The Penny Drop, London

A beautiful cortado, served in a glass on a blue saucer, at The Penny Drop.It feels harsh to call The Penny Drop an international chain, but that’s what you get for having two coffee shops, one in Melbourne and the other in London. Melbourne came first, opening as a pop-up in 2015, before finding a permanent home in 2016. A year later, the penny dropped in London, with the opening in June 2017 of a coffee shop on Tottenham Street, just off Tottenham Court Road. Technically this puts The Penny Drop in Fitzrovia, enhancing the area’s already excellent reputation for speciality coffee.

The two Penny Drops are very different, with Melbourne offering a 100-seat restaurant/coffee shop, while The Penny Drop in London occupies a small space which seats 20 at most, and that includes the benches outside. What’s more, it’s a throw-back to the sort of coffee shop that I remember in the capital 10 years ago, but which now seem increasingly rare. With coffee from a rotating cast of roasters, offering two options on espresso, another on batch brew and more on pour-over through the V60, all of which change every week or so, The Penny Drop is a genuine coffee shop, its food offering limited to a small selection of cakes and pastries.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • On the corner of Tottenham and Whitfield Streets stands The Penny Drop.
  • Nice logo.
  • Stepping inside, this is the view from by the door, with the counter at the back on the right.
  • The seating starts at the front to the left of the door, with a row of tables running along...
  • ... a padded sofa-bench below the windows. Two more tables are out of shot to the right.
  • A short bar separates the tables from the counter, seating provided by four stools.
  • It has a neat curve at the far end, matching the curve at the end of the counter.
  • You could probably fit a couple more stools in at this end of the bar if you wanted to.
  • The seating continues at the back on the left, where you'll find...
  • ... this six-person bar running along the left-hand wall.
  • Right at the back, stairs lead tantalisingly down behind the counter...
  • ... but all you'll find down there is the toilet. The view from the bottom is neat though.
  • One of the nice things about The Penny Drop is the copious provision of power outlets.
  • I also liked this wonky light-fitting above the counter.
  • If you get the chance, take a look at this coffee table book on the bar opposite the door.
  • The bookmark opens on a double-page spread about The Penny Drop in Melbourne.
  • To business. You order and pay at the left-hand end of the counter.
  • A more traditional view of the counter, with the espresso machine...
  • ... and two grinders at the far, right-hand end next to the door.
  • The filter part of the operation is behind the counter, with V60s and an EK43 grinder...
  • ... while you'll also find the drinks menu here, hanging on the back wall.
  • There's a small retail selection on the counter, featuring bags of coffee and filter papers...
  • ... along with some pre-dosed coffee ready for the batch brewer.
  • There's also a small selection of cakes and pastries in a display case on the counter.
  • They all look very tempting!
  • There's a price list next to the display case.
  • I started with an espresso, served in an over-sized cup.
  • It was made with this, the Maribel Herrera Torres, a Peruvian coffee from Curve Coffee.
  • I was also tempted by this awesome looking (and tasting) cinnamon bun.
  • To my surprise, a cortado turned up. The barista had just dialled in the second espresso...
  • ... and wanted me to try it!
  • The second espresso, by the way, was from Kiss the Hippo...
  • ... the Los Vascos, a washed coffee from Colombia.
  • Before I left, I bought these two bags of coffee to take home with me.
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The Penny Drop is on the south side of Tottenham Street, on the corner with Whitfield Street, and across the road from Whitfield Gardens and its iconic mural. The space is roughly square, with the door on the corner showing no favouritism, being at 45° to both streets. To either side are two large picture windows, while at the front (along Tottenham Street), a pair of long benches sit under the windows.

Stepping inside, the layout is quite simple. The counter is at the back on the right, with the seating arranged in an L-shape running along the front of The Penny Drop and down the left-hand side. Starting immediately to the left of the door, a long, padded sofa-bench runs under the windows at the front of The Penny Drop, with a row of four two-person tables.

Separating these from counter at the back is a neat, free-standing bar, with a curved section at the far, left-hand end. Seating is provided by four three-legged stools, while the right-hand end of the bar, directly opposite the door, is kept free, although you could probably fit another couple of stools in there if you wanted to. The bar faces the counter, so is ideal for watching the baristas at work.

The last of the seating is at the back on the left, beyond the counter, where a six-person bar (with more three-legged stools) runs along the left-hand wall. Opposite the end of the bar, an opening to the right leads to a flight of stairs which heads tantalisingly down. However, rather than a secret basement, there’s just a storeroom and the toilet down there.

To business. The Penny Drop is a multi-roaster, with coffee from a rotating cast, including London’s Ground Coffee Society, Round Hill Roastery from Bath and, from slightly further afield, Edinburgh’s Obadiah Coffee and Red Bank from the Lake District. In the past, The Penny Drop has also reached out to roasters in Europe, such as Morgon Coffee Roasters (Gothenburg), but COVID-19 and Brexit has put that on hold for the moment.

There are always two options on espresso, with the aim of offering contrasting coffees, one of which goes well with milk, with the other being better on its own. When I was there, Margate’s Curve Coffee Roasters was in the first hopper, with its feature espresso, a naturally-processed Peruvian coffee from Maribel Herrera Torres. At the barista’s recommendation, I had this as an espresso, a lovely, sweet coffee with a pleasing touch of acidity.

I paired this with an equally lovely (and just as sweet) cinnamon bun. This was a million miles away from the sickly, sticky buns that you can get, structured more like a Danish pastry, with a subtle, cinnamon flavour.

I would have happily left things there, but the second espresso, the Los Vascos, a washed Colombian coffee, roasted by Kiss the Hippo, was in the process of being dialled-in. Completely out of the blue, a cortado appeared at my elbow, a thoughtful gift from the barista. This was very different, a complex coffee, with more subtle, fruity notes which worked really well in a cortado, where it more than held its own against the milk.

I was so impressed with my espresso that I bought a bag of the Maribel Herrera Torres to take home with me. I also needed something for pour-over, the barista instantly recommending the last bag of the Vunga, a washed coffee from Rwanda, roasted by Red Bank. This has proved to be something of a hit at home, going really nicely through my coffee sock.

13 TOTTENHAM STREET • LONDON • W1T 2AH
www.pennydropcoffee.co.uk +44 (0) 207 436 0601
Monday 08:00 – 18:00 Roaster Guests (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 08:00 – 18:00 Seating Tables, Bar; Bench (outside)
Wednesday 08:00 – 18:00 Food Cake
Thursday 08:00 – 18:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 08:00 – 18:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday CLOSED Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday CLOSED Power Yes
Chain International Visits 7th March 2022

Liked this Coffee Spot? Then check out the rest of London’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to London.


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