London’s great coffee moment has come

“The British capital won’t be a coffee capital,” I wrote in April 2009, “until the taste for excessively milky coffees recedes and the best coffee shops look beyond espresso to filter- and siphon-brewed coffees. I’d also like to see more coffee shops sourcing and roasting their own beans.”

One year on, those conditions have been met and the wishes of the growing legion of local cafenatics has been granted: London’s great coffee moment has come.

First, London’s best baristas are successfully weaning coffee-diluting delusionists off their morning bowls of warm milk to richer espresso drinks in progressively darker shades of brown. The 4-step programme advances from latte to flat white to cortado (aka gibraltar) to macchiato to espresso. The national chains have taken notice. Costa launched a flat white in January with great fanfare, not so much by improving the quality of its coffee, predictably, but rather through a campaign of hypeThe search for the perfect coffee will soon be over with the arrival of the Flat White to Costa.

Secondly, the number of great London coffee shops which roast their own beans has increased by 50 percent. Nude Espresso has joined Monmouth Coffee and Climpson & Sons in this select group. Others tempted to do the same should by inspired by the recent opening of Caravan, the first restaurant in the UK to roast its own coffee.

Thirdly, filter coffee is at last a brewing trend. Tapped & Packed, a superb new coffee shop and espresso bar in Fitzrovia, Central London, showcases 3 of the best methods for preparing filter coffee – Aeropress, pour over (cone filter) and the attention-grabbing siphon, a two-chambered vacuum coffee pot that resembles some glass apparatus in a mad scientist’s lab. The new location of Taylor St Baristas in the City of London adds a 4th method, French press (cafetière). Even Gwilym Davies, a Londoner whose espresso-making skills won him the World Barista Championship, is brewing lowtech coffees through either an Aeropress or a pour-over cone.

Beyond these developments is the coffee buzz I am both feeling on the streets of East London and Soho and seeing overseas. In London you see new indie coffee shops opening all the time. In New York or Los Angeles you might spot the dragon logo for the influential London roaster Square Mile either on the company’s stickers or, sometimes, a bag of its beans acquired through transatlantic trades. (Baristas don’t exchange shirts, as footballers do. They swap coffee beans.) Tell an American coffee geek you’re from London and he or she will ask you if you’ve ever had a coffee made by Gwilym, whose reign lasts another two months. He’ll part with his title in June at the 2010 World Barista Championship, to be held in that great new coffee capital, London.

About Daniel

Food critic and events leader Daniel Young is the "Young" behind young&foodish


  1. Hi Dan, just heard your excellent interview on Radio 4’s ‘Food Programme’ I imagine it will be on Listen Again for those that may have missed it. One of the most interesting programmes I’ve heard on coffee.

  2. Likewise – I’ll look out for “Flat White” – I thought your contribution to the “Food Programme” was excellent. Interested to hear your views on Nespresso – the programme was clearly suggesting it is far superior to Dolce Gusto – I realise neither could meet the standards you aim for, but if I got a machine it would be Nespresso – Fleur seems pretty happy with it (with reservations)…

  3. Great comment on the radio 4 programe is there any where you can purchase these great coffees outwith London and good internet suppliers . for home use

  4. Max – I highly commend two internet sources for coffee in the UK: Has Bean Coffee and Square Mile Coffee.

  5. latte to flat white to cortado (aka gibraltar) to macchiato to espresso.

    Would make a good moo card. What is a cortado?

  6. I’m new to your blog but you talk a lot of coffee sense….

    I love a good cortado and during a trip to Northern Spain last summer was introduced to the Cafe Cortado Con Hielo which is an Espresso cut with a small amount of warm milk and sugar and served to you with a glass of ice. Once the sugar has dissolved you pour it the over ice cubes mmmmm.

  7. Enjoyed you on R4 yesterday!

  8. Really interesting feature about coffee on R4 Food Programme led me to your site. Then visited first ever farmer’s market in Dubai and met people who run a boutique roastery, the Raw Coffee Company in the UAE. Able to talk like I knew something about it!

  9. Adam Smith says:

    I’m really not convinced on the Aero-press vs ‘French Press/Cafetierre’ – yes I read the blurb on the link above but all I can glean from this is that

    1. The filter is at the top of the FP vs bottom of AP
    2. This means it makes it harder to clean

    The rest of the explanation gives some rather non-specific and rather tenuous differences – FP needs ‘coarse coffee’ therefore you can’t get as much flavour (surface area etc), or that you get ‘bits’ through a FP filter vs the ‘micro filter’ on an Aeropress.

    I’m not convinced just by the Logic of it – seems a but like emporer’s new clothes here.

    Water is still pushed through coffee via a filter into a cup.

    The fact it is a ‘microfilter’ (whatever that actually means – as you can get fine filters in FP depending on which you buy), it is pushed down (the fact that the ‘gizmo’ uses air instead of err…the filter of a FP to push the water through) – really am I missing something or is this marketing guff?

  10. The trend towards brewed coffee is an interesting one. Apparently Penny University (the new Square Mile coffee shop) will exclusively offer brewed coffee.

    The North American market is predominantly focused around brewed coffee, so is in a better position to support this type of outlet – it remains to be seen whether this will be the same in the UK. I, for one, hope it’s a trend that continues.

  11. Oh, how I miss cortados!

    Can anyone tell me where to get a cortado in London. Preferably a really decent one? I’m Australian, which means I’ve been astonished by how terrible the coffee is in London.



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