Coffee Island, St Martin’s Lane

An information card for a micro-lot from the Cerro de Jesus farm in Nicaragua, supplied by Coffee Island in St Martin's Lane.Coffee Island is, unusually for the Coffee Spot, a chain and an international one at that, which started on a Greek island in 1999 and now has over 300 shops throughout Greece, Cyprus and south-east Europe. However, its branch on St Martin’s Lane is (so far) the only UK one. Opening earlier this year with a considerable media push, I was away at the time and so missed all the fuss. I popped in later in the year and I liked what I saw…

A modest exterior hides a surprisingly-large coffee shop with plenty of seating and a mezzanine level at the back. I’d describe Coffee Island as coffee geeks meet the mainstream, so while there’s a house-blend, decaf and five single-origins, there’s also flavoured coffee, which is not something you normally associate with the speciality end of the market. There’s also a large retail section (beans and equipment), tea and food, the latter in the shape of salads, sandwiches and cake.

There’s an excellent range of options for the coffee including espresso, Greek coffee (Ibrik), bulk-brew or pour-over using the V60, Aeropress or Chemex (for one or two). If you want to compare coffee or methods side-by-side, it’s awesome!

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • On London's Upper St Martin's Lane, you'll find, on the left-hand side, Coffee Island.
  • Set back from the busy road, there's a small outside seating area & a modest shop front.
  • Inside, there's much more to Coffee Island, starting with this counter for retail beans.
  • There's seating off to the left, then, dead ahead, is a large, island counter...
  • ... behind which is a second seating area.
  • Meanwhile, at the back on the right, a flight of stairs leads up to a mezzanine level.
  • The view from the mezzanine. You can see the island counter, with the retail counter in the window & seating along the left-hand wall. The remaining seating is under the mezzanine.
  • The stairs lead you to the front of the mezzanine, with this L-shaped bar at the back.
  • There are two rows of tables running across the mezzanine, starting by the corner.
  • The front of the mezzanine is lined with these long, thin tabes with square stools.
  • The view from the front of the mezzanine level.
  • From up here, you get a lovely view of the busy counter down below.
  • It gives a unique perspective when the baristas do their latte art.
  • Time to go back down the stairs, which double back on themselves.
  • There are some interesting features in Coffee Island, including this little library section.
  • Back downstairs, and there are lots of retail shelves, selling bags of coffee & coffee kit.
  • Lots of bags of coffee. And lots of different methods for making coffee.
  • More coffee kit.
  • Not to be outdone, there is also a good range of tea for sale.
  • However, if you really want beans, head to the front of the store, where these are...
  • ... hanging in the window to the right of the door. Any of the beans can be weighed out...
  • ... and bagged up to take home. Coffee Island will also grind the beans for you if needed.
  • It's not all single-origins though: with a nod to the mass market, there's flavoured coffee.
  • It's not just coffee and tea either. Coffee Island also has a range of food...
  • ... including a tasty-looking cake selection at the front of the counter.
  • The cakes, as seen from the side, where, if you shuffle down a little more...
  • ... you'll find even more cake!
  • Unusually, while the counter is central, the menu's on the left-hand wall as you come in.
  • The idea is that you order as you enter, with the counter largely dedicated to coffee.
  • The three-group Black Eagle has three grinders, branded in Coffee Island colours.
  • From right-to-left, there's the house-blend, single-origin and decaf
  • Another view of the Black Eagle and its three grinders.
  • Meanwhile, there are also three options on bulk-brew, including one flavoured coffee.
  • Alternatively, how about an Ibrik, prepared the traditional way in heated sand?
  • There's also pour-over, using a variety of methods. Here two V60s are being prepared.
  • Step one, pre-rinse the two filter papers.
  • Then grind the coffee in the ubiquitous EK-43. The coffee here is from the same farm...
  • ... but processed two different ways. Next, put the beans in the filters...
  • ... and off we go! The first pour is to allow the coffee to bloom.
  • While the first V60 is bubbling away, the second one is started...
  • ...before both are left to bloom.
  • Next comes the main pour.
  • The spout of the kettle is moved over the surface of the coffee, as opposed...
  • ... to pouring the water straight into the centre. This helps to ensure even extraction.
  • Almost done with the first V60.
  • While that filters through, the barista starts the main pour on the second V60.
  • As well as moving the spout around the surface, the barista also changes the height...
  • ... of the spout above the surface. Again, this is to help ensure an even extraction.
  • The second V60 is almost done, while the first has filtered through quite a bit.
  • Both are left to filter a little longer...
  • ... and then the V60s are topped up with a second pour, starting with the first.
  • A similar technique is employed, the V60 being filled back to the original level.
  • Next, the barista moves onto the second V60...
  • ... which is also topped up.
  • So far, a pleasing two minutes and 22 seconds have elapsed.
  • The first V60 is almost done...
  • ... and so the filter paper is removed while the second one continues to filter through.
  • The barista is aiming for a three-minute extraction here and it is almost done.
  • Both V60s are finished and the filter papers have been removed.
  • Now all that's left is to serve the coffee. Both of them are for me, by the way.
  • They are presented in carafes, on a wooden tray, with a Keep Cup as a glass.
  • Each coffee also comes with a simple information sheet, which is a nice idea.
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From the outside, Coffee Island presents a modest façade on Upper St Martin’s Lane, with a small, enclosed seating area in front of the shop. This has three small tables in front of a single, large window with the door to the left, plus there’s a fourth table tucked behind a pillar beyond that. It makes a pleasant spot, well-sheltered and set back from the road, but during my visit, lots of people were smoking, which put me off, so I went inside.

Coffee Island’s modest exterior hides an impressively large interior. Slightly wider on the right than the window would suggest, there’s a lot more off to the left, while the shop itself goes a long way back. It’s also very tall, with enough space for a mezzanine level at the back, beyond a central, island counter.

The seating downstairs is on the left and beyond the counter, where it’s tucked under the mezzanine. This leaves the front of the store, between window and counter, largely uncluttered. The idea is that the staff greet you here, offering you advice and talking you through the options, with the menu handily-placed on the left-hand wall above the seating. It’s a neat system, but takes a little getting used to. Alternatively, if you know what you are doing, head around to the right-hand side of the counter to order/pay. Then, disappointingly, you have to wait to collect your coffee before taking it to your seat.

If you only want beans, you don’t even have to go that far. Instead head for the counter in the window immediately to the right of the door. There’s a large selection of beans, which can be weighed out in any quantity you like and, if required, ground as well.

There are two high, four-person tables on the left,-hand wall with two more small tables beyond that by the counter. A large communal table runs width-ways behind the counter, while there are four four-person tables against the back wall, with the stairs to the mezzanine level at the back on the right. These double-back on themselves, depositing you at the front of the mezzanine, where you’ll find a row of long, narrow tables overlooking the counter, complete with seven low bar-stools. Behind this are two rows of tables, with two four-person tables in the middle, plus three more against the back wall. At the back on the right, above the stairs, an L-shaped wooden bar completes the seating.

I was spoiled for choice, but one thing jumped out at me: two micro-lots from the same farm in Nicaragua, each a different varietal, one washed and one naturally-processed. Wanting to try them side-by-side, the barista recommended a V60 of each, so I said yes, watching while he made the coffee, happily talking me through the process. I had the option of having them back-to-back, but decided to have them side-by-side to facilitate the comparison.

The two coffees were served in carafes, with a Coffee Island-branded glass Keep Cup. The first thing to say is that they tasted very different.  My favourite, by far, was the washed coffee, which had plenty of body and which matured nicely as it cooled, bringing out its fruity notes. In contrast, I actually didn’t like the natural, which is rare, since there are very few good-quality pour-overs that I dislike. Thinner, and with a metallic taste, I was unimpressed. I did check with the barista, and we both preferred the washed over the natural. I should also say that he didn’t taste anything metallic in the natural, so perhaps it was just me.

5 UPPER ST MARTIN’S LANE • LONDON • WC2H 9NY +44 (0) 20 7836 3007
Monday 07:30 – 21:00 Roaster Coffee Island (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:30 – 21:00 Seating Tables, Bar, Tables (outside)
Wednesday 07:30 – 21:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Cake
Thursday 07:30 – 21:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:30 – 21:00 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 09:00 – 21:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 09:00 – 21:00 Power Limited
Chain International Visits 29th May 2017

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