Compared to other areas of London, East London might be considered a little rougher around the edges. And while there is some truth to this reputation, it overlooks the amazing culture and thriving life that can be found in this part of the capital. In terms of character, food and drink it can’t be bettered, and nothing demonstrates this more than the gorgeous range of tea and coffee shops that can be found scattered around the area.
Nestled amongst the curry houses, pop up stores and galleries of the vibrant Brick Lane, Kahaila is a snug wooden cocoon of delicious smells. Its homespun, distressed wood interiors match the simple but generous food and drink offered, sourced from local suppliers. Kahaila is also a hub of the local art scene, with a featured artists displayed and for sale in the shop and a wide range of artistic events. These include alcohol-free dance parties, art launches, cinema clubs and regular BYOB music, spoken word and poetry nights. And it’s all fairly guilt free, the coffeeshop is a charity so all profits are channelled back into the local community.
Embedded deep within the Shoreditch scene but surpassing any and all competitors in the area, this busy corner coffeeshop has a great atmosphere and even better coffee. Despite the name, it’s Allpress Espresso’s filter brews (coming from a varying selection of beans) that are more worth savouring, but the espressos are, predictably enough, well worth a visit themselves. When customers visit this light-filled venue they’ll find friendly staff, a relaxed ambience and great baked or sandwich food options as well as the drinks. No wonder that the place is full right up until it closes its doors for the night.
As well as coffee Shoreditch Grind offers excellent paninis (all made from the freshest organic ingredients), tea and coffee-based cocktails, a loyalty card scheme and merchandise in the form of a Shoreditch Grind Keep Cup. But that’s not all, a pulsing part of the Shoreditch music scene, this Espresso shop is also actually a state-of-the-art and uniquely designed recording studio, as well as a licensed bar by night. A place with so many identities could be jarring, but Shoreditch Grind manages to maintain its vibrant character and style through its high-quality output, music and beverages.
Back in 2005 when Climpson & Sons was established, coffee wasn’t quite the thing in London that it is today. That all changed with the city’s ‘third wave’ coffee revolution, and this pioneering venue is rightly seen as one of the guiding forces behind that movement. One for hardcore coffee enthusiasts as well as ordinary punters, the dedication with which they concentrate on developing their brewing processes is only matched by the great taste of the beans themselves (helpfully delineated by strength and how they are made on a blackboard inside).This wood-lined, no-frills establishment can be found just off Broadway market, so on a Saturday you can take in some artisan food stalls and folk busking before you enjoy your cup.
The slightly soulless arcade where Taylor Street Baristas is found belies the frisson of bohemian character that it’s managed to hold on to. Eccentric decor and dark wood flooring (with large windows for more light) help with this, as well as the medium light roasted espresso blend that stays just on the right side of darkness. Staff are geekily well-informed of their beans, and there are bi-monthly cycles of wall-mounted artworks that help show off the work of new or lesser known artists. And if the Taylor Street experience puts customers in a coffee-making mood themselves, they’re in luck, the shop offers an intensive 3-hour barista course involving coffee tasting, espresso fundamentals, equipment handling and milk foaming.
Apart from having a brilliant name, this venue also offers its own brand of coffee, and espresso courses for those looking to learn a little caffeine magic. A renovated and remodelled ironmongers, Department of Coffee and Social Affairs was put together via a collaboration by designers, artists and coffee professionals to build a social hub for anyone who lives and works nearby with a love of good coffee. Knowledgeable staff, plenty of room and a good selection of cakes make this more than a social service.
These artisan craft-roasters do everything by hand, from baking bread to bagging coffee beans, and it comes out through the delicious food and drink they have for sale. Claiming to have the most advanced barista training scheme in the country, the staff at Nude are highly skilled and knowledgeable, and a surprising amount of work goes into making a cup of coffee here, all done on location. And if you’re hungry, let them tempt you with fresh delights such as homemade cupcakes, brownies, white chocolate and banana muffins and feta and spinach scones.
Another Brick lane entry, Full Stop’s unassuming exterior, retro fittings and relaxed, cosy atmosphere add a bit of a change of pace to many of the establishments you might stop at on the rest of the way. Any customer could spend hours, if not days sinking into a squashy armchair with a delicious cup of this venue’s coffee in one hand and home-made cakes or sandwiches in the other. It’s a bit of a local hub too, hosting regular quizzes and, recently, a cider festival including music from folk bands. It is, however, a little on the snug side, so larger groups might do well to plan ahead.
A major hit with office workers, since its opening two years ago, Ozone has gone from strength to strength. This can be a downside, as the street-level floor can get a little crowded, but if customers head down to the largely unfurnished basement (incidentally where the beans are tasted) they’re in better luck of finding somewhere to sit. Once customers do find somewhere to rest their weary bodies, they’re in for great coffee and culinary delights, including ‘slow-brew’ specials like Kenyan peaberry. The food is also great, from eggs Benedict to Bucatini pasta with Merguez sausage, shredded zucchini, Chilli & garlic. All that and a great wine list too.
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Cafe, British, $$$
Towpath is a need-to-know operation. But customers who find their way to this unique setting on Regent’s Canal towpath are in for a treat. Families of swans, coots and waterfowl provide peaceful entertainment as bikes and walkers whisk past the battered old furniture and enticing food and drink. The coffee is less fancy and artisanal than some places in the East, but it’s still a great cup and is accompanied by an array of delicious cakes (olive oil and lemon comes highly recommended). Still, it’s the setting that is truly special here, the only issue is having the willpower to leave it.