Saint Espresso

From a black board behind the counter at Saint Espresso: "Crafting Coffee with Religious Care".Saint Espresso is an offshoot of Leyas in Camden Town, although it doesn’t advertise the link, so it’s easy to visit the two and not realise the connection. This is particularly true since the two are like chalk and cheese in almost all respects, except that they both serve excellent quality coffee from a regularly-rotating cast of roasters.

Saint Espresso is at the eastern end of Pentonville Road, just around the corner from Angel Tube station. The busy Pentonville Road does not, at first sight, seem the ideal location for a coffee shop, but Saint Espresso has perhaps the best spot, on the northern side of the road, well set back from the traffic on a broad expanse of pavement. This means that even the outside tables are well away from both pedestrian and road traffic, making it a comparatively sheltered spot.

South-facing and with a tall frontage that’s entirely glass, Saint Espresso’s a sun-trap. Even on a gloomy day, it’s flooded with light. Much smaller than Leyas, there is commensurately less food; just a decent selection of cakes and sandwiches for lunch. Where it excels, of course, is in the superb coffee (one espresso and one filter option).

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Saint Espresso, well set back from the Angel end of London's Pentonville Road.
  • Three card trick. What more do you need? I had all three, by the way.
  • The front of Saint Espresso: look at all that glass!
  • A closer look at the outside tables, with the communal table on the other side of the window.
  • The view from just inside the door.
  • And from the other side.
  • A closer look at the tables along the right-hand wall.
  • One of the three tables down the right-hand side.
  • The only other seating is this communal table to the right of the door.
  • A view of the other end of the communal table. Nice mirror by the way.
  • I was very taken with the mirror and the light-fitting above the table.
  • It's quite a beauty, isn't it?
  • So many light bulbs. I count nine...
  • Mind you, the array hanging above the counter is pretty impressive too.
  • I think I might have died and gone to light-fitting heaven.
  • More of the lights above the counter.
  • I think that this one is my favourite shot.
  • Close-up.
  • Just one more...
  • Each of the tables along the wall had its own light...
  • ... with pretty neat shades.
  • Even the wall behind the counter had its own row of spots.
  • Enough with the lights... Oh, look! Another mirror!
  • This plant is the communal table centrepiece. Each table has its own bottle of water.
  • To business and the large two-piece counter in the corner.
  • There are retails shelves to the left of the counter.
  • The shelves in more detail.
  • Meanwhile, the front of the counter is laden with sandwiches (front) and cake (back).
  • A more conventional view of the cake...
  • ... of which, the Cinnamon Danishes took my eye.
  • Saint Espresso is not afraid to display its coffee geekery in the wall behind the counter.
  • A concise menu also graces the wall behind the counter.
  • The espresso part of Saint Espresso.
  • The particular beans (one espresso, one filter) are on the wall at the back of the counter.
  • These particular beans are from James Gourmet in Ross on Wye.
  • However, the Wote had just finished & been replaced by the espresso bean, filter-roasted.
  • The barista, Santa, hard at work on what was her last day at Saint Espresso.
  • I started with a toasted mozzarella, gruyere, tomato and pesto focaccia.
  • At Santa's recommendation, I tried the filter, which arrived on this tray...
  • ... then I followed it up with an espresso and that Cinnamon Danish I'd had my eye on!
  • The espresso, close up and personal.
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Saint Espresso is almost a cube: slightly wider than it is tall, it’s also a smidgen deeper than it is wide. You enter on the left, counter in the left-hand corner ahead of you. To your right, there’s a large, communal table occupying the entire window, which, on a sunny day, can be painfully bright. Alternatively, three two-person tables along the right-hand wall don’t catch the sun as much. There are two tables outside in front of the window to complete the seating.

The interior’s lovely. Although two out of three walls, plus the ceiling, are plain white, the bare brick of the left-hand wall draws the eye, particularly when it catches the afternoon sun. The simple, clean look is continued with the plain, tiled floor, while the black woodwork and piping provides a very effective contrast. It has a wonderfully uncluttered layout and there’s lots of space, even when busy, the high ceiling and glass front contributing to the sense of space.

In keeping with Leyas, Saint Espresso changes roaster every month or so. During September, James Gourmet Coffee was in the house, a rare find in London (the only place I know regularly serving James Gourmet is Villiers Coffee Co). The espresso was an Ethiopian Negosho and the same bean (albeit with a different roast) had just gone on filter. The change, in fact, was so recent that the menu-board hadn’t been updated.

The barista, Santa, suggested the filter, which I ordered along with a toasted mozzarella, gruyere, tomato and pesto focaccia for lunch. One of the impressive things about Saint Espresso is its dedication to coffee excellence: the espresso recipe’s on the wall behind the counter, compete with extraction graph, right next to the EK-43. This commitment isn’t compromised when it’s busy. When I was there, at 1.30, Santa was on her own, and she was doing everything herself: espresso, pour-over and food. There was a V60 for me and another customer, plus multiple espresso drinks. While there were frequent queues, no-one seemed bothered: good things come to those who wait.

The result was that my filter coffee was a long time coming. This isn’t a criticism: I’d rather it that way than hurried and badly done. In the end, the delay suited me since it gave me time to eat my tasty, stringy, melted mozzarella focaccia.

My coffee eventually arrived in a carafe with a glass cup. Regular readers know it’s rare for me to get anything, but on sniffing the coffee, I immediately got a rich chocolatey hit (shame the tasting notes said peachy, passionfruit acidity, but hey ho). This was also very apparent on my first couple of mouthfuls, a rich, dense flavour, far removed from subtle, delicate filters I’ve been drinking recently. The sweetness dissipated as it cooled and although it lost that initial wow factor it was still a very fine cup, even when cold.

I tried the espresso for comparison, a nicely rounded, well-balanced coffee. There were definite similarities, but I didn’t get the chocolate notes, the taste being more like the filter when it had cooled. I paired this with a Cinnamon Danish, which reminded me of Nordic cinnamon buns. It had a lovely dusting of cinnamon sugar over rich, closely-wound pastry. Neither sticky nor sickly, it was perfect.

December 2015: Saint Espresso won the 2015 Coffee Spot Award for Best Filter Coffee.

Monday 07:30 – 18:00 Roaster Guests (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:30 – 18:00 Seating Tables, Tables (outside)
Wednesday 07:30 – 18:00 Food Sandwiches, Cake
Thursday 07:30 – 18:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 07:30 – 18:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 09:00 – 18:00 Wifi No
Sunday 09:00 – 18:00 Power No
Chain Local Visits 14th September 2015

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