According to the British Coffee Association, the UK drinks 65 million cups of coffee a day. London’s long love affair with the humble coffee shop has hit a new peak over the last couple of years as the country’s obsession with bean to brew grows.
Coffee in the city
While the UK certainly doesn’t have as strong a coffee tradition as the Italians, and British people drink way less of it than the Finnish, London has always had a healthy fascination with coffee. The first stall to sell coffee in the capital was opened in 1652 by a Greek who had discovered a taste for it in Turkey. Soon coffee houses were springing up all over town and acted as social sites where you could discuss the latest news and novels (which had just been invented) and talk about the politics of the day. Think of them as the Twitter stream of the 17th century.
Coffee was thought to stimulate wittiness and intelligence, and coffee shops became hubs for clever conversations and forming social bonds. By the 18th century – when the first cup cost a penny and refills were free – the city had over 500 coffee houses. Londoners were hooked.
The hipster coffee shop
The rise in the independent coffee shop coincides with the rise in beards, plaid shirts and an intense love of crafts. London’s coffee shops, especially the east, are awash with stripped wood and cacti collections as expansive as their complicated menus. There are masterclasses in coffee making and discussing single origins whose attendants bear similarities to the newly monied wine snobs from the 80s. Latte art is a thing. There’s even a coffee festival.
There seems to be no end to the UK’s love for a cup of Joe – the British Coffee Association reckons 16% of us visit a coffee shop every day, and a whopping 80% of us pop in once a week.
So if you’re in London, where do you start? The London Coffee Guide has reviewed 215 of the best independent coffee shops in London (there are hundreds more mediocre venues that aren’t mentioned). In keeping with millennial trends, some double up as bike shops. And you’re never far away from a truly local blend: London is also home to seemingly endless roasteries who will do the hard grind for you, including Square Mile Roasters in the City, and Federation in Brixton. From cafés in loos to coffee bars in record stores, there’s nowhere in London you can’t stick a coffee grinder to get people in the door.