When I went to London last weekend, I never intended to end up doing a little coffee tour. I was going over to the English big smoke to see a friend and generally check out what was going on in London. I had been before, but the last time consisted of a lot of Camden Town and getting very lost about where to go on the tube. We spent our time in London hungover and pouring over different maps, trying to figure out how to get to this place or that.
This time I asked people from Dublin about places they liked to go in London. And when you know a lot of coffee people, they’ll recommend a lot of coffee shops. My evenings in London consisted of seeing friends, while on my solo daytimes, I ended up catching tubes and buses to different galleries and boroughs, only beginning to get lost on my second day. I had places in mind to go, like Embassy East for a toastie, and Prufrock for a general curious coffee experience. I used coffee shops as destinations, and found my way pretty easy about public transport in my constantly over caffeinated state. Until about day two.
I never intended to make it a coffee tour, but after visiting seven different cafes, it felt weird to leave London on such an uneven number of flat whites, espressos and filters. Baristas were helpful, giving me directions and drawing me maps. Even printing out my boarding pass when I couldn’t find an internet cafe anywhere before a 6 am flight.
The first place everyone I had talked to insisted I visit was Embassy East in Hoxton. To be honest, I wasnt quite sure what I was looking for, so walked up and down the street a few times squinting at numbers on signs. I was a little lost, but not considerable. I got in, charged my phone, drank a much needed flat white (7am flights do not make an energetic beginning to a day) and ate a pretty savage toastie. The place was small, with regulars sitting in the window, one chatting from his small table to the barista as he steamed milk. From there, I got directions to Lyle’s with a hand drawn map.
Across from Box Park (which I assumed was an actual park with trees and flowers. it wasn’t.) was a restaurant called Lyle’s. I talked to people on high stools who were baristas in other cafes. I got an espresso of the San Blas Square Mile, and this was not the last time I saw this coffee. It was a pretty good espresso. The place was manicured and upmarket, quiet before the lunch rush of a Friday afternoon. People, busy, bustled pass the huge glass windows. An old friend from there pointed me in the direction of Prufrock, one place I had heard a lot about before I arrived in London.
I walked up and down the busy street to find this cafe behind a row of stalls. A range of fresh food served from bubbling pots and pans, smells and noises filling up the space between the exterior walls. The first filter of the trip. An aeropress of an Ethiopian coffee I never caught the name of, but it was floral and clean. The place was hopping, a steady stream of people coming in as quickly as they left. Customers with laptops sat in the middle writing down ideas while they drank a few flat whites. Others sat under cases of collectible spoons, immersed in a novel or a little note book of scribbles. As I sat in Prufrock, I got a message to drop into another cafe (of a different nature) round the corner.
I was starting to really feel the caffeine pumping through my veins. Day 1 in London and I’d somehow already buzzed myself enough on coffee to induce a few heart palpitations. Workshop was easy to find; a giant diamond logo on the window and what appeared as more of busy restaurant ticking over behind the glass. That was until I spotted the coffee roaster sat behind the main coffee bar, with bags of green beans climbing high along the walls. I was given a quick tour by one of the wholesale team, and given some free beans and a single shot macchiato . It drizzled outside.
#5 Bulldog, Ace Hotel
Day two. Hungover, as to be expected. I got to Bulldog in the Ace Hotel to find the cure in the shape of a Squaremile espresso. The place was simple in its colour scheme, and was beginning to bustle with the waking of hotel guests. I was too early for the mythical donuts that friends back in Dublin had regaled tales of. I’d have to find them somewhere else. I left, a little more energised and a little more aware of my hangover, for the tube. The drizzle had now transformed into rain.
#6 Tina, We Salute You
Now here’s the part of the trip where I got pretty lost. I wandered about an unrecognisable residential area for a good half hour. The rain was beginning to get heavier. I found Tina’s after more wandering and references to Google maps, but really found somewhere I liked. The place was small but packed for its size. It was full of locals, and me, who looked like she had just gotten off the plane, The glass steamed up with the people inside, customers getting their fill on wi-fi, coffee and cinnamon toast. As I sat inside, enjoying a flat white and watching the flurry of action within, the rain became heavier outside. I got directions to the tube and made my way to Soho.
#7 Milk Bar
At this point in the search for cafes, it felt like I had to make it an even number of caffeine destinations. It would have felt uneven and weird otherwise. After getting the best meal of the trip at Koya round the corner, I headed over to Milk Bar when I told a friend what area of the city I was in. Milk Bar was small and friendly. A flat white, a small brownie and some wifi. Regulars, again, sitting in the corner reading books and relaxing.
#8 Look Mum, No Hands
Day 3. And the Irish rain had followed me over and soaked the streets and buildings. It lashed. Signs everywhere pointed out the law of laptop use within Look Mum, No Hands. It felt like a cross between Rothar cafe and the Fumbally back home. Bikes hanging from the ceiling, with the bike section as busy as the food. Vegetables in crates sat around refurbished bicycles frames in the window.
#9 Sharps’ Coffee Bar
I found this cafe by accident, and I’m really glad I did. Along with Tina’s, this was one of my favourites of the trip for the atmosphere it had. It was friendly. This coffee bar sat at the front of a barbers, one barista on as it was pretty quiet. I had gotten lost looking for a different destination (which now no longer existed since my London specialty coffee map had been printed). I sat here for the good guts of an hour chatting about different coffees and cafe experience with the barista as I drank a flat white. My bag from The Barn had struck up a conversation about how they were introducing it to this space. One other customer sat in the window on her laptop as I was leaving, the rain having driven everyone else away.
Kaffiene was jammed. People waited in a queue to try and get shared tables, a team of baristas behind the bar. I got a macchiato, not feeling I could handle much more coffee after this. As I got up to leave, I asked if there was anywhere I could print off a boarding pass, to which the staff offered to do it for me. I got my boarding pass printed and after a bit of a chat with the owner about where I worked, I ended up behind the bar during the evening rush. It was a privilege to see how they worked and chat with them about their experiences within speciality coffee, even while they slinging ‘spros out. On my final goodbye, I was given the suggestion to drop into one last coffee shop on the way to the tube, just to say hello and have a gander.
Honorary Visit, but no coffee consumed:
I honestly couldn’t handle any more coffee, even though it was offered. If and when I come back to London, this will definitely be one place to visit first. I left and said my goodbyes as the rain got heavier and the shopping crowds squeezed down into the underground away from wet, old Oxford Street.
It was great to experience a city that had a specialty coffee scene that was a little more developed and fleshed out than its Dublin counterpart, a few steps ahead. There were differences in styles and methods, but the desired result was to serve a good cup of coffee, which I got everywhere I went.
Words and pictures: Susie Kealy
This post was originally published on NoAddedSugarDublin, Susie’s cutie coffee blog.