been used to good effect. The counter runs across the corner to your right as you come in, with the rest of the shop spreading out to your left. The counter is separated from the main seating area by an old coat-rack, reclaimed from a school or gym changing room, and a free-standing set of shelves full of coffee-making equipment, all of which is available to buy (grinders, filters, etc).
This neatly creates a triangular space where you can order and, if you are having takeaway, wait for your coffee. There’s also a table by the coat-rack if you’d like to sit down. The main seating, along with the brew bar, is in the square space on the other side of the coat-rack. There’s an eclectic range of seating, including benches, old school chairs, low bar-stools, a row of backless fold-up chairs and some very fine-looking recycled cinema seats. In all there are three six-person tables and two three-person ones in the main area, plus another six-seater by the counter and a bench outside. Finally you can perch on one of four bar stools at the back by the brew bar, either drinking your espresso or watching your pour-over being lovingly prepared.
It helps that the coffee is excellent. FreeState’s regular roaster is Union, with a house espresso-blend (Revelation) and a single origin for the brew bar. There’s also a guest roaster which changes regularly; when the current one runs out, the next one gets put on! While I was there, supplies from the current guest, Denmark’s Coffee Collective, were just coming to an end. Although I probably would have preferred the house blend, you don’t get to try Danish coffee in the UK that often, so I went for Coffee Collective’s espresso-blend.
My instincts proved right; although there was nothing wrong with it, it was too sweet and fruity for my palette, so on my return I had it as a cortado (after a long discussion about the difference between cortado, piccolo and macchiato which left me none-the-wiser). This worked very well, with the coffee’s sweetness blending well with the milk, while letting the natural strength of the coffee come through.
I also had a pour-over on my second visit. The choice was between the Coffee Collective’s Yukro Jimma Ethiopia and Union’s Ismam Chiapas Highlands from Mexico. Having been adventurous with my espresso, I went with Union and was rewarded with a very nice cup of coffee: smooth, delicate with no over-powering flavours. I would have liked it to have slightly more body, but that’s being very picky.
You can also see what I made of FreeState’s sister coffee shop, the delightful New Row Coffee.
|23 SOUTHAMPTON ROW • LONDON • WC1B 5HA|
|www.freestatecoffee.co.uk||+44 (0) 207 9981017|
|Monday||07:00 – 19:00||Roaster||Caravan (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||07:00 – 19:00||Seating||Tables, Bar, Bench Outside|
|Wednesday||07:00 – 19:00||Food||Breakfast, Lunch, Sandwiches, Cake|
|Thursday||07:00 – 19:00||Service||Order at Counter|
|Friday||07:00 – 19:00||Cards||Mastercard, Visa|
|Saturday||09:00 – 18:00||Wifi||Free (with login)|
|Sunday||09:00 – 18:00||Power||Yes|
|Chain||Local||Visits||6th June 2013|
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