Knockbox Coffee is one of those legends of London’s speciality coffee scene that I’d assumed had been around forever. It was therefore a bit of a surprise when I finally called in one quiet Bank Holiday Monday in May to discover that it had only been around since 2014, although in today’s fast-moving industry, that makes it pretty venerable.
Located at the southern end of Lamb’s Conduit Street in Bloomsbury, there’s not much to Knockbox, a simple, square space offering limited seating around three of the four walls, while two picnic tables and a bench provide outside seating. The coffee is from local roasters, Workshop, with its seasonal single-origin espresso forming the bedrock of the simple coffee menu. This is joined by a wide array of teas and smoothies, plus an equally wide selection of cakes and toasties, which are joined (at weekends only, I believe) by a two-item brunch menu.
The association between coffee and cycling is a long and honourable one. V69 is one such example, having opened in 2016, part of the growing speciality coffee scene in the City of London. It occupies a large counter with a limited amount of seating just inside the door of the Bespoke Cycling shop on Gresham Street, between St Mary-le-Bow church and the Guildhall. If you don’t want to go inside, there’s also a takeaway window that opens directly onto the street.
The coffee is from Margate’s Curve Coffee Roasters and London’s Workshop, plus occasional guests, with a range of single-origins on espresso (one each) and pour-over through the V60. There’s also a daily option on batch-brew through the Moccamaster. The milk, meanwhile, is from Estate Dairy, with non-dairy alternatives in the shape of oat, soy and almond milks. If you’re hungry, there’s a breakfast menu, plus a selection of cakes.
In the booming world of speciality coffee, where shops open faster than I can visit/write about them, it’s nice to come across one that’s older than the Coffee Spot itself. Durham’s Flat White Café, which opened in 2010, now boasts two, soon to be three, locations in the city. That I’ve not visited before now is entirely my loss, Durham being somewhere that I’ve often gone through on the train, admiring its steep hills and stunning views from the station, but never actually bothering to get off and explore. Again, entirely my loss.
The original Flat White Café is a pretty small spot, a long, low rectangular space with as much seating outside as in, with the outside seating perched on whatever flat surfaces can be found. Yes, Durham really is that hilly. Given the size, there’s a surprisingly large breakfast/lunch menu, an impressive array of cakes and an espresso-based menu with options from Newcastle’s Ouseburn Coffee Co and London’s Workshop. Perpetually busy, and with tables at a premium, if you need more space, the second branch, Flat White Kitchen, is just around the corner (although up a steep hill), with more space, a bigger menu and even longer queues!
Workshop Coffee is one of London’s better-known (and original) roaster/café chains. Starting from its flagship branch in Clerkenwell, where, until recently, all the roasting was done, it’s slowly expanded, now with a total of four London coffee shops. I first really came across it (other than as a roaster) when it opened its Fitzrovia coffee bar in 2014, but I’ve taken my sweet time in popping into the other branches, finally making to the Marylebone branch last week. At some point I’ll have to drag myself over to Holborn and Clerkenwell, which has seen a few changes since the roaster moved out.
The Marylebone branch is on St Christopher’s Place, just a stone’s throw from the busy Oxford Street. Tucked away in the eastern arm (St Christopher’s Place is cross-shaped), it’s an oasis of calm, which is also open until seven in the evening. Simple in layout, there’s a bench along the wall providing most of the seating. The coffee offering is excellent, with two single-origins and decaf on espresso, plus two or three single-origins available through the Aeropress, with one of them on bulk-brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a wide selection of cake and a limited range of sandwiches.
Frequency is a new addition to the coffee scene around King’s Cross Station. Owned by a lovely couple, Justo and Joey, it’s slightly off the beaten track, it’s down King’s Cross Road in the direction of Exmouth Market, tucked away in a little parade of shops. It’s been open all of two months, serving coffee from Workshop and tea from Joe’s Tea, both local suppliers. This is backed up by an interesting breakfast selection, sandwiches and, of course, plenty of cake.
When it comes to coffee, there’s a commendably concise espresso-based menu, plus a choice of three single-origins on filter (one of which is the same bean in the hopper for the espresso). You can have your filter coffee as either a pour-over through the V60 or an Aeropress, with the beans changing on a seasonal basis. The beans, by the way, are also for sale.
Frequency itself is a cosy space, long and thin, with seating at the front and in a little room at the back if you want to escape the coming and going of the other customers. There’s also a small table outside the front of Frequency, where it sits in a beautifully-tiled entrance.
Set in the soaring nave of Christopher Wren’s St Nicholas Cole Abbey, The Wren’s quite possibly the most delightful coffee shop setting I’ve had the pleasure to step into. The only relevant question is what took me so long, since it’s been on my list from the day it opened!
Situated between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Thames, the church is accessed via a flight of steps, leading up from the busy dual carriageway that is Queen Victoria Street. You can sit outside if you like, either at a small, shady cluster of tables, tucked away around a corner at the bottom of the steps, or on the large, sun-drenched terraced at the top. For me, however, the real pleasure is in the gloriously spacious interior.
The coffee is from London’s Workshop, with the seasonal Cult of Done blend on espresso and rotating single origin beans on the V60 filter. Loose-leaf tea is from Merseyside’s Brew Tea Co and there’s a range of soft drinks. At lunchtime, there’s a choice of quiche, salad, soup and sandwiches, while for breakfast there are pastries, toast and granola. The food offering is rounded off with a small but interesting cake range.
Sharps Coffee Bar, on London’s Windmill Street, is one of a new breed of coffee shops sharing premises with other businesses. Historically it was bookshops, then bike shops, along with the odd record store and laundrette. And now barbers.
I first visited towards the end of last year but, having heard news of change on the grapevine that is twitter, I popped back a couple of weeks ago. However, for the second Wednesday running, I find myself writing a Coffee Spot Update where the answer to the question, “so what’s changed?” is “not much”.
At least, not yet, and not to the casual visitor. The seating is laid out a little differently from my previous visits, and the coffee menu (although not what’s on offer) has changed. Other than that, the sublime lines of the Kees van der Westen Spirit Triplette are still there, as is the Mahlkönig EK43 grinder. The same variety of coffee is on offer: espresso, batch-brew filter and Aeropress, all with regularly-rotating roasters.
The latest addition to the suddenly-expanding Workshop Coffee chain (now four and counting) is in fashionable Fitzrovia on Mortimer Street. Just around the corner from Broadcasting House, it joins a growing band of speciality coffee shops that include old stalwart, Kaffeine plus (relative) newcomers, Attendant, Mother’s Milk (now closed) and the recently-opened Curators Coffee Gallery. The one advantage it has over its near-neighbours, other than the novelty value of being new, is that it stays open until seven o’clock, making it the ideal spot to retire to before attending recordings of BBC Radio shows in the Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House.
Unsurprisingly, given that this is Workshop, the coffee is all from the Workshop roastery in Clerkenwell, with the Cult of Done house-blend and a single-origin on espresso plus a choice of two single-origins on filter (one bulk-brew and one through the Aeropress). There’s also decaf, loose-leaf tea and a small range of sandwiches and cake.
The new Workshop’s not a huge place, with the front half given over to the counter and the seating in a separate area at the back, the two connected by a short corridor. You might be able to squeeze 15 people in all told.
A big motivation for publishing some of my Saturday Supplements on Wednesdays is to get through my backlog of places such as today’s Saturday Short, Daily Goods London. I visited it in January, but, until now, hadn’t found the time/space to squeeze it into the Coffee Spot. This is a shame, since it’s a lovely little place that doesn’t need much squeezing, one which continues my love affair with small Coffee Spots.
Located inside Kinoko Cycles on London’s delightfully-named (and delightful) Golden Square, Daily Goods is another marriage of coffee and cycling that’s quite common these days (eg Oxford’s Zappi’s Bike Café, Shoreditch’s Look Mum No Hands and, just around the corner, Rapha Cycle Club). Unlike the others, which are more akin to coffee shops, Daily Goods is perhaps best described as a coffee counter or concession, occupying a small counter space inside the much large Kinoko Cycles.
Update: Daily Goods has now moved south of the river to Camberwell and its own coffee shop. Full details are on the Daily Goods website.
When I first visited Edinburgh’s Fortitude in April 2014, it had been open all of four weeks. A self-titled espresso & brew bar, plus coffee merchant, Fortitude lived up to the billing back then. These days it’s added a decent food offering and has turned itself into a pretty decent roaster. Originally using London‘s Workshop and regularly-rotating guests, these days all the coffee is roasted in-house (but sadly not on-site, where there’s no room for a roaster), Fortitude sourcing some exceptional single-origins, with two options on espresso and four on pour-over through the Kalita Wave.
It helps that Fortitude’s a lovely spot in which to drink your coffee, with its high ceilings and uncluttered layout. There’s not much seating, but it’s well laid-out and very laptop friendly, with free Wifi and power outlets at every table. You’re also assured of a warm welcome from husband and wife team, Matt and Helen, although when I returned at the end of December 2018, they were off roasting. Instead I was equally well-looked after by Cristabel and Niall.
If you’re hungry, there are small breakfast and lunch menus, with a tempting selection of toast, sandwiches and soup, plus a decent range of cake.