“Morning, Anna,” says Gunter, the owner, barista and chocolate brownie maker extraordinaire at my local coffee shop, the aptly named My Coffee Stop.
“Morning!” I reply, throwing myself onto one of the squishy chairs next to another customer who’s leafing through one of the books from the shelves. There are tons of books lining the walls of the small shop and they’re free, with a little donation of whatever you want to give to local charity Chickenshed Theatre.
“The usual?” asks Gunter, fishing out the soya milk.
“Yep, and thanks for the Twitter tip about the trains being late,” I say.
“Aah no problem. I’ve got something for you,” he says pulling out a book. ‘101 Things for the Housewife to do, 1949,’ reads the cover. “You’ll need that now,” he says before turning to the other customers and saying: “She’s getting married you know.”
After a good ten minutes discussing marriage with people I’ve never met before in my life and laughing at a particular section in the book which shows how to prevent a double chin with an odd looking massage, everyone heads off to get their train, coffee in hand.
A little while back it seemed that these kind of places just couldn’t exist any more. With the corporate chains steamrolling out little independent family-owned coffee shops, many struggled to survive against the Walmarts of the coffee world. But many have survived and more than that, they’ve thrived in this fairly recent ‘coffee culture’ that Brits have embraced. As I see more springing up, I love the fact that in the last ten years London has evolved into a town – as mentioned by the NY Times earlier this year – where coffee giant super-chains and small family run cafes can co-exist so peacefully.
Drawing on simple things like supporting local initiatives, sourcing produce locally, and coupling good, honest customer service with excellent coffee, tea and snacks, the indies strike a chord with customers that the chains just cannot do.
Don’t get my wrong, I love my Starbucks with its free wi-fi and redcups and the fact that it’s possibly one of the most handy haunts for a freelancer to park up for hours on end. I also love Coffee Republic’s Oreo hot chocolate on a naughty day. But, while I may have dalliances with the chains, my heart belongs to a few well placed coffee shops in London.
While this list is by no means exhaustive and there are tons more, here are five of my personal favourites:
Location: Berwick Street, Soho
Why so special? The famous flat white, a stronger, Antipodean coffee claimed by those down under to be the king of coffees. Most people who visit Flat White will agree and the always-busy shop tends to draw in media people from far and wide (it is Soho, after all). Go here for cakes, food and of course, the flat white. Order any other type of coffee and it’s like ordering a salad from McDonalds – just plain wrong.
Location: Covent Garden, Borough and Bermondsey
Why so special? The coffee. From roasting in their Covent Garden basement in I978 to selling it to coffee lovers nowadays, Monmouth have added local pastries and fresh cream truffles to their offering. Forget anything else, Monmouth is just pure quality.
Fernandez and Wells
Location: Beak Street (Café), St Anne’s Court (Espresso Bar)
Why so special? Rustic, authentic, fresh and all served with a Fernandez and Wells smile. For me the icing on the cake is the fact that they use Poilane bread, from Paris’ most famous traditional bakery, and the bread of choice for a number of chefs including Ramsay.
The Camden Coffee House
Location: Camden Road, Camden
Why so special? Filling a giant good-coffee-house shaped hole in Camden, The Camden Coffee House appeared in mid 2009. Apart from great coffee and a lovely atmosphere, what I love about this place is the fact the owner (the one who makes all the coffees) really cares about coffee, and whether his customers what he has to offer. Free wi-fi, too – massive bonus for me and little laptop. This indie’s got ambitions though, with a second coffee house already opened in Croydon and plans to open four more within three years.
Tina, we salute you
Location: King Henry’s walk, Dalston
Why so special? By default Londoners hate each other. So what does this random little place in Dalston do? Sticks us on communal tables of course. Tina, we salute you boasts freshly made cakes, good coffee (another Aussie inspired one so the flat whites are top notch), absolutely lovely loose leaf tea and best of all a great atmosphere. They invite local artists to come over and give the place a makeover regularly and also have the fabulous idea of storing your loyalty cards so you don’t end up, like me, with lots of loyalty cards at home from the same place with just one stamp on each.
My Coffee Stop
Location: Enfield Chase Station, London (barely)
Why so special? My Coffee Stop is the perfect antidote to a wintry Monday morning.
If you’ve got a favourite indie coffee shop you want to shout about, please let us know!
As published on Groupon