A Look Inside London’s Coffee Culture

From the 17th-century “penny universities” to today’s modern cafés, London’s coffee culture has been percolating for a number of years.
 

Origin Coffee, photo by Julie Murphy

Although London is typically associated with tea-drinking, it’s the thriving coffee scene that has perked up this city. According to the British Coffee Association, UK residents now consume 95 million cups of coffee per day, and, last year, more than 31,000 people attended the annual London Coffee Festival—which this year runs from March 28 to 31.

The UK’s obsession with coffee goes back further than you’d think, with the first English coffeehouse established in Oxford in 1650. Others followed and were soon dubbed “penny universities” (a penny being the cost for a cup of joe), attracting scholars and ordinary men who would gather to discuss and debate politics and philosophy.

By the end of the 18th century, interest in coffee—and its distinctive accompanying culture—began to wane, in part, thanks to the rise of the tea trade. The black, bitter drink was shelved until its sudden resurgence in the mid- to late-1990s, when the number of UK coffee shops increased by an astounding 847 per cent.

Coffee culture in London is now more artisanal than academic, with an emphasis placed on high-quality, locally roasted beans and picture-perfect latte art. Award-winning roasting companies such as Square Mile, Caravan and Monmouth have placed London firmly on the map as a destination for specialty coffee.

A dramatic boom in independent coffee shops opening in the mid-2000s also shaped London’s café culture into what it is today: a smorgasbord of global influences reflecting the city’s diverse inhabitants. From American- and Scandinavian-style filter coffee, to the Spanish cortado and Italian espresso, Londoners are spoilt for caffeine choices.

Arguably, though, the most profound effect on London’s coffee scene in recent years are the imports from Australia and New Zealand. In 2005, Flat White Soho introduced the first flat white to the city. Since then, Aussie and Kiwi-run cafés and roasteries, such as Lantana Cafe, Nude Espresso and Ozone Coffee, have flourished in East London, where people flock on weekends for great coffee and brunches. It’s clear the capital’s enthusiasm for specialty coffee has created a demand that won’t slow anytime soon.

3 Cafés to Visit in London

1. Attendant, Fitzrovia

Step into a restored Victorian lavatory to sip a cortado among the original urinals at this quirky Fitzrovia café. Breakfast offerings range from almond milk porridge to bacon rolls.

the-attendant.com

2. Tina We Salute You, Dalston

Champions of high-quality coffee, Tina We Salute You gained a cult following when it opened in 2009. A second branch, in the former 2012 Olympics Athletes’ Village, has the same commitment to delicious coffee with the addition of cocktails and real ales.

tinawesaluteyou.com

3. Origin Coffee, Southwark

This stunning café, with its terrazzo worktops and minimalist interiors, is tucked under a railway arch in Southwark. Origin hosts Specialty Coffee Association training courses and serves coffee from its own roastery.

origincoffee.co.uk

[This story appears in the March 2019 issue of WestJet Magazine]

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