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.
Four weeks ago, I spent a very pleasant Tuesday evening at Amoret Speciality Coffee in Notting Hill, learning all about the properties of foam. Specifically, milk foam, in case you were wondering what this has to do with coffee. I was at the second Coffee & Science evening, organised by fellow coffee blogger, Bean Thinking, aka Karen, who (when not engaged in the important business of blogging about coffee) spends (some of) her time as a research physicist at Imperial College.
The Coffee & Science evenings are a series of informal events held on a (roughly) monthly basis, hosted by the lovely Sadiq of Amoret Coffee and organised by Bean Thinking. The next one is this Tuesday (22nd October) and is all about the science of espresso extraction. Karen is keen that the tag “science” doesn’t put anyone off: the events are fun, friendly, practical, and, most important of all, you don’t need a background in science to attend! Coffee & Science is open to anyone with an interest in coffee and science behind it.
In the meantime, if you’ve ever wanted to know why milk foams (or sometimes doesn’t), which milks foam the best, and how non-dairy milks compare, read on!
HR Higgins in a well-established name in London Coffee circles, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It’s also somewhere that’s been on my radar for some time now, so apologies that it’s take me until this week to get around to visiting. In the heart of Mayfair, a few minutes’ walk from Bond Street station, HR Higgins has a lovely, old-fashioned coffee (and tea) merchants’ shop upstairs (which features in its own Meet the Roaster). There’s also a takeaway counter up here, which caters to the morning rush.
However, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot is the lovely basement coffee room, which offers a full coffee shop service. If it’s too busy downstairs, you are always welcome to order your coffee, then take a seat at the window bar upstairs. There’s also a small outside seating area. In some ways, HR Higgins reminded me of the coffee scene in Tokyo, catering to a more traditional market (think dark roasts and multiple blends) and adapting to change (multiple single-origins, working directly with farmers). There’s a single option on espresso with multiple choices on pour-over, while if you’re hungry, HR Higgins tempts you with a small selection of cakes.
Fitzrovia, in London’s West End, has, despite recent closures such as the much-loved Curators Coffee Gallery, a booming speciality coffee scene which comes in all shapes and sizes, including such oddities as Attendant (in an old public lavatory). However, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot is easily the smallest of them all, a title vacant since 2016 when Goodge St Espresso closed.
Alex Coffee is as small as they come, just a door and a window opening onto a simple interior, counter at the back and enough room for two small stools. Indeed, there’s more seating outside at the four-person table in front of the window. The coffee, from the Lake District’s Red Bank, is similarly simple: a concise espresso-based menu, plus batch brew and a cafetiere for two. If you don’t like it hot, there are almost as many iced options, plus hot chocolate and a selection of tea.
I feel that today’s Coffee Spot should be marked by fireworks or something. The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs has a long, distinguished history, opening its first branch on London’s Leather Lane in 2010. Since then it’s gone on to start roasting its own coffee and now has multiple branches in London (14 and counting), Manchester and Bristol, plus several in Chicago. It’s also acquired other operators such as TAP and Tradewind Espresso.
But here’s the thing. While I’ve always loved the coffee, I’ve never loved any of the actual coffee shops (and, believe me, I’ve tried many of them!). Until last week that is, when I walked into the new branch on Kingdom Street in Paddington Central. Quite why this one clicked with me when so many haven’t, I can’t say, but I knew as soon as I walked in the door. It helped that it was across the road from the office I was working in all last week, making me a daily visitor, but it’s that good, I’d go out of my way to visit.
There’s a blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, with two single-origins on batch brew, plus a wide range of cakes and savouries.