An Ethiopian Chelelektu, roasted and served as an espresso in a classic, white cup at Catalyst.Coffee shop/roaster Catalyst opened in Holborn in late 2016, joining a growing number of speciality coffee shops in the area. I remember the buzz it generated at the time, with the likes of Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato singing its praises. I duly put it on my (very long) list of places to visit and when, almost four years later, I found myself around the corner at The Attendant on Leather Lane, I knew that the time had come.

Occupying a bright, airy, corner spot, Catalyst is a lovely space, although its real draw is the coffee, roasting multiple single-origins (and a solitary blend) on the 12 kg Diedrich in the basement, several of which are available on espresso, batch brew and pour-over. There’s a small, innovative brunch menu that’s served until 3 pm, while on Friday evenings, Catalyst reinvents itself as a bar, complete with a separate and equally innovative bar menu. You don’t need to wait until Friday though: alcohol is available throughout the day, with cocktails and a small selection of beer and wine.

This Coffee Spot is about Catalyst as a coffee shop, while you can read about Catalyst the roaster in its own Meet the Roaster feature.

November 2020: with the new Government COVID-19 restrictions in England coming into force today, Catalyst is now temporarily closed, although you can still buy beans on-line.

May 2021: Catalyst is now back to its normal opening hours, following the relaxation of the COVID-19 restrictions in England to allow dining in.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Catalyst, in the October gloom, on Grays Inn Road, clad, as all well-dressed buildings are...
  • ... in scaffolding. Here's the view from around the corner on Baldwin’s Gardens.
  • And for comparison, this is what it looks like without the scaffolding. This photo...
  • ... and this one, on the Grays Inn Road side, are by Bex, from her visit in January 2017.
  • Other than scaffolding, the only difference I could see is the addition of these benches...
  • ... and this burner, which is lit in the evenings to help keep you warm outside!
  • The door is on the corner, showing no favouritism to either street. Let's go in.
  • The view from the door, looking diagonally across Catalyst to the counter at the back.
  • There's a four-person window-bar to the right of the door, looking onto Baldwin’s Gardens.
  • The view from the window-bar across the communal table in the centre of Catalyst...
  • ... to another four-person window-bar looking onto Grays Inn Road.
  • And the communal table in more detail.
  • There's more seating at the end of the counter with these three stools.
  • The view back from the counter to the door in the corner of Catalyst.
  • There's one more seating area. Off to the right, stairs at the front lead to the basement...
  • ... with retail shelves behind, where there's a four-person bar below, backs to the counter.
  • Talking of the retail shelves...
  • ... there are bags of coffee to be had, along with bottles of hot sauce...
  • ... as well as the usual range of coffee making equipment.
  • Check out the bottles of wine by the door...
  • ... while I really liked the sink at the top of the stairs.
  • Meanwhile, this plant stands at the end of the retail shelves.
  • All the coffee is roasted in the basement on this roaster, which you can see through...
  • ... the floor at the front of Catalyst. With the right seat you can sit on top of the roaster!
  • Obligatory light-fitting shot.
  • And from below.
  • Signs of the times: the NHS COVID-19 App QR Code is on the door (and easily missed)...
  • ... while the now familiar signs on the floor help you keep your distance when queuing.
  • To business. The counter is at the back, with the till at the right-hand end...
  • ... which is where you'll also find the cakes, depleted here due to the late hour.
  • To the left of the till is the espresso machine and its two grinders...
  • ... the current espresso choices denoted by the bags in front of each grinder.
  • Meanwhile, the left-hand end of the counter is the domain of the filter coffee...
  • ... behind which you'll find the very well-stocked bar.
  • The menus are on the wall behind the counter, with the food on the left...
  • ... coffee, tea and soft drinks in the middle...
  • ... while at the right-hand end, far, far away from the bar, is the alcohol menu!
  • There's also a separate food menu for Friday evenings...
  • ... while you'll also find QR Codes on the tables which take you to the menus on-line.
  • I started off with a pour-over of the naturally-processed Taiwanese Gesha...
  • ... served in a carafe with a cup on the side.
  • I followed that with pancakes for lunch...
  • ... then, before I left, the barista pulled me a shot of the Ethiopia Chelelektu to try.
Photo Carousel by v4.6

One of the reasons that it’s taken me so long to visit Catalyst is its location. On Grays Inn Road, at the eastern edge of Holborn, it’s a part of London that I rare pass through, although if you’re in the area, the Inns of Court are worth a pre- or post-coffee wander.

Catalyst is on the other side of the road from Grays Inn Square, on the corner with Baldwin’s Gardens. There are two huge picture windows, one facing each street, while a glass double door stands at 45° on the corner, showing no favouritism to either street. If you want to sit outside, there’s a row of short benches under the window on Greys Inn Road, although you’ll need to navigate the scaffolding poles which are currently encasing the building.

Inside, the layout is simple, with Catalyst occupying a nearly square space. Although its address is Greys Inn Road, I’ve declared the side facing Baldwin’s Gardens to be the front. This puts the counter at the back, slightly offset to the right, leaving space for a four-person window-bar on the Grays Inn Road side. This is matched by a second four-person window-bar to the right of the door, facing Baldwin’s Gardens, with the space between this and the counter occupied by a six-person communal table. There’s more seating at the counter itself, where three stools tuck under the left-hand end, in front of the pour-over station.

The right-hand part of Catalyst has stairs to the basement, where you’ll find a pair of toilets, plus kitchen and roastery (both off-limits to the public). The stairs are at the front, while there’s a third toilet at the back, to the right of the counter. A tall set of retail shelves stand at the top of the stairs, facing the counter, with a four-person bar built into the bottom. Here you sit with your back to the till, bags of coffee and coffee kit on the shelves above your head.

Talking of which, although Catalyst offers an espresso blend on retail, it only serves single-origins in the shop, everything roasted on the 12 kg Diedrich in basement, which you can see through a series of glass panels in the floor at the front. Indeed, if you pick the right spot, you can sit on top of the roaster!

There are two options on espresso, one on batch brew and three on pour-over through the V60. During my visit, the two espresso options, an El Salvador, offering a more traditional espresso, and an Ethiopian, if you want something fruitier. However, I opted for pour-over, with the choice of another Ethiopian, a naturally-processed Nicaraguan and a Taiwanese Gesha.

Up until that point, I didn’t even know coffee grew in Taiwan, so I had to try it! A naturally-processed coffee, it’s grown at the comparatively low altitude of 1,200 m and at relatively low temperatures, taking a long time to mature. Served in a carafe with a small, handleless cup, I found it quite full-bodied, but sweet and fruity, while lacking the punchiness that can sometimes overwhelm some naturals. It also really held its own as it cooled.

I was there for a late lunch, selecting the pancakes from the diverse and innovative brunch menu. I was rewarded with a single, thick, plate-sized pancake. Light and fluffy, it was drizzled with just enough maple syrup to make it sweet but not sickly and topped with a variety of fruit, including apple and banana, along with nuts (I was asked about allergies when I ordered). It was, quite simply, the best pancake I’ve had all year.

Before I left, the barista pulled me a shot of the naturally-processed Ethiopian Chelelektu, the “fruity” option, which was excellent, a rich, complex espresso.

December 2020: Catalyst has won the 2020 Best Breakfast Award for the awesome pancake that I had (even if I had it for my lunch), while it was also a runner-up for the 2020 Coffee Spot with the Best Basement Award.

Monday 08:00 – 17:00 Roaster Catalyst (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 08:00 – 17:00 Seating Table, Window-bars, Counter; Benches (outside)
Wednesday 08:00 – 17:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Cake
Thursday 08:00 – 17:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 08:00 – 22:00 Payment Card Only
Saturday CLOSED Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday CLOSED Power Limited
Chain No Visits 30th October 2020

Liked this? Then don’t forget to check out the Coffee Spot Guide to London for more great Coffee Spots.

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6 thoughts on “Catalyst

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