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In London, there are some gorgeous areas that are reserved for small, independent shops. The beauty of this is that you get areas where various concepts can be explored with the same vigor and imagination as in pop-up shop format. Now, before bicycles, vinyl and thick-rimmed glasses, coffee was associated with books, bookworms and academics with a voracious appetite for both books and food! A stone’s throw from the British Museum is a book/coffee shop that seeks to revive the sacrosanct connection between reading and caffeine.

The London Review Bookshop is worth an article in of itself, but unfortunately this is not within my remit. Needless to say, the marriage of words and beverage is a welcome one to a student and coffee fiend. The London Review Cake Shop is actually an oasis for both tea and coffee lovers alike, with a wonderful selection of different teas that I wish I knew more about than I do. The food is simple, and yet originally thought out, with simple lunch options, as well as indulgent cakes, which are produced for occasions as well as eaten by casual diners. My lunch consisted of a bacon baguette with salad and a maple mayonnaise. The crispy bacon and crispy lettuce balanced the chewy baguette well, and the flavours were sweet, sour and salty all at once. But I wasn’t about to leave the London Review Cake Shop without trying the cake! To follow my baguette, I enjoyed a rather lovely carrot cake (with plenty of icing to let you forget you’re eating vegetables). It was moist, sweet with just the slightest hint of crunch that you expect from a quality carrot cake.

The room itself is quite cramped, especially as this is a real destination for small groups looking to lunch together. However, the bright and wood-bedecked interior makes up for this, and the close quarters don’t encroach too much on the experience. Slightly confusing is whether it’s table service or not, but we were assured by the waitress that it was table service. However, I did get up a couple of times to ask for things because it felt easier.

The coffees are all written on a blackboard, and there was no flat white, so I opted for a latte. It was well-made, and I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. Monmouth espresso was being used, and I think that’s the natural choice for this coffee shop. The Monmouth espresso in milk is very sweet and compliments cake well. The likelihood is that their customers have a sweet tooth, and Monmouth cater well to that. The coffee I had started slightly bitter, which had me worried, but it was followed up by the full flowing taste of a Monmouth coffee. Plenty of body, and plenty of flavour. The Monmouth blend is not shy, but nor is it obnoxious.

Many coffee shops are cool to come to on your own. But this is certainly a place to catch up with friends. It’s ironic that even though the London Review Cake Shop is attached to the London Review Book Shop, I would probably not find it congenial to studying. But somehow that’s besides the point. The focus of the London Review Cake Shop is not on coffee, but they certainly make a good one. They understand coffee as something that can accentuate the experience of books, or the experience of cakes, and that’s okay. Conversely, I pair my coffee with cake, but the coffee always comes first. And that’s okay too.

 

Notes
London Review Cake Shop
@lrbshop
Monmouth

 

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I made the resolution to try out some of the other Tapped and Packed shops after leaving the Rathbone shop with a good impression. This is very belated, but there was another good reason for returning to TAP — they’ve now dropped Has Bean in favour of their own roast. Bold move.

The Tottenham Court Road shop is natural. A trunk of a tree sits in the middle of the room (acting as a table for sugar and napkins, and other things that a coffee drinker doesn’t concern themselves with). Weathered wood plays a big role in the shop, and making you forget that one of London’s busiest roads is bustling outside. An oasis of coffee, a sea of calm in the heart of the city.

The filter coffee served is all through V60. The first one I tried was a Kenya. A wonderfully sweet and bright Kenya, fresh and fruity. The finish to the coffee is slightly salty, but otherwise very clean. It’s not a complex cup, as the barista admitted, but it has some nice flavour, and leaves you with an overall easy swill. I was definitely impressed by this first try of the new TAP roasting. It’s a difficult venture to master, especially when there are so many good roasters already in London, but TAP are making an admirable charge into the roasting industry. Without wanting to make an undue judgement on their quality though, I tried a second cup.

The second cup was a Guatamalen coffee (that I got for free through TAP’s marvellous loyalty cards) was not as flavourful as the first, but it was complex and presented a significant challenge to the taste buds. The marmelade tones in particular were difficult to find in the depth of the cup, but rewarding when I did. This was definitely a coffee which improved as it cooled. The cooling effect is variable with coffees, but often it’s worth leaving a coffee for a few minutes to see how the flavour improves with time.

I can only see TAP’s own roasted coffee improving over time, and their first batch made me want to try it again. The shop itself is a wonderful example of how speciality coffee can sit opposite high street stores and flourish.

Notes

Tapped and Packed

@Tapcoffee
My review of TAP Rathbone Place

I get more excited by coffee things now. This morning, on the train up to London, I got inappropriately excited at a tweet I saw from @StoreStEspresso saying that they were stocking Coffee Collective coffee. Regular readers will know that I am half-Danish, and studying Scandinavian Studies, so the prospect of trying coffee from the most prominent roaster to come out of Copenhagen was enough to get my taste buds oscillating.

I’ve already written a post about Store Street Espresso, my most visited coffee shop in London. But this is about Coffee Collective, especially as their bags are a rare sight in the UK. The coffee is directly traded, and they adhere to all the hallmarks of a great roaster: single origin filter, small batch roasting etc. But the proof is in the pudding as they say, and my appreciation of them so far has only been theoretical.

First of all, a nod to the Store Street baristas. The consistency in their coffee is excellent, even at busy times. The Coffee Collective guest pourover they have is Columbia El Dissarollo. Light and complex, the coffee’s flavours are subtle and requires searching from the tongue. Straight away is a light sherbet flavour, this was then followed by a drier and less obvious Earl Grey note. The finish is clean and gives the drinker time to identify all the flavours in the complex body of the coffee.

It’s impossible to judge a roaster on just one cup of coffee, but if I were to judge based on this cup, the marks would be high. This coffee was bold in its quietness, which showed a trust in the drinker to be able to appreciate the deeper aspects of the coffee. The El Dissarollo impressed me, and if the Coffee Collective achieve this quality of coffee consistently, then they could well stand up with the best of London coffee. Coffee Collective is at Store Street for a limited time, so catch it before it’s gone.

Notes
Coffee Collective
@CoffeeCollectif
Store Street Espresso
@StoreStEspresso

Every now and again, I think that a coffee shop can’t surprise me, hubris overtakes and I think I have nothing left to learn. The coffee gods’ way of putting me in my place is by revealing a coffee shop that shifts paradigms and breaks concepts. Prufrock on Leather Lane is one such coffee shop.

Why rhapsody in this way? At this stage, it’s not enough to just produce good coffee, and good food is an interesting, but unnecessary aside. Something that makes Prufrock stand out as a coffee shop is its overarching concept. It has been designed from the ground up with one thing in mind: coffee. The first thing that struck me upon entering was the space. I had just previously been enjoying a wonderful coffee in a much smaller space, and walking into Prufrock was like standing in the centre of a football pitch. The room itself is fairly big, but this is compounded by the minimal amount of tables and chairs, and further accentuated by the brightness and cleanliness of the shop.

But the concept builds past mere decor, into the very structure of the room. Whilst coffee paraphernalia (everything from on-sale V60s to vintage roasters) line much of the walls, a good proportion of it is dedicated to space for the baristas to practise their alchemy. A customised Simonelli brings art to the front counter, whilst the rest of the workspace is taken up by various pieces of brewing equipment. Aeropresses, Woodnecks and chemexes are scattered around in organised chaos and an Uber boiler (tap with temp control and scales, especially designed for making filter coffee) majestically awaits. Prufrock is a temple to coffee.

And as such, the coffee was blessed. Naturally, Square Mile is used, and I firstly tried the Deri Kochi, through V60. It was a clean taste with a slightly unusual flavour too. The real magic came when the barista brought it over, poured a little in the cup and started to explain the flavours to me and the roaster it had come from. This was one of the paradigm-changers: barista as sommelier. Ready to explain and support your journey; a sort of midwife to flavour experiences. The second coffee I had was through a woodsock: a modern take on a traditional cloth filter, served in a beautiful chemex-like carafe. The flavour here was very clear. A nice easy start, but with a very potent spice present. Tasting like nutmeg perhaps. A little late for Christmas, but extremely complex nonetheless.

The Michelin guide awards two stars to somewhere that is ‘worth a detour’ and three stars to a restaurant that is ‘worth a special trip’. There is no Michelin guide for coffee, but I have no trouble recommending Prufrock as worth a special trip. For the coffee lover, a visit to Prufrock is not so much a trip as a pilgrimage.

 

Notes

Prufrock Coffee
@PrufrockCoffee
Square Mile
@SquareMile

This is not a review. When I started this blog, I never envisioned myself ‘reviewing’ places, and still feel uncomfortable with the term. I prefer coffee experiences. And visiting the London School of Coffee was definitely an experience. The day itself was hosted by Origin roasters, who are a Cornwall-based roaster who are passionate about coffee and really look after their clients.

The day itself was split into two parts (morning and afternoon), where the morning was a talk about where coffee comes from and the evening was practical experience with the espresso machines. The School itself is really just a room kitted out with top of the range coffee making equipment. For the geeks out there, there was a La Marzocco, a San Remo and a Simonelli, as well as top of the range grinders. Holding the walls up are posters of all sorts of coffee-related charts, including tasting profiles and maps of coffee regions.

The talk went into detail about direct trade and fairtrade and the differences between them. Going through the different modes of preparation of the beans and how they are harvested is fascinating when you also consider how these can change the flavour of the finished article. It also makes it easier to understand why major coffee conglomerates are so dull: the coffee for these chains is roasted so darkly that it all tastes the same. Consistency is more important than quality. The talk went into a lot of detail about the pre-cup journey; detail that I can’t go into here without sacrificing brevity.

After that, we were given a hands-on demonstration of how to make the perfect cup of espresso-based coffee. From how to adjust the grinder to the right coarseness (something that can change regularly, even for the same beans) to how to texture milk without burning it, this went through all the stages of making a coffee in detail. Even those with a lot of experience had something to learn here and it was very fun to be able to pull shots and waste milk without a care. Though old habits of conserving milk die hard.

Of course, my hands were shaking from all the caffeine by the end of the day.

After the session had formally ended, we had a short session of experimenting with the aeropress. The new Origin Capucas (Honduras) coffee was what we were playing with to try and get the right weight to brew time ratio. I.e., how to get the best flavour out of the beans by finding out the best amount of coffee for the aeropress, and the optimum time for the water to be infused with the coffee. This can be a bit of a painstaking experiment, as it needs to be done for each new coffee that leaves the roasters. This was absolute coffee geekery, and I loved it.

 

Notes

London School of Coffee
Origin Coffee
@OriginCoffee

The coffee lover that reads these pages will have noticed the absence of a very significant word: ‘Monmouth‘. This has been of continuing consternation to me as I have been giving too much attention to Square Mile and Has Bean; both world-leading roasters in their own right. In addition, my professional dignity has been continually bruised by not including enough coffee shops south of Oxford Street. But this review ticks both boxes.

Fleet River Bakery is a wonderfully rustic and bright coffee shop where everything just screams ‘Breakfast’. With pastries that are both filling and tasty, and significantly more seating than most shops, it is no surprise that the queues can stretch some way through the shop. In most shops Pain au Chocolat is a bit of a tidbit, not enough to set this growing boy going for the day. However in Fleet River Bakery the pastry is substantial, and more than enough to tide you over to your midday graze.

The coffee shop doesn’t do any filters, something which initially disappointed me. But in retrospect, espresso based coffee is possibly the best choice for the breakfasts they serve, more reminiscent of a continental menu than your normal espresso bar in London. And on first sip of the flat white, I understood the approach entirely: the Monmouth espresso is so sweet. It could have had a syrup in it… but some sort of syrup that brings out the taste of the coffee. I don’t know how to describe this coffee rather than to say you’ve got to have it. The barista served it perfectly, with a swan woven into the art. If espresso is your thing, then this blend is just exquisite. The most enjoyable flat white I have had in a long time.

I don’t really know what else to say, other than this would be a regular of mine if I was closer. Meeting someone for breakfast in Holborn area? You would struggle to do better than this. Oh, and did I mention you can get free toast? Well, at least I think it was free…

Notes
Monmouth Coffee
@FleetRiver
Fleet River Bakery

Tapped and Packed (TAP) is a name that dominates coffee north of Oxford Street. With two stores in a relatively untapped area of central London, this was a name that I heard immediately upon asking of good coffee near the Universities. The irony is, Tapped and Packed on Rathbone Place has no exterior indication of its name, and so is easy to slip past unless you know what you’re looking for. The elegant and minimalist shopfront is carried out through the whole shop, which is quintessentially narrow and long. During busy periods, it can be difficult to get a seat, but it is usually quite a plausible hope.

The food at Tapped and Packed is very good, and goes above what is expected of a coffee shop of this size. Substantial sandwiches and cakey objects are available for the hungry, and these are of a high quality. The sandwiches I have tried came in baguettes, with a good amount of filling and sauce, giving moisture and zest to the sandwich.

The coffee used is Has Bean, and filter coffee is celebrated here. Three filters are currently on offer (an Ethiopian, Kenyan and Costa Rican) and all of them are very finely brewed. The Costa Rican is a very rough flavour, and may have been slightly overbrewed as well. But when I had the Ethiopian, it was superb, and rounded, with well-balanced flavour. The current seasonal espresso is also very powerful, and was perfectly extracted in my flat white, thereby cutting through the milk. Coffee is well-respected (as can be heard in the Australasian accents that almost exclusively occupy the espresso machine).

I still have yet to try the other Tapped and Packed shops, and will leave off my final judgement of the group until I’ve been there. But this is a place that I can go back to, and with a loyalty card that rewards after 6 drinks, I can go back again and again and again.

Notes
TAP website
Tapped and Packed blog
@tapcoffee
Has Bean Roaster