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.
I’ve been meaning to visit Tintico ever since it opened in Finchley in November 2014. Sadly, my trips to London’s northern suburbs are rare, so when Tintico opened a second shop in Soho in May 2019, my chances improved dramatically. However, it wasn’t until last week, when walking to Euston from Waterloo on my way to my Dad’s, that I finally made it.
On Greek Street, in the Soho’s northeastern corner, Tintico’s in an area which used to be a hotbed of London’s speciality coffee scene when I started the Coffee Spot almost 10 years ago. Sadly, many of those pioneers are gone, with Milk Bar the latest casualty. In that respect, Tintico is a fine addition to the neighbourhood, reminding me of those early coffee shops in style and spirit.
A small spot, with a single table outside and a handful more in the compact interior, Tintico offers a seasonal single-origin house espresso from Campbell & Syme (currently the Sonsón Reserve, a washed coffee from Colombia), along with a guest espresso, which doubles as the pour-over option via the Hario Switch. There’s also a tapas-style food menu, plenty of cake, plus beer, wine and a selection of brunch cocktails.
Today’s Coffee Spot was a chance discovery during last week’s Coffee Spot of tour Chiswick. Having been lured over the border into Hammersmith by my friend Adele’s recommendation of Coffee Notes, I was actually on my way there when I walked past Coffee Station and thought “that looks interesting”. So in I went and the rest, as they say, is history.
Coffee Station occupies a modest spot on the south side of King Street in Hammersmith, with a small outside seating area, but the true delight is inside, where the look and feel reminded me of Curio Espresso and Vintage Design in Kanazawa. I visited while Coffee Station was restricted to outside seating only, so was denied the best part of the shop, the large, bright seating area at the back, where the furniture (handmade by the owner) sits under a large skylight with a living wall as a backdrop.
The coffee is from Ozone, the Empire Blend being served from a standard espresso menu, along with a selection of Suki Tea. There are also various smoothies and freshly squeezed juice, while if you’re hungry, there’s a small but classic brunch menu, various salads and a range of cakes.
The Aircraft Factory in Hammersmith first came to the attention of the speciality coffee world as the West London outpost of Origin Coffee. However, in November 2019, it became the second location for Cable Co., which began life in Kensal Rise, and which now has a third coffee shop just off the Portobello Road in Notting Hill. Not that you would necessarily know, since The Aircraft Factory is not the sort of place you stumble upon.
There’s not a lot to Cable Co., which occupies a small, glass-walled spot on the right-hand side at the entrance to The Aircraft Factory. There’s a bench outside and a three-person bar against the wall inside, but that’s it for seating (for now). The coffee menu is similarly concise with an exclusive single-origin Colombian, plus decaf, from Climpson and Sons on espresso, backed up by a selection of pastries and cakes.
Back in the day, before I’d started the Coffee Spot, Ealing’s Electric Coffee Co. was one of a handful of speciality coffee shops in London. Fast forward 10+ years, and it’s fair to say that it’s now one of a handful of speciality coffee shops in Ealing, such has been the growth of the London scene. And that’s not the only thing that’s been growing. Since opening in 2008, Electric Coffee Co. has expanded its original coffee shop, started its own roasting operation, opened a second location (in St John’s Wood) and now there’s a third, on Goldhawk Road.
When I visited last week, seating was limited to the four outside tables, but as of this morning, the interior seating should be open, including the multi-roomed basement and the sunny room at the back. There are also plans for a small, outdoor terrace accessed through the basement. The coffee offering is fairly simple, with a concise espresso-based menu featuring the Rocket 88 blend. This is backed up by a range of toasted sandwiches and other savouries, plus cakes. Retail bags of coffee are for sale, where they’re joined, unusually, by a small range of Italian groceries.
Coffee Notes is a small coffee stand at the front of Ravenscourt Park Station on the District Line. A relatively new addition to Hammersmith, Coffee Notes set up shop in the summer of 2020, just as the area was reopening after the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unusually for a station coffee stand, Coffee Notes is open seven days a week, serving both locals and commuters alike, although if you want to catch Hari, its charismatic owner, note that Sunday is his day off.
There’s not much to Coffee Notes, just a long, thin coffee stand with fold up sides, which means that the focus is firmly on the coffee, which Hari sources himself before having it toll roasted in London. There’s the usual espresso-based menu, with several iced options, plus tea, but otherwise that’s it. Unsurprisingly, it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.
Having started my coffee tour of Chiswick at Chief Coffee, I then inadvertently spent the rest of it in Hammersmith, so I thought it best that my final stop should be The Coffee Traveller, a lovely spot by the Thames and very much in Chiswick. Located on Thames Road, a quiet street in a residential area, it’s in a row of eight terrace houses with shops on the ground floor and has a lovely, quirky interior which, come Monday, you’ll be able to sit in again. Until then, you have to sit outside, where you’ll find a pair of old school desks on the pavement, under the shade of an awning. Best of all, however, is the secret garden at the back, a wonderfully relaxing spot, the perfect place to end a long day spent visiting coffee shops.
The coffee is from old friends, Caravan, the Daily Blend served from a standard espresso menu, along with tea, hot chocolate and smoothies, plus craft beer and wine by the glass or bottle. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, the kitchen at the back offers the like of pancakes and omelettes to go with filled croissants, bagels, rolls and sandwiches, plus lots of cake.
These days there’s plenty of good coffee to be had in the neighbourhood, but when Chief Coffee opened in Chiswick back in 2015, it was something of a pioneer, joining the nearby Artisan in bringing speciality coffee to this part of West London. As well as the coffee, however, Chief Coffee also made its name with its pinball lounge, something which makes it stand out from the crowd to this day (the only other speciality coffee and pinball place I am aware of is Birmingham’s Tilt).
As I write, Chief Coffee is restricted to just its outdoor seating, which, in the sheltered Turnham Green Terrace Mews, is a delight. However, as of Monday next week (17th May) it will be re-opening both the first-floor seating area and the ground floor pinball lounge. And, even better, there’s a new Japanese arcade games room on the top floor that will be opening for the very first time!
The coffee is unchanged throughout, with Allpress’s signature blend on espresso, plus a regularly changing pair of contrasting single-origins from Workshop on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. This is backed up by a small selection of tea, plus sandwiches, savouries and cakes if you’re hungry.
This summer, something very special happened in the heart of Mayfair with the opening of Queens of Mayfair, best described as a high-end coffee, brunch and cocktails spot. That in itself is not that special, since the coffee, brunch and cocktails market is already well served, particularly in London. What makes Queens stand out is the quality of the coffee, with an espresso-based menu featuring a Brazilian Daterra, roasted for Queens by Difference Coffee. However, I covered all that when I wrote up Queens in its own Coffee Spot earlier this week. So what is it that makes Queens so special?
The answer is its coffee service, which caught the headlines with what has been tagged as UK’s most expensive cup of coffee, which comes with an eye-watering £50. For that, you get a very exclusive micro-lot of an Ethiopian Cup of Excellence winner. However, in fairness to Queens, describing it as a £50 cup of coffee hardly does it justice since you are a paying for a whole lot more than just a cup of coffee. Instead, you are paying for a whole coffee experience, something which, when I visited Queens last week, I had to try for myself.
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic may have caused a country-wide closure of coffee shops this spring, but that hasn’t stopped a growing number of brave entrepreneurs from opening new coffee shops. Chief amongst these are siblings Grace and Victoria, who had originally planned to open Queens of Mayfair, their high-end coffee shop located, appropriated enough, in Mayfair, back in March 2020. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t happen, but despite the COVID-19 setback, they carried on, with Queens opening in August instead.
Queens is an upscale venue, offering table service, a brunch menu until 3:30 pm and a “nibbles” menu in the evening. There’s cake, of course, plus hot chocolate, tea and a fully-stocked bar offering cocktails and other delights. However, it was the coffee that made the headlines, even catching the interest of the mainstream press. The reason? The UK’s most expensive cup of coffee, coming in at £50 a serving!
This is something so special that it has a Saturday Supplement all of its own. In the meantime, this Coffee Spot focuses on Queens as a coffee shop, where you can order from the more affordable espresso-based menu, based around a Brazilian Daterra, roasted for Queens by Difference Coffee.