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…
Just Between Friends occupies a small spot on the south side of Tib Street, halfway between the venerable North Tea Power and another newcomer, Siop Shop. There are a couple of two-person tables outside on the busy street, while a large sign proclaiming “Coffee” in big letters catches the eye. Inside, Just Between Friends is a small, cosy space with limited seating and a warm welcome. The coffee, from London’s Assembly, is available on espresso, with a daily batch-brew option. There’s also a limited food menu, including toast, muesli, a couple of toasties and a selection of cakes.
Lundenwic is one of those places that I’ve been meaning to visit ever since it opened. Back in 2015… In my defence, I’ve been a couple of times, but each time it’s been so busy that it’s been impossible to photograph, so I quietly left, telling myself I’d be back another day. That day eventually came one rainy Saturday evening in May when all the sensible people had gone home…
Located in the heart of the London’s theatre-land, right on Aldwych, at the foot Drury Lane, Lundenwic brings speciality coffee to a very mainstream setting. The shop itself is narrow and weirdly-shaped, with not one, but two (sort of) basements, exactly the sort of place I revel in. I must admonish my previous self for not going back sooner.
When it comes to coffee, Lundenwic keeps things simple but classy. Assembly’s seasonal espresso (currently a washed Colombian) is joined by Square Mile’s seasonal decaf (currently a blend of 80% Colombian and 20% Kenyan), while Assembly and Square Mile take it in turns on the batch-brew filter, the coffee changing roughly every week. A similar approach is taken with the food, a concise all-day brunch menu joined by soup at lunchtime.
Over Under Coffee is a relatively new name in London’s speciality coffee scene, but one which I’d heard mentioned quite a few times. So, when I had an hour to spare and a desire to escape from the madness that is Piccadilly Circus, I made a beeline for the relative oasis of calm that is Ham Yard, home to the second of Over Under Coffee’s two branches (the other being out in Hammersmith).
It’s a relatively small spot, but that doesn’t stop it from offering an impressive menu. There’s the seasonal espresso from Assembly (which supplies all the coffee) along with a regularly-rotating single-origin on V60, Aeropress or, if you’re in a hurry, there’s a very reasonably-priced batch-brew option. There’s also a decent brunch menu from the kitchen at the back (which stays open until six o’clock), a decent selection of cakes and, on Wednesday to Saturday evenings, cocktails.
November 2018: Sadly, Over Under closed at the end of October (thanks to Giulia Mule for the heads up). However, the original in Hammersmith is still going strong and there’s a new branch in Brompton opening in January 2019.
After the venerable Federation Coffee, Balance, on Ferndale Road, is one of the more established names in Brixton’s speciality coffee, recently joined by the likes of Stir Coffee Brixton and Brixton Blend, plus, across the road, the new Volcano/Assembly Roastery. Established in 2014 by the owner, Ali, who I had the pleasure of meeting, Balance is a tightly-focused shop selling espresso-based drinks, with beans from The Roastery Department and Assembly, freshly-blended juices and a small selection of pastries, toasties and sandwiches.
It’s a tiny place too, with just enough space inside for the counter, espresso machine behind, where you can order and wait for your coffee. If you want to sit down, you need to head outside (although you’re welcome to stand at the counter like I did and drink your coffee) where you’ll find a bench and a couple of two-person tables on the pavement.
Stir Coffee Brixton is a relative newcomer to the area, having only opened at the start of the year. I first became aware of it when I ran into one of the owners at Rag & Bone Coffee (he lived across the road at the time) when I was struck by his enthusiasm and dedication. Fast forward six months, and I finally found myself in Brixton for the Volcano Coffee Works/Assembly launch, so I made a point of taking the 15 minute walk south along Brixton Hill (surely the world’s flattest hill) to Stir.
Stir isn’t quite a multi-roaster, but it mixes up its coffee on a regular basis. There’s a house-blend on espresso from Mission Coffee Works, plus a second espresso from Assembly, which is joined by a decaf on the third grinder. There are also two or three choices on filter, through either the Aeropress or V60, while if you ask nicely, there’s also the Chemex, even though it’s not on the menu. All the coffee choices, except the house-blend, change regularly. There’s also loose-leaf tea, beer (bottles or cans) and various soft drinks, plus a small, but excellent range of food, including a decent selection of cake.
I first discovered Modern Society in March when I was invited by roasters, Assembly, to a talk by Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood on speciality coffee in capsules. Modern Society, on Redchurch Street in the heart of Shoreditch, is a life-style store with an excellent coffee bar at the front, one of a growing band of speciality coffee shops sharing space with other businesses. Sometimes the coffee side can be a separate business, although in this case, it’s fully integrated with Modern Society.
The result is a delightful, open, relaxed space, although if you think the coffee bar might be a bolt on or after-thought, think again. Modern Society has gone with cutting-edge roasters, Assembly, and has, to my knowledge, the first complete Modbar installation in the UK, with espresso, steam and pour-over modules. There’s also batch-brew through a Moccamaster.
To go with the excellent coffee, served from a very minimalist/concise menu which eschews names and simply lists sizes (espresso, black, 4oz, 6oz, 8oz), Modern Society also offers loose-leaf tea (prepared using the Modbar’s pour-over module) and a similarly-concise food menu, with breakfast and lunch options, all prepared on the counter, where you can sit and watch what’s going on if you like.