London is awash with great coffee, but that hasn’t always been the case. The city’s caffeine scene can be vaguely understood as pre- and post- the arrival of the flat white in 2005, when Aussie Peter Hall and Kiwis James Gurnsey and Cameron McClure opened their Soho café dedicated to the microfoam-heavy latte proxy (called, of course, Flat White). Since then, things have gone haywire—with every corner of the capital seemingly gifted its own specialty coffee emporia, brewing sustainably sourced and ethical beans from growers around the globe. Here’s our definitive—but ever-growing—list of the best coffee in London.
The appeal of Catalyst—a technicolour, cactus-flecked, coworker-filled spot opened by Alexander Gkikas in 2016—is twofold. First: an egalitarian approach to coffee at odds with the specialty world’s latent snobbery, serving everything from no-name lattes to complex, double-anaerobic-fermentation coffees. Second is their homemade Coffee Sriracha: a piquant, caffeine-infused hot sauce revered by London food nerds (not least when it’s splashed across grilled aubergine and tahini on Coombeshead Farm sourdough, a highlight of the ace lunch menu).
Opened by Australian emigré Peter Dore-Smith way back in the heyday of 2009, Kaffeine was (and remains) a pioneer in London’s specialty scene. It’s still catnip for roving bean fiends: an Antipodean-style powerhouse now with two locations (a second branch, on Fitzrovia’s Eastcastle Street, opened in the mid 2010s), serving Square Mile as standard, with an ever-changing cast of guest beans from estimable global roasters—Australia’s Proud Mary and Exeter’s Crankhouse Coffee are two recent, if arbitrary, examples.
W1W and W1T
Monmouth Covent Garden
The OG of the capital’s coffee landscape, Monmouth has been a byword for crucial London cupping since it was founded in 1978. These days, an industrial roastery and “tasting rooms” at Bermondsey’s Spa Terminus is the sprawling heart of the operation—but the original café on Seven Dials’ Monmouth Street is the spiritual nucleus. The warm, wood-panelled mezzanine is Lilliputian (good luck getting a seat); the coffee—sensitively sourced from single farms, estates and cooperatives—reliably faultless, especially the house espresso’s honeyed rocket-fuel.
The melding of a meticulous Aussie café and an Irish pub might sound jarring—but such was the concept behind Rosslyn, with founders James Hennebry and Mat Russell drawing on their respective heritages to create one of London’s best micro-chains. (The Irish angle was one of convivial spirit rather than ribald boozing.) The duo first met working at Caravan, transposing their formative days there into a buzzy, composed corner site at Mansion House, where they continue to serve an illustrious menu of international beans: Switch Coffee from Tokyo or Cornwall’s Origin beans, say.
A dinky takeaway (there’s a sole bench outside) and roasters on the side of Peckham Rye, Old Spike is indisputably great, but its true USP is its community-minded model. The shop is a social enterprise that funnels 65 per cent of its profits into training and employing homeless people as baristas. The house Benedict Blend—a mix of Nicaraguan, Indian and Brazilian beans, with notes of nut and chocolate—is a nod to the patron saint of rough sleepers himself.
Juliet’s Quality Foods
With its stripped bricks, smattering of rattan Cesca chairs and Todd Terje bopping out of the stereo, Juliet’s is a hipster haven in the chaotic, lived-in sprawl of Tooting. It’s become acclaimed for the slick branding and excellent food—first echoed in a collab with Peckham’s General Store, then with an entire spin-off branch just opened in Clapham—but the coffee is excellent. It’s primarily sourced from Berlin’s The Barn and Helsingborg’s Koppi, two roasters that share the café’s clarion remit of quality over all.
An offshoot of Brockley’s beloved Browns, Bon is a light-filled, pint-sized takeaway on East Dulwich’s Lordship Lane (and since the tragic closing of Brick House pre-Covid, the area’s best coffee by miles). The beans come from bigwig roastery Square Mile (owned by YouTube coffee vlogger James Hoffman, and a company they’ve worked with for more than a decade) and the tasty titbits on the counter are made at the shop’s own bakery in SE23. What’s more, they’ve the finest cup art in town, courtesy of Swiss illustrator Serafine Frey.
Allpress Espresso Bar
The eponymous Michael Allpress founded his titanic roasters in an Auckland garage way back in 1989. Now, the name is shorthand for top-tier beans; they’re ground in over 1,500 indie cafés worldwide, including own-brand outlets in NZ, Japan, Singapore, Australia and the UK. Sat near the former site of London’s first Allpress roastery—on Shoreditch’s Redchurch Street—is this natty, dedicated Espresso Bar, a vision in muted grey, with flashes of steel and metric trough-loads of sustainably sourced, specialty brews.
Climpson & Sons
Ducking into Climpson & Sons’ airy greige shop from the throng of Broadway Market is a Saturday morning rite of passage; that the espresso-, blend- and single-origin-based drinks are so good almost seems a bonus, though the quality is assured by their use of an eco-friendly Loring Smart Roast S35 (which, they reckon, hones the coffee’s harmonious sweet notes and flavour clarity) and a process of “blind cupping” when choosing their beans. They also run Climpson’s Arch over in London Fields—a pop-up restaurant space currently home to Tomos Parry’s totemic, Basque-influenced joint Brat.
A mint-coloured beacon in the otherwise joyless development around West Hampstead Overground, Intermission is a cute, compact joint with a profound focus on sustainability and provenance—not least as they house-roast beans sourced from Raw Material, a company that directs 100 per cent of its profits back to the small-scale producers it supports. The piccolos and flat whites are grand, the batch-brew filter even more so; plus there’s a dinky concession of coffee-making ephemera and some nifty totes to cart it all home in.
In the shadow of the Hammersmith flyover, Antipode is a Southern Hemisphere-style stalwart that’s long been west London’s caffeine benchmark. Founded by Jerome Dwyer in the image of Melbourne’s laneway cafés, its initial calling was to provide decent flat whites in a part of town utterly bereft of them (in the early 2010s, at least). These days, the steamy cups of Square Mile joe are complemented by a natty selection of low-intervention wines, Aussie beer and evening cocktails.
Sure, London has a swell provision of fika-forward bakeries—Bageriet, Fabrique, Söderberg, et al—but great Nordic coffee? Less so. Enter Hjem, a forest-green retreat on Launceston Place, opened by Danish expat Marianne Brammer in the winter of 2019 as a means of dragging some refined Scandi warmth to this rarefied corner of London. (Hjem translates as “home”, appropriately.) There are Climpson and Kiss the Hippo beans in the hopper, the almond milk is homemade, and (naturally) there’s a short-and-sweet menu of spiced bakes and hearty rye sandwiches.
The Association Coffee
Sitting in the shadow of the Gherkin, The Association is a City-slick vision of distressed brick, bare girders and bespoke midcentury-style furnishings. The shop—and its Ludgate Hill sister site—also happen to offer some of the best caffeine hits in the EC area. Their regular beans come from Workshop and Square Mile, while the cast of guest coffees—Australian espresso from Five Senses, say, or sustainable single-origin filters from UK specialists HasBeen—changes regularly. The snacky food offering is a who’s-who of fine producers, too: sausage rolls from The Ginger Pig, sandwiches from E5, toothsome pastries from Little Bread Pedlar, etc.
E5 Poplar Bakehouse
E5’s original, under-arch Bakehouse opened east of London Fields in 2011, an extension of a refugee training initiative run with Hackney Council, dubbed Just Bread. This Docklands satellite, launched in 2017 on the edge of verdant Bartlett Park, echoes its remit—but is an altogether airier and more tranquil operation (even if it is half the size). Beans—ethically sourced from community producers that redirect profits back into the supply chain—are roasted in-house, and the stacks of sourdough are second-to-none. There’s a wealth of storecupboard provisions and decent wines, for when a double-shot macchiato isn’t quite punchy enough.
The Monocle Café
Opened on the rarefied Marylebone spine of Chiltern Street way back in 2013—and now a neighbour to hip Japanese gardening boutique Niwaki and Chiltern Firehouse—The Monocle Café is run by the magazine of the same name. It’s equally urbane: a teeny, Scando-Japanese bolthole, cupping Allpress beans (plus matcha lattes), and dishing up a wholesome array of egg sandos, Nordic crispbreads and Swedish buns with which to soak up the joe. Also decent, naturally, is the reading material casually strewn about the place.
Lumberjack is many things: an excellent post-Covid provisioners and natty wine store; purveyor of Camberwell’s finest blondies and grandiose cakes; emporia of artisanal craftware, artsy cards and even furniture. But, mostly, it’s the bustling, beloved hub for SE5’s best brews. Their go-to coffee comes from the Brixton roastery Assembly, and guest beans from UK names big and small (Caravan, Dark Arts, Round Hill, and so on). There’s a cosy basement to settle into if you’d prefer to hang out, plus a range of brewing equipment if you’d rather perfect your own specialty fix at home.
Red Lion Coffee Co
The logo of Kiwi émigré Chris McKie’s muted, light-filled New Cross coffee shop is a riff on Aesop’s fable The Lion and the Mouse—a parable concerned with mutual kindness and respect. It’s neatly reflected in the business’s ethos: from the Climpson & Sons beans in the grinders (a company, McKie explains, that shares Red Lion’s egalitarian outlook) to lighting rigs positioned to make the caffeine-starved punters (rather than the typically showy counter) the stars of the space. The SE14 shop is a beacon in this coffee-deficient part of town, but their real flagship is the steely City site, in Lime Street’s Scalpel building.
Campbell and Syme
Set just off East Finchley’s traffic-choked High Road is this outlet for fêted roasters Campbell & Syme. Founded by Joe Syme and his late mother, Patricia, after a formative coffee-centric trip to Portland, Oregon, the business has since adhered to two key tenets: offering an eclectic range of consistently high-quality drinks (made with beans bought from green producers with whom C&S have long-standing relationships) and a welcoming atmosphere. So it goes at his charming community café. Struggling to discern between your Chemex and your V60? They also run home-brewing workshops and espresso-focused tutorials.