The reason that I love reviewing cafes isn’t as much the coffee as it is the excuse to explore new parts of London and to go on an adventure. You could pick almost any type of destination and make it into an urban orienteering adventure.
Visiting small cafes is a great way of seeing a new city.
Small independent cafes are usually hidden away in interesting neighbourhoods so hunting for good coffee is a good way of hunting for the cultural heart of a city. When I travel I always go searching for a flat white. – Even if I fail, the effort leads me down interesting alleyways in new neighbourhoods.
Last weekend I ran to Sacred Cafe in Caledonia Rd (only an hour from Clerkenwell) but a fun way of breaking up a long run. It got me thinking about cafes as “destinations” for exploring. So I did a little research and thought back on my early days in London when we franticly ran around the city trying to visit as many places as possible.
Tim Chester from NME did a multi-day pilgrimage across London in the Great Flat White Hunt. He had some comments, quite rightly, about Taylor Street Baristas and Dose not being places to linger. But when you are coffee orienteering then it doesn’t matter. Tim also made a Google Map of the cafes he visited.
There are several good routes to take around London. For example, Nick Wade’s Disloyalty Card is a great excuse to explore.
Taylor Street Baristas are one of the sharpest commercial operators in the London coffee scene. Everything from their property investment relationships to the partnership with Tescos speaks to a team that wants to build a serious business. They have also managed to remain serious about their coffee. The Taylor St Baristas pop-up in Shoreditch was my local when I worked for a web design agency back when I first arrived in London.
Mr Porter have offered to shout people a coffee at Taylor St Baristas
This week Taylor Street Baristas have partnered with online fashion retailer Mr Porter to offer free coffee between 8am and 10am at a few of their locations between 23 September and 27 September. The last one is at Taylor Street Baristas Liverpool Street on 27 September. It’s a fun little marketing stunt that I hope continues on as a long term relationship between the two brands.
I went flat white hunting in Yorkshire in 2012 so I was excited to receive a guest review of Baltzersens in Harrogate from local Northerner Paul Holland:
When I heard Lord Howell’s pronouncement that there were “large, uninhabited and desolate areas” in the North East of England I dared to hope that the House of Lords had finally begun to address the issue that it’s pretty grim up north for coffee drinkers.
Baltzersens cafe in the North of England (Photo from www.baltzersens.co.uk)
Hurrah I thought, no more sour under-extracted shots, no more no-look tamping while they watch a customer eating a bap, yes I said bap, no more spotty teenagers leaving the milk jug under the wand, only to wander off to talk about some celebrity with their workmates. I thought the time for well-crafted coffee had arrived and the honourable Lords were going to bloody well do something about it.
For the last couple of months I’ve been working from the Innovation Warehouse in Farringdon. The Innovation Warehouse provides free filter coffee, 50 pence espresso pods and hot water for members to use in their Aeropress and plungers. Each member has their own coffee routine. One of the startups has a tradition of grinding fresh Monmouth coffee if they have a particularly big day coming up. But sometimes there is no substitute for a flat white or a real espresso.
Dose Espresso is the perfect place for a meeting in Farringdon/Clerkenwell/Barbican.
I asked some of the other members where they go for coffee in Farringdon and compiled their suggestions into a list based on the things that entrepreneurs most need in a cafe. Continue reading
We went to Copenhagen especially to go to Noma but discovered a surprisingly evolved coffee culture. Denmark has lots of coffee shops because it’s so cold and dark in Winter. Going out for coffee with friends seems to be a national pastime because it gives you an excuse to get out of the house. When the weather improves, it’s still nice to have coffee in Copenhagen and the city really comes to life.
The best flat white in Denmark at Coffee Collective Copenhagen.
Noma was voted as the best restaurant in the world for a few years running. They recently had a food safety issue, but it’s still an amazing restaurant. A real culinary adventure. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the creativity was truly inspiring. While in Copenhagen we went exploring to find the best Flat White in Denmark.
TimberYard cafe just opened in Old Street between Shoreditch and Clerkenwell. I’ve been waiting for a casual, friendly cafe with plenty of seating in EC1 for a long time. Look Mum No Hands (next door on Old Street) is great but the coffee isn’t perfect and it often gets far too crowded to be able to relax and think.
The Flat White at Timberyard Cafe in Old Street is not as good as it should be.
I’ve been wondering why none of the cafes in Shoreditch have opened up their basements or their un-used first floors. Some days I traipse around Dose at Google Campus, Salvation Jane, Shoreditch Grind, Goswell Rd, Fix and Look Mum No Hands just looking for a place to hang my Macbook.
The North of England seems like an odd place to be roasting coffee but York Coffee Emporium are doing a stunning job of finding interesting coffees from around the world and roasting them for delivery. Ben from The Distance hooked me up with a few bags to try and I’ve been experimenting with them in a pour-over, a french press and an aeropress.
Brewing at home makes a nice change from running in the rain to London cafes.
I tried three varieties and was surprised at just how much difference the beans made to the final taste. This blog is usually about reviewing cafes and espresso based drinks like the Flat White and Latte.
A flat white is not just a small latte. They are very different drinks. If you’re caught in a cafe that doesn’t serve a flat white, then a small latte might be a passable substitute, but they’re not the same drink. The flat white vs latte debate is common in the UK and USA where the Flat White is still new.
Flat white and a Latte from Climpson & Sons in Shoreditch. The flat white looks like a small latte, but there’s more to it.
I drink flat whites and my girlfriend drinks lattes so I’ve seen the difference between the two drinks in cafes across England, France, Spain, Denmark, USA, New Zealand and Australia. I’ve had a lot of discussions with baristas and it’s time to shine some light on the common debate about “What is a flat white?”
I’d love to hear from people about cafes in unexpected places around the world that serve a Flat White. Where is the weirdest and most of out of the way place that you’ve found a Flat White?
One of the challenges I took on this year was to visit every independent cafe in Zone One in London. So far I’ve been to about twenty cafes and filmed little YouTube clips of me talking about the cafes as I go. I’ve been shooting photos of the Flat Whites and taking notes on which cafes are the most chilled out and fun to hang out in.
Map of the Independent Cafes in London Zone 1
Because I’m only visiting cafes listed in the London Coffee Map application there haven’t been any bad cafes but I’ve seen a few stressed out customers, some over worked staff and some confusing etiquette around ordering. On the whole, the cafes have been excellent and I’ll be posting more reviews as I get to explore more.