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.
I’ve known about Carbon Kopi ever since it opened almost exactly a year ago, on October 8th, 2019. The owners invited me to visit, but my travel schedule being what it was, I couldn’t take them up on the offer. Then, on Tuesday, I unexpectedly found myself in Earl’s Court, a 15-minute walk from Carbon Kopi, so I knew what I had to do.
Carbon Kopi is on Margravine Road, in a quiet, residential part of Hammersmith, standing on a shady corner at the junction with Gastein Road. There’s a small outdoor seating area at the front, a light-filled main area, with a cosy nook off to the side, and a larger, partially-covered outdoor seating area at the back.
Square Mile is on espresso, although rather than the ubiquitous Red Brick, there’s a seasonal single-origin which changes every two to three months. A monthly guest roaster provides two batch brew options, while if you’re hungry, there’s soup of the day, a small selection of toasted sandwiches and a range of very tempting cakes, all on display on the counter. Just be aware that because of COVID-19 restrictions, Carbon Kopi only uses disposable cups, so don’t forget to bring your own.
If you ever need evidence that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for operating a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic, I present Kaffeine, the London-based chain of precisely two coffee shops. I’ve already looked at how the original Kaffeine, on Great Titchfield Street, has adapted to COVID-19 and today it’s the turn of Kaffeine Eastcastle, which reopened at the start of September. Although less than five minutes’ walk apart, how the two shops are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is quite different.
Of course, there are similarities, with both adhering to the same underlying principles, but in each case, the response has been moulded to/by the needs of the individual shop. Perhaps the biggest difference is that while Great Titchfield Street offers table service, Eastcastle, with its lower footfall, has a more traditional counter service model.
In terms of what’s on offer, little has changed. The espresso-based menu still has Square Mile’s ubiquitous Red Brick at its heart, along with a single-origin option, while there’s also a single-origin filter, which changes monthly. The concise brunch menu is served until 2 pm (3 pm at weekends), supported by an all-day selection of salads, tarts and toasted sandwiches, plus cake, of course.
One of the legends of London’s speciality coffee scene, this is the original Kaffeine on Great Titchfield Street, in the heart of Fitzrovia. It reopened in June, initially just serving takeaway, and has been slowly expanding its offering ever since. First, the internal seating reopened, then, in mid-August, following traffic restrictions put in place by the council, the outside seating was expanded.
Wherever you sit, you’ll get the trademark Kaffeine hospitality and some exemplary service. You’re greeted at the door by a staff member who takes your order. If it’s to go, you’ll need to wait there until your coffee is brought to you. Alternatively, if you’re staying, once you’ve ordered, you’ll be shown to a table (or allowed to select one if sitting outside), thus ensuring separation between sit-in and takeaway customers.
As usual, Square Mile’s Red Brick is on espresso, joined by a single-origin guest, which can be had instead of the Red Brick, or there’s a tasting flight where you can try them both. There’s a selection of cold/iced coffee options, plus tea from the Rare Tea Company. Finally, if you’re hungry, Kaffeine has the usual cake and pastry options, plus small breakfast and lunch menus.
I went to London last week for my first sit-in coffee shop experiences since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. I visited three coffee shops, starting with Notes and ending with Attendant, both of which I’d first written about in 2013. In contrast, the middle one, Kafi, had only opened last year. A lovely little spot in Fitzrovia, it felt at the time like a throwback to the cutting-edge coffee shops of five to 10 years ago, which, sadly, London has mostly lost.
Kafi reopened in the middle of June offering a takeaway-only service. However, unlike other shops, which have taken advantage of the easing of COVID-19 restrictions to offer a sit-in service, Kafi has remained takeaway only. Kafi has stayed true to its founding principles, deciding not to reduce its coffee offering. As a result, Kafi still has two options on espresso (both single-origins), plus decaf, as well as three more single-origins on filter, one each on V60, AeroPress and siphon. It also, unusually, still allows customers to use their own reusable cups.
On Tuesday, for the first time in four months, I boarded a train. With the recent easing of restrictions on coffee shops in England, I was on my way to London, where I knew some coffee shops had started serving sit-in customers. And, if I’m honest, after four months of not going further than I could walk, I needed a change of scene. I didn’t have a firm plan: I was just going to take the train to Waterloo, cross the river, then wander around. I knew that some shops had reopened from their social media posts, but I wanted to check for myself. Mostly, though, I was just getting the lie of the land.
Of all the speciality shops that I found, the one that I least expected to be open was Attendant’s original location in Fitzrovia, the speciality coffee shop in a (disused) Victorian (men’s) public lavatory. And when I think of enticing places to have coffee during COVID-19, a small, underground coffee shop with no windows was not top of my list. But there it was, open and inviting me to come in and take a seat. Intrigued, I knew I had to try it out.
A well-established name in London Coffee circles, HR Higgins has been going in its current form since 1944. A family-run affair, now onto its third generation, I visited the lovely, old-fashioned store on Mayfair’s Duke Street in September, writing up the delightful basement coffee shop. Now it’s the turn of HR Higgins Coffee Man, which features in today’s Meet the Roaster as both roaster and retailer.
Whereas many modern, speciality coffee roasters have a few blends at most, along with a handful of single-origins, HR Higgins is from an era when coffee merchants carried a wide range of beans, reminding me of the likes of Soho’s Algerian Coffee Stores. HR Higgins currently has beans from 23 origins (two of which are decaffeinated), drawn from all the world’s main coffee growing regions, plus eight different blends. These are roasted anywhere from medium to very dark, and, while HR Higgins hasn’t succumbed to the modern trend of light roasts, it has been developing direct trade relationships with various coffee farmers.
If coffee’s not your thing, HR Higgins is also a tea merchant of some repute, with over 40 different loose-leaf teas available, although it received its Royal Warrant as a coffee merchant.
Kafi opened in April this year, joining a long list of excellent coffee shops in Fitzrovia, that small slice of central London between Oxford Street and Euston Road. While small, it has high ideals, including a dedication to sustainability, which includes soucing 90% of the material in the shop from recycled or reclaimed material, plus an emphasis (where possible) on local sourcing.
This is allied to a coffee offering of the sort that’s rather rare in London these days. Switching every month between house-roaster, Workshop, and a guest roaster, there’s a range of single-origin coffees, each matched to a specific extraction technique, including espresso, V60, Aeropress and syphon. There’s also cold brew, nitro cold brew, hot chocolate, a choice of 10 teas (plus cold brew, nitro cold brew tea options) and a series of wellness drinks. Finally, if you’re hungry, there are all sorts of cakes and savouries to enjoy.
June 2020: Kafi has reopened, although it is only offering takeaway services only at the moment (that said, you can sit outside if you want). You can see what I made of it when I visited in July.
Fitzrovia, that small slice of central London between Oxford Street and Euston Road, has more than its fair share of excellent coffee shops. For many years, one of my favourites was Curators Coffee Gallery on Margaret Street, and I was saddened to learn of its closure earlier this year. However, my sadness wasn’t too long-lasting, since wandering around in July, I spotted a welcome sign in the vacant window: Kiss the Hippo.
For those that don’t know, Kiss the Hippo is a coffee shop/roaster with an improbable name and eye-catching logo. It began in 2018 in Richmond, where you’ll find its flagship café, roastery and training centre, all rolled into one, with the Fitzrovia branch, which opened exactly one month ago, being its second location.
Spread over a spacious ground floor and a bright basement, anyone who visited Curators will instantly recognise the layout, although the décor is markedly different. The coffee, all roasted in-house in Richmond, is seasonal, with the George Street house-blend joined by a single-origin and decaf on espresso, with two more on pour-over, plus a batch-brew option. If you’re hungry, there’s brunch until 2 pm (3 pm at weekends), plus cake and toasties throughout the day.