An explosion of independent artisan coffee shops has transformed London's drinking habits. Coffee connoisseurs once faced an arid landscape upon arrival, with less than a handful of specialist coffee shops to choose from.
Over the past seven years, however, there's been a complete transformation in the city's café scene. Tasting notes and bean origins have become accepted topics of conversation as new roasteries and cafés across London dedicated themselves to the scientific approach to coffee.
It likely began with James Hoffmann, widely regarded as the godfather of London's coffee revolution (though he balks at the label). He won the World Barista Championships in 2007, and a year later co-founded Square Mile Roasters in the super hip neighbourhood of Dalston.
"When we set up Square Mile we would train and support anyone that wanted help," he recalls, "even though there were staggeringly few people who cared about coffee here at that time. We wanted to bring together all the coffee people in London – so we started doing tasting events. We'd contact our favourite roasteries from around the world, sell tickets, give the money to charity and do blind tastings of five different espressos."
Even though Square Mile's tasting nights could accommodate only 50 or 60 drinkers at a time, those events turned lone enthusiasts into London's fledgling artisan coffee community. Square Mile now supplies more than 100 independent coffee shops across Britain.
"When you have a community, people start talking. Instead of one crazy person talking about coffee quality you suddenly had a coherent group explaining why it's worth drinking better coffee. The media started giving it more credence and coffee started gaining momentum," Hoffmann says.
It wasn't just coffee quality that was overdue for a change from the dark ages. The classic coffee-shop experience was in dire need of improvement, too. Peter Dore-Smith opened Kaffeine in 2009 wanting to emulate the café culture he'd grown up with in his native Australia.
"When we started, people seemed happy to be served a good coffee," he explains, "with good food, in an atmospheric venue with polite, efficient and friendly service. Now they expect it. And so they should!"
By 2010 London's coffee scene had changed so dramatically that Starbucks UK put a flat white, the signifier of a passionate independent, on its menu. Rather than the Starbucks shift being the beginning of the end, increased awareness of coffee heralded the arrival of the next wave of independents – awave that shows little sign of slowing. The 2011 edition of the London Coffee Guide highlighted 100 cafés. The 2015 edition features 185 (londoncoffeeguide.com).
Londoners don't rest on their laurels. Which means coffee shops are still opening and moving forward, investigating new techniques and products. So much so, any flavour profiles listed here would almost certainly have changed by the time you arrive. Next time you're in town, stop in at these six essential stops for the caffeinated Londoner.
Once a subterranean Victorian gents' toilet, the Attendant is a triumph of visionary thinking and creative interior design. Counters have been installed around the original porcelain urinals, while baristas are happy to educate customers about carefully selected microbatch roasts. "At rush hours people will be queuing up the stairs," explains head barista Edgar Silputnins. "Although once a month a confused man will come in expecting an actual toilet." 27a Foley Street, the-attendant.com
Hoffmann describes Kaffeine as "one of the most inspiring cafés in London" and it's easy to see why. Superbly located, with consistently friendly staff, it's an oasis for serious coffeephiles. For $12 (£6) visitors can sample their tasting flight, featuring an espresso, a flat white and a cold-brewed cascara tea (using the flesh of the coffee fruit rather than the bean). It has great snacks, too. 66 Great Titchfield St., kaffeine.co.uk
One of the original independents, Flat White has been a London institution since it opened in 2005. The shop is named after the Australian specialty, and Russell Crowe is a regular customer when he's in London, along with a blend of Soho market traders, office workers and hipsters. "This was always where the baristas went," recalls current barista Harry Stevenson. "They would play Nirvana at two in the afternoon and bash out really good coffee." 17 Berwick St., flatwhitesoho.co.uk
You know you're in a temple of coffee moments after stepping into East London's Prufrock. Considered by many to be London's best café, its spacious interior is a perpetual hive of coffee-related activity. Home of the Prufrock Café & Training Centre, they take coffee extremely seriously here. In the unlikely event it's too busy to get a seat, the excellent (and superbly named) Department of Coffee and Social Affairs is a 30-second walk from its front door. 23-25 Leather Lane, prufrockcoffee.com
The first thing you'll notice when visiting tiny Dose is they don't do flat whites, cappuccinos or lattes; just espresso with steamed milk of various sizes. The no BS approach can be directly attributed to its owner, New Zealand import James Philips, who prefers to focus on friendly staff and superb coffee. "We're a place for coffee geeks," he insists. "From day one we focused on customer service. It was simple because in London the bar was so low!" 70 Long Lane, dose-espresso.com
The undisputed champion of London's couldn't-be-hipper Shoreditch neighbourhood, Nude is the perfect blend of buzz, friendliness and great coffee. Unlike other cafés on this list, Nude gives drinkers the choice of its famous East espresso blend or a fruitier guest espresso. Either way, you'll know your beans are in safe hands. The roastery is literally across the road. 26 Hanbury St., nudeespresso.com