As an American expat in London, I was pleased when the Seattle Coffee Co. opened a couple of London locations in the late 1990s. Before that, coffee sat on the burner for hours at take-away sandwich shops. Fifteen years later, London's coffee scene has enjoyed an artisan evolution.
To find the best coffees in London, all you have to do is follow your nose. "One of the things people love about coffee is the smell, it should be aromatically pleasing," says James Hoffman from Square Mile Coffee Roasters. Hoffman trained Englishman Gwilym Rhys Davies, who won the World Barista Championship in 2009. However, with some of the British, "there is still an acceptance of very badly made coffee," he adds. So get out your tube pass, follow your nose, and sip your way around the best independent coffee houses near top attractions in central London.
Monmouth Coffee Company, Borough Market
Benches for sharing are beyond popular on a Saturday morning at the Borough Market. Monmouth Coffee is delivered daily from its roasting plant in nearby Bermondsey. The company sources beans from single farms and cooperatives, Jersey milk from a Somerset farm and organic whole cane sugar from Costa Rica. There's also a very tiny shop in Covent Garden. Tube: Borough Market.
Montparnasse Café, Kensington
Tucked away one block behind Kensington High Street in a corner of one of the city's oldest residential squares, Montparnasse Café is Paris transplanted. Practice your French, perch on a rattan chair on the front pavement, and try the best almond croissant this side of the English Channel — all just a five minute walk from Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. Tube: High Street Kensington or Gloucester Road.
Tapped & Packed, Fitzrovia
Two sister locations for Tapped & Packed are worth the 10 minute walk from the British Museum in Bloomsbury. Discerning coffee drinkers can choose from a range of artisan roasts brewed by cafetière, siphon, or Aeropress. A $12,000 Florentine machine lovingly produces espresso while you watch the world go by from big picture windows. Tube: Warren Street or Goodge Street or Tottenham Court Road.
Notes, West End
Stumble across two locations for a coffee break in Trafalgar Square or Covent Garden. At Notes they spend an hour a day caring for their top-of-the-range La Strada equipment by La Marzocco, machines that cost a whopping $20,000. Another hour goes into morning adjustments for optimum weight, volume and grind size. Square Mile Coffee Roasters blends the beans. Tube: Charing Cross, Leicester Square, or Covent Garden.
Flat White and Milkbar, Soho
Just behind the glittering West End theater marquees, prowl Berwick Market and stop in here. Discover a haven for Australia and New Zealand expats, Soho locals and tourists in the know. Flat White and its sister, Milkbar, have Square Mile Coffee Roaster blends from El Salvador, Brazil and Sumatra. Tube: Tottenham Court Road or Piccadilly Circus.
by Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Top: A man enjoys a cup of coffee in a cafe in Soho, in the City of Westminster, London. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Right: English barista Gwilym Davies composing his signature drink at the 2009 World Barista Championship in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Liz Clayton via Wikimedia Commons)