It’s that’s time of the year again! Yes, that’s right, in just two weeks’ time, London Coffee Festival will be in full swing, returning to the Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane. It’s a little earlier in the year than usual, running from Thursday, 28th March to Sunday, 31st March. If it’s your first London Coffee Festival, take a look at my round up of last year’s festival. Alternatively, if you’ve been before, there’s much that will be familiar, with a few new things to keep you interested, all of which I’ll cover in this preview.
The festival kicks off with industry days on Thursday/Friday, followed by an extended consumer session on Friday evening and three three-hour consumer sessions on Saturday/Sunday (Brunch, Lunch and Teatime). If you’re thinking of coming, my usual advice applies: get your ticket now. For starters, you get a significant discount on the on-the-door price (at least £6.50, with the discounts adding up for the more expensive tickets). What’s more, if you leave it to the day of the festival, your slot could easily be sold out. You can buy tickets for individual sessions/industry days, or there are VIP tickets covering the whole day on Saturday/Sunday.
Not that long after the Coffee Spot began, a speciality coffee shop, The Wren, opened inside an old church in the heart of the City of London. I was (and am) extremely fond of it and therefore am rather annoyed with myself that I’ve overlooked another coffee shop in a church, Host Café, which predates The Wren.
That I discovered it was purely by chance. Looking for the newly-opened Rosslyn Coffee last summer, I stumbled across the church, St Mary Aldermary, home to Host Café and just around the corner from Rosslyn. I vowed to return, but such has been my hectic travel schedule that I wasn’t able to keep my promise until just before Christmas.
Whereas the Wren feels like a church given over to a coffee shop, Host Café feels like a coffee shop in the back of the church. It makes for a magnificent setting, putting the church right in the heart of the community. When it comes to the coffee, there’s a blend plus decaf from Mission Coffee Works (another unsung hero of London’s speciality coffee scene), served from a standard espresso menu, along with an Aeropress option, plus sandwiches, soup and a selection of cakes.
Sharps Coffee Bar, on Windmill Street, is something of a fixture in the London speciality coffee scene, having been around almost as long as the Coffee Spot. For those who don’t know, Sharps is a two-for-one, with a barber shop at the back and a lovely coffee bar at the front. It started life with London coffee legends Dunne & Frankowski, but it was taken in-house in 2014, with some equally famous names, such as Michael Cleland (Assembly) and David Robson (ex-Association Coffee) taking over behind the counter.
Fast forward five years and things have, in some ways, come full circle, with Harry and Alfie of Rag & Bone Coffee taking over the coffee operation at the start of February. Superficially, little has changed, with the layout still essentially the same. This includes the iconic Kees van der Western Spirit espresso machine, clearly visible through the window. However, there are subtle changes, including a new menu board, while the coffee has changed, Rag & Bone bringing in its house-blend from Old Spike Roastery on espresso, with various guests on filter, both batch-brew and pour-over through the V60. If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of pastries and several toast-based options.
In speciality coffee circles, Omotesando Koffee is something of a legend. Named after its home in Tokyo’s Omotesando district, this pop-up coffee shop was credited by some as helping to transform the Tokyo coffee scene. Sadly, it was a relatively short-lived affair and, while I visited its successor, Koffee Mameya, I missed the original (although you can read what my friend Bex made of it when she was there in 2014).
From those humble beginnings, Omotesando Koffee has gone on to spawn a series of coffee shops around the world, including branches in Hong Kong and Singapore. In the summer of 2018, a ripple, for want of a better word, went through the London speciality coffee scene. Omotesando Koffee was opening on Newman Street in Fitzrovia.! Excitement mounted for the rest of the year, until, in the middle of December, Omotesando finally opened its doors, perhaps the most anticipated event in London specialty coffee that year.
A minimalist coffee shop, offering a bespoke house-blend from Assembly (with components from Brazil, Colombia, Uganda and Ethiopian) on espresso and pour-over, plus single-origins on pour-over and batch-brew, it offers a slice of modern Japanese coffee culture. Naturally, I had to take a look…
Story Coffee on St John’s Hill in South West London is one of the capital’s speciality coffee stalwarts, having first opened in 2014. I took my time in visiting, only calling in for the first time towards the end of the September last year, when I found, to my surprise, that Story Coffee had a second branch, a little sibling if you like, called Story Works, just down the hill at the back of Clapham Junction.
Much smaller than the original, Story Works has a cut-down offering while retaining many similarities with Story Coffee, including a gorgeous two-group Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine. Like Story Coffee, there’s a single option on espresso, but pour-over has given way to batch-brew. Similarly, while there is food, Story Coffee’s brunch menu has been replaced by avocado on toast, grab-and-go salads and superfood smoothies, although there’s still a good selection of cake.
Regular readers will know that I’ve been following the rise of London-based/Aussie-inspired mini-chain Daisy Green ever since it opened a branch next to my office in Sheldon Square, Paddington. Since then, Daisy Green has grown rapid, first through its Beany Green coffee shops, and then through restaurants, such as Timmy Green in Victoria and Darcie & May Green, the narrow boats tied up outside Paddington Station.
Scarlett Green is the latest addition to the family, which now numbers nine coffee shops and restaurants. It follows in the footsteps of Timmy Green, offering full table service for food (breakfast, lunch and dinner), plus wine and cocktails, while still remaining true to its coffee roots, serving a house-blend from long-time partners, The Roasting Party.
Scarlett Green is the biggest yet, occupying the ground floor and basement of a tall, narrow building on Noel Street, in the heart of Soho. Open from 07:00 to midnight, it’s there for your morning coffee and a late-night cocktail, plus everything in between. The décor, as ever, is by the talented Shuby Art, another long-time partner and collaborator. As well as the usual bananas, you can also find a large, pink teddy bear enjoying Bondi Beach.
Bean & Wheat is one of several London-based ventures by chef/restaurateur Adam Handling, who made his name by trying to eliminate waste in his establishments. Bean & Wheat started life in 2017 in Spitalfields Market, when it was a coffee shop and delicatessen, but moved to its current location on Old Street (literally backing onto The Frog Hoxton, one of Adam Handling’s restaurants) earlier this year, at the end of July. Originally the concept was coffee (bean) and bread (wheat), but it’s recently expanded its offering to include craft beer (also wheat, sort of).
The intersection of speciality coffee and craft beer is slowly growing, but with the exception of Bristol’s Coffee + Beer, I can’t think of another speciality coffee shop doing what Bean & Wheat is doing. Plus Bean & Wheat has gone one better, allowing you to drink the aforementioned beer on-site (Coffee + Beer only has an off-licence).
As well as the coffee and alcohol, Bean & Wheat also sells bread, plus there are breakfast and lunch menus, plus a selection of cakes. The coffee, by the way, is from Union Hand-roasted, with the old favourite, Bobolink, plus a guest as well as decaf on espresso.
Redemption Roasters has been on my radar since I met the founders at London Coffee Festival way back (or so it now feels) in 2017. Roasting from a facility inside Aylesbury Young Offenders institute, Redemption Roasters offers training in both coffee roasting and barista skills, as well as helping finding ex-offenders find work in the coffee industry. Not long after that meeting, in July 2017, the first (of currently three London-based) Redemption Roasters coffee shop opened on Lambs Conduit Street in Bloomsbury, just around the corner from Great Ormond Street Hospital.
The space itself is simple enough, a large, bright, open rectangle with the counter on the right and the bulk of the seating on the left, with some more at the front and outside on the pavement. However, the real draw is the coffee, with the Aylesbury Blend on espresso, pulled through a Slayer Steam espresso machine (one of only a handful in the UK) and four single-origins on pour-over through the V60, one of which is available as batch brew. Naturally all the beans are available for sale in retail bags. There’s also a limited breakfast and lunch offering, with plenty of cakes to tempt you if you’re hungry.
Occupying a bright, sunny corner just a few doors down from Birdhouse, Story Coffee has been part of the furniture in this part of London, which is just west of Clapham Junction station, for close to four years. Give how often I go up to London, this shows just how little I get out of the station rather than zipping through it on the train. The loss, frankly, is all mine.
There’s not much to Story Coffee, just a single, unfussy rectangular space, with plenty for room on the broad pavement for a cluster of tables. Meanwhile, inside is a mix of tables and bars. Since it started, Story Coffee has used London’s Square Mile, but that’s slowly changing, Story having recently started roasting its own coffee. For now it’s Square Mile’s Red Brick on espresso, with a different single-origin on batch-brew and another on pour-over. These change every day or two and represent your best chance of sampling Story’s own coffee, which occasionally makes an appearance.
For somewhere so small, there’s also an impressive brunch menu, prepared in the kitchen downstairs, and served until three o’clock each afternoon (four o’clock at weekends). Naturally, there’s a good selection of cake.
Balham, in south London, isn’t short of good coffee. There’s the venerable Camden Coffee House by the station, and the equally venerable M1lk. More recently, these have been joined by a branch of Brickwood, a couple of doors down from M1lk on the busy, pedestrianised Hildreth Street, while, just around the corner on the more subdued Bedford Hill, there’s the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Escape the Daily Grind.
Serving the dependable Full Steam espresso from Volcano Coffee Works, offering a simple brunch menu until 3 o’clock and supplementing that with a selection of very tempting cakes, pastries and tarts, Escape the Daily Grind does a few things and does them well.
This is all served in a bright, relaxed space a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of M1lk and Brickwood, which are just a street away. In fact, if you knocked through the back wall of Escape the Daily Grind, there’s every chance you’ll end up in Brickwood… I was there on a Saturday lunch time, and while every table was taken in Brickwood and M1lk, with queues out of the door, Escape the Daily Grind offered a choice of tables and a quiet, relaxed atmosphere.