In Search of a Good Cappuccino


—edit—kind of funny now, I more rarely drink cappuccino though it remains a good test, I tend towards flat whites and macchiatos and espressos on the whole—edit—(August 2010)

I finally learned to spell Cappuccino. I like espresso and other espresso-based drinks (especially macchiato) but cappuccino is the one I most often seek out – and it’s one of my main addictions. It’s also a good judge of the quality of a cafe. Thing is . . . I had so many bad ones. (edit – bad cappuccinos that is – not bad addictions!)

 From what I can tell, to make bad coffee you can use inferior beans, roast them badly, keep them too long before grinding, use dirty equipment, use  water the wrong temperature, under or over extract the coffee or over steam the milk. Of course there are many other variables that make each barista’s style unique but those are the main shortcomings. I’ve had so much bad coffee that I’ve recently been talking to great baristas and asking their advice about what goes wrong.

There are so many places where the coffee is still very poor. You’d think is coffee were your main business you’d work to make it the best you could and train your staff accordingly.

Phil’s top London cappuccino recommendations:

Monmouth Coffee
Regarded as the best in town: consistently excellent; my favourite until I found Kaffeine
(Covent Garden, London Bridge). Monmouth beans are great, but more recently Square Mile Beans are in the ascendancy.

Delightful coffee bar on Great Titchfield Street, a few blocks north of Oxford Street. My new favourite. Great, great coffee!
Kaffeine Blogpost

Dose Espresso
Nr Smithfield Market – Farringdon or Barbican tube with coffee lovingly made and the friendly service. The cappuccino was rich tasting (coffee from Square Mile ethically sourced roasters) and the milk was thick and creamy (organically farmed milk from Windmill foods in Bedfordshire). The design of the small store was refreshing and James is a barista of the top-class. Well worth a visit. follow dose_espresso on twitter

Flat White
A Flat White is an Antipodean drink. It’s a little like a latte with less steamed milk but it has some other quirky touches. This is a neat friendly place with great coffee. And it’s open on Sundays!
(Berwick Street, Soho)

The Milk Bar is the excellent sister coffee shop to the excellent Flat White. It’s in Bateman Street between Greek Street and Frith Street and has excellent coffee and very tasty breakfasts and light lunches.

Lantana Cafe is a funky place to hang out. Excellent coffee from Monmouth expertly made and reportedly fine food in the fascinating Charlotte Place/Charlotte Street/Goodge Street area. One of my current favourite places, they use their own special blend of Monmouth beans.

Bea’s of Blooomsbury has friendly staff and is a good place to hang out although on the weekend it’s hard to get a seat. The coffee is made from the wonderful Square Mile beans. The cakes are incredible. I do want to go back and try the food too. The place is on Theobalds Road near to Gray’s Inn Road – nearest tube is Holborn. The place is beautiful to look at with the open kitchen/bakery a nice feature.

Great place, lovely coffee (if not as great as the Monmouth/Flat White/Kaffeine axis) – almost branching out into a chain at the moment. Has a lot of Kiwi baristas who generally know a thing or ten about their coffee.
(Ganton St off Carnaby Street (&Kingly Court), Westfield Mall (White City)

Fernandez and Wells Excellent – especially now it uses Hasbean’s excellent beans. One of the best espressos in London. And try a stumpy!
Beak Street Soho

Nordic Bakery
Wonderful cinnamon rolls, very cool place, coffee is occasionally made over-hot but it’s good quality
Golden Square, near Piccadilly

Relatively unknown so you can always get a seat.

Art Gallery/Coffee Bar – opposite my work which has OK coffee-lovely people too and a relaxed vibe – has made my worklife a far more pleasurable experience. Coffee is variable, sometimes very good – depends who makes it.
Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey

The Pavilion Cafe in Victoria Park in Hackney is now also a very hip place with excellent food, cakes and Monmouth coffee – well made. Well worth a visit.

Princi is a lovely Milanese place in Wardour Street, Alan Yau’s latest venture. Rocco Princi is known as the Armani of bread in Milan and this place has top class pastries, bread, and food and is open from 7am to midnight. The coffee is just about decent.

Bar Italia is the place where it all started in London. It’s in Frith Street opposite Ronnie Scotts so popular with musicians. Prices are high but it is open all night. And it is 60 years old! I have found the coffee quite bitter though, it’s not a high grade coffee experience.

Caffe Vergnano was a welcome addition to Charing Cross Road a few years back but nowadays fails to live up to the esteem in which it holds itself.

Another excellent place is Wild and Wood on New Oxford Street near Tottenham Court Road and Holborn stations. Just a short walk from the central hustle and bustle but undiscovered enough to find a table outside the office lunchtimes. The coffee is from Monmouth and made with skill and care and they use only organic Jersey milk. The pastries are excellent.
Blog review

A particular favourite of mine is The Espresso Room in Great Ormond Street which purports to have the best coffee in Bloomsbury and I can’t argue with that. It was great coffee, lovingly made. I had a conversation with Ben, the owner, who is very knowledgeable about coffee and we discussed the idea of a London coffee map. Worth visiting this one if you’re in the area (Russell Square/Holborn) as it’s a bit hidden away.

Latest finds [some of these were 2010 additions]:

Exchange Coffee Stall, Lewisham Market First rate coffee using Monmouth beans and friendly, highly skilled people.

Tapped and Packed
“In addition to our espresso menu, we will be serving a variety of brewed single origin coffees to have in. Our coffees are supplied to us by our favourite London based artisan roasteries and are constantly changing as new crops come into the country.” – Fitzrovia – First Rate! Excellent filter coffee and a range of espresso based drinks. Wizards, scientists and artists of the coffee world work here

Caravan, Exmouth Market. I’m due to try this tomorrow. It’s guaranteed to be excellent as Neil from Exchange Coffee works there some days.

LJ Coffee in Soho – relaxing place, very friendly staff and great service. Very moreish Union Roasted coffee and great milkshakes – Winnett Street.

Present is where you’ll currently find 2009 UK and World Barista Champion Gwylim Davies and 2009 Swedish Barista Champion. This is open daily, inside a menswear shop and probably the best coffee in London. Look for the Goldern Horn Cigarette Company. Inside, Gwilym has the beautiful Nuova Simonelli piston espresso machine he won at the World Barista Championships. Gwilym recognised me and named me from my photo on the Internet – impressive stuff! He is a very friendly guy and we talked coffee for a long, long time. I had an incredibly rich and delicious macchiato made by Mattias Bjorklund, the 2009 Swedish Barista champion. Possibly the best coffee I’ve ever had. Gwillym and I talked like old friends and I’ve heard similar experiences from other people.

Climpson and Sons is named after the butchers shop previously on the location whose sign remains is very popular with locals. A sunny day was an ideal time to visit although the place was packed in the middle of a weekday afternoon.
The flat white I had was very good. This is a place that doesn’t rush, but takes its time to get things right. If I lived locally I’d be a regular.

Nude Espresso is found between Spitalfields and Brick Lane. they roast their own coffee and it does have it’s own distinct taste. I had a macchiato which couldn’t have been more different from Mattias’ but was very, very good in it’s own way.

Taste of Bitter Love is – a very friendly little cafe on Hackney Road towards Bethnal Green. The baking is excellent and the coffee made with love and attention using Square Mile beans which are becoming ubiquitous in East London (but they are excellent). The coffee was quite subtle in my cappuccino but the flavours were complex. I also enjoyed a peach crumble marscapone creation.

Taylor Street Baristas have three cafes now: two in the city and one in Richmond. I had an very good flat white at the Richmond Branch which is inside a wholefood store with inside and outside seating. It’s right next to the station, friendly staff and great attention to the barista’s art make it a great experience. The coffee I’ve had at their Liverpool Street branch was a cut above though, excellent.

Scootercaffe in Lower Marsh Road near Waterloo provided me with a lovely coffee from their vintage Faema machine on my visit. It’s a friendly, laid-back place with an unusual decor – you could spend ages checking out all the scooter and coffee related relics on the walls. Beans from Londinium. Another time the coffee was not well made though at all so it is variable.

Tina We Salute You is a friendly, fabulous place behind Dalston with a big communal table – beautifully made Square Mile Coffee. Lovely place.

Wiltons Coffee in Hackney is another fine place, hidden away in the residential side streets.

Pitch 42, Whitecross Market – fabulous, fabulous coffee made by Gwilym Davies alumni Jeremy Challender and Lee Hart. Friendly guys and some of the best Square Mile Coffee in London.

Please add your coffee recommendations in the comments. And don’t forget to tell the baristas how you want it made (which is admittedly hard for me as I’m English and subconsciously think that asking this might imply some kind of critique on their skills).

Next on my list to try are: Browns of Brockley and Brewed Boys stand

Video of Kaffeine as made by Kess Bohan

Video on Independent Coffee shops by Will Hide and Steve Wheen.

20 thoughts on “In Search of a Good Cappuccino

  1. Agree re both Camino and Gran Sasso as shrines to the Barrista’s art. The coffee shop in my local Waterstones does a superior cup of Geno’s but I’m more of an espresso dopio man myself though when I worked in Stockwell I developed a taste for Galao from any of the Portuguese cafes at the Brixton end of the Stockwell Road

    • Impressed with your knowledge of the Cally Road!

      Yes, I’d forgotten those lovely Portuguese Caffs – mostly full of people from Madeira. I used to use those when I used to rehearse regulary at a nearby studio and did a bit of music workshop work in the area. Galao mmm.

      There’s also the Austrian stylee. I’m quite fond of a Kleiner Bruner (similar to an expresso maccchiato) from Kipferl near Smithfield market which is an amazing Austrian deli/cafe. They also have a cafe inside Coram’s Field Childrens Playground near Russell Square but you need to be with a child to enter.

  2. Thanks for the recommendations Phil. I used it today while searching for a coffee place in Soho, I picked Fernandez&Wells and funny enough on my way there from Soho Sq. I took a little alley from Dean St. called St. Anne’s Court and to my astonishment there was a new branch of their coffee shop! The coffee is excellent, check it out, it’s 16a St.Anne’s Court, W1F 0BG. They’re not officially on the website yet as they only opened a month or so ago, it’s small mainly aiming to be an espresso bar with a few snacks available on the counter. This will be my second coffee spot after Princi’s. Take care and see you on Friday;)

  3. Aha! Peets is a very good chain in California but they always seem to make the coffee too hot. I found out here that if you ask for the cappuccino warm rather than hot it’s a very good cup of coffee.

  4. I had some great looking recommendations from Ben who runs the Espresso Bar in Great Ormond Street. As well as the aforementioned Monmouth and Flat White his favourites include:

    Milk Bar, Bateman St, Soho
    (sister coffee shop to the excellent Flat White

    Kaffeine, 66 Gt Titchfield St, Fitzrovia

    Taylor St Baristas, New St off Bishopsgate, Liverpool St

    Climpson and sons, Broadway Mkt Hackney

    Dose Espresso, Long Lane
    Nr Smithfield Market, highly recommended

    Gwilym’s carts, Whitecross St and Columbia Rd Flower Mkt

    Taste of Bitter Love, Hackney Road

    I also discovered the coffeeforums

    So the London coffee map is coming soon! I better act sharpish and try out all Ben’s recommendations asap!

  5. Thanks for the Coffee Forums UK plug Phil

    Tina We Salute You & Ginger and White are also great cafes in London

    We’re off to Nude Espresso on Sunday too – expect a review on on Sunday afternoon

  6. Wow, Kaffeine is yards away from my church. But not open on Sundays, alas!

    The wonderful Milk Bar is though and I visited today for a late breakfast after the 9:30 service.

    It’s located in Bateman Street between Greek Street where I play jazz and Frith Street home of the famous Ronnie Scotts. It’s the sister of Flat White another Sunday Soho fave.

    Apparently in New Zealand and Australia a milk bar is a term used to describe a corner shop you might pop to for milk.

    Milk Bar has friendly staff, lovely coffee, relaxed Soho style interior – not too posh!, and wonderful breakfasts and lunches. I had avocado and tomato on toast.


  7. The Milk Bar is a new fave – I’ll have to write it into the text soon.
    I’ve been past Kaffeine but only on Sundays when it’s closed and I’ve been past Taylor St but only on Saturday when it’s closed…argh!

    Nude Expresso near Brick Lane looked very nice on Saturday but I was already fully caffeinated so I’ll be back soon.

    Next up has to be Dose Expresso!

  8. I visited Dose Expresso on in Long Lane after wanting to for some time.
    Nr Smithfield Market – Farringdon or Barbican tube

    The coffee was lovingly made and the service was friendly. The cappuccino was rich tasting (coffee from Square Mile ethically sourced roasters) and the milk was thick and creamy (organically farmed milk from Windmill foods in Bedfordshire).

    The design of the small store was refreshing and James is a barista of the top-class. Well worth a visit.

    You can follow Dose on Twitter: @dose_espresso

  9. OK, finally made it to 2009 Time Out Number One Cafe Lantana in Charlotte Place off Goodge Street. This is one fascinating and vibrant area – an interesting looking Mexican place sits opposite; next door is a Vietnamese baguette shop and there’s a very funky frozen yoghurt shop around the corner.

    Lantana is a great place to hang out but as so often we experience with the independent coffee places, it was full when we visited so we got coffee to go. The coffee was made with care, skill and attention to detail and the service was friendly. I have heard the food here is great but we’d already eaten and it was all gone by then anyway.

    You could see how Kaffeine had been possibly influenced by the design of the place. Lantana is a relaxed and has great coffee (Monmouth beans) but Kaffeine had the better coffee on the day we visited. Much as Monmouth beans have a special place in my heart, Square Mile beans take the biscuit rignt now . Lantana still has great coffee though and we’ll definitely be back.

    Lovely place!

  10. Emailed Ben at Sourcedmarket St Pancras who tells me that there was an issue over the Christmas period and before of employing a lot of new staff which caused a dip in coffee standards. Since then, all staff have been trained at Monmouth though and the Monmouth beans and great eats make this the best place in St Pancras by far. But see below.

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