The Great London Caffeinated Beverage Tour of 2011.
January 14, 2011 10:46 PM   Subscribe

What are some of the best tea- and coffee-houses to visit in London?

I will be spending about 4 days in London on an extended layover, starting the 21st. I've perused the London tags and I think I've found more than enough activities to keep me busy, but one of my favourite things to do while travelling is to find comfortable, laid-back places to sit and read or write while drinking some excellent coffee or tea. So ideal suggestions would be places with really good beverages and a comfortable, hang-around-for-hours sort of atmosphere, but recommendations of places that only fit one of the two criteria are welcome as well. (Postcard Teas was mentioned previously, and that's on the list, as is a possible visit to the afternoon tea at Brown's Hotel ... assuming the pocketbook and the travel wardrobe will accommodate it.)
posted by the luke parker fiasco to Travel & Transportation around London, England (18 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
This map of high-quality London coffee shops from the World Barista Championship is pretty great. I can personally recommend Fernandez & Wells (one of their locations is bigger than the others -- can't remember which one, unfortunately) and Flat White.
posted by shivohum at 11:27 PM on January 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Eurocheapo blog had a post about coffee places just yesterday. Haven't tried any of them, but their recommendations are usually spot on.
posted by janecr at 12:43 AM on January 15, 2011

I would commend you to take at least one stop on your tour to visit a good greasy spoon café or two - like one of these - you should be able to pick up an artery-clogging but delicious meal, in the traditional style, for about the same price as an amoretti in one of the posh places. Look for somewhere which has Formica and people in white vans as clientèle.
posted by rongorongo at 1:23 AM on January 15, 2011

Oh my. Do try the Fleet River Bakery nearest Holborn on Picadilly and Central. My brother studies there every day and absolutely loves it, and when I visited, it was, indeed, delightful.

My mother forgot her iced tea there as we went to lunch in the park and the barista actually tracked us down and brought it to us, about a 4 minute walk into the park. Lovely people, fantastic pastry and quiche, and good coffee and tea to boot.
posted by disillusioned at 1:50 AM on January 15, 2011

Also, they have a delightful downstairs where you can rather camp out, and said park is gorgeous and just across the way as well.
posted by disillusioned at 1:50 AM on January 15, 2011

it's not the most pleasant of environs (huge lines all the time) but Monmouth at Borough Market will give you both excellent coffee coffee and a chance to visit a truly great food market.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:16 AM on January 15, 2011

Lantana cafe near Goodge Street tube is wonderful. Also, London's best high street hot chocolate can, in my opinion, be found in any branch of Apostrophe
posted by ascullion at 3:29 AM on January 15, 2011

Yumchaa in Camden is a great tea shop: an enormous range of blends, homemade cake sold by the slab, comfortable place to sit and chat or read and no background music. As it's in Camden, it has a more young, indie air than the most tea shops you'll find.

It can be tricky to find; be sure not to confuse "Yumchaa" with Yum Cha (a dim sum chain) when looking at a map, which I recommend you do because the shop is poorly signed and easy to walk past. While you're there, you're only a few minutes' walk from chin chin labs, who make great icecream with liquid nitrogen and generally have some interesting custom flavours and toppings.
posted by metaBugs at 3:39 AM on January 15, 2011

Taylor Street Baristas gets my vote for best coffee. Their Bank location (Old Broad Street, #15 on the map shivohum linked to) has a decent seating area (other locations have few or no seats).
posted by K.P. at 4:20 AM on January 15, 2011

Lantana cafe near Goodge Street tube is wonderful.

2nding! It's actually a Melbourne-style cafe, run by Australians. Makes me feel very much at home.
posted by wingless_angel at 4:33 AM on January 15, 2011

It's quite modern, but Teasmith know their stuff.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:57 AM on January 15, 2011

Try to take in Higgins on Duke Street, London's oldest coffee house. Upstairs is a shop, and downstairs is a small coffee-and-tea bar with a couple of tables where the staff are very friendly. It's one of those secret places-- I've never known it crowded.

Bea's of Bloomsbury is also an amazing place, especially for baked goods.

I love my local tea shop, The Chelsea Teapot at the end of the King's Road. I don't know if it's a destination in itself, but if you're swanning about in Chelsea it's well worth stopping in. Proper looseleaf tea blends and delicious homemade cakes and sandwiches in a daintily decorated setting.

If you're going to Kew Gardens, The Kew Greenhouse is right on the walk between the Tube station and the garden gates. Perfect for mellowing out over all kinds of hot beverages and SERIOUS cake. Also, their macaroni and cheese is to die for.

Yumchaa is a really excellent teamaker with three London shops: two in Camden and one in Soho. They have exciting blends all across the tea spectrum: green, black, white, rooibos and herbal. I'm addicted to their Chai Red. If you're in Camden Market, that's the place to stop in for a moment of tranquillity amid the madness.

Speaking of moments of tranquillity, I can't fail to put in a plug for my favourite stall in Borough Food Market: East Teas. The owner sources his own teas from the Far East and, crucially, tests them all with London water before deciding to stock them. He's a very nice man, and generous with the tasting cups at his stall.

If you're going to have one budget-busting slap-up tea, Brown's is great but I personally prefer the Wolsley on Piccadilly (near Brown's.) The only downside is that it's a restaurant setting, rather than a hotel with comfy sofas. But their afternoon tea is only £21 compared with Browns' £38, and the food is top-notch.

...And now I'm really hungry. Thanks. ;)
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:17 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd add a couple of things: TeaSmith is indeed excellent, but their bar setup doesn't necessarily encourage relaxation or lingering. Yumchaa, by contrast, have free wi-fi in all their shops and are happy to top your pot up with hot water.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:20 AM on January 15, 2011

Seconding Bea's of Bloomsbury, which is just around the corner from the superb coffee at the Espresso Room, which doesn't however, have a great atmosphere -- though you can take their coffee to lovely little Queen Square. The Fleet River Bakery is also a few minutes away. Orange Pekoe, in leafy, wealthy Barnes, has my favourite tea and cream tea in London.

If I were to go to one coffee and one tea shop in London, it would be the Espresso Room and Orange Pekoe. Second would be Bea's. Third would be Lantana and the Fleet.
posted by tavegyl at 6:34 AM on January 15, 2011

I haven't been here that long, so there's a lot I haven't explored, but I do take coffee pretty seriously. I can recommend Nude Espresso on Hanbury St. (on the map shivohum linked to, very near Brick Lane and Sptialfields Market) as being somewhere you can actually sit and read or write, and also having pretty nice (if expensive) coffee. Lots of moleskines last time I was there. Unfortunately lot of the best coffee in town is from places without a lot of seating: Prufrock is a bar at the front of a clothing store in Shoreditch, Monmouth is in a busy market, my favourite coffee guys are actually a cart on Whitecross St.

If you like tea and cake, the London Review of Books Cakeshop is attached to their bookstore on Bury St near the British Museum, and is small so you can't always get a seat, but their cake is really good and they won't hassle you, though you will often be sitting right next to someone's conversation.
posted by SoftRain at 6:44 AM on January 15, 2011

Seconding Taylor Street Baristas, also Taste of Bitter Love and Climpson & Sons in Hackney, and Wood & Wild near the Holborn station. If you can catch Gwilym Davies' cart at the Columbia Road market you will be pleased.

Unfortunately, it differs widely on the day whether you'll be able to hang out for a bit or if it's too busy. Generally I've been able to get in a few sketches or a spot of reading.
posted by a halcyon day at 6:57 AM on January 15, 2011

Thirding Bea's of Bloomsbury. In fact, I went to their new shop at One New Change (new shopping centre opposite St Paul's Cathedral) just yesterday, and had awesome cake. The view of St Paul's dome from the rooftop terrace is also pretty great.

It's unlikely that your travels will take you to the wastelands of Fish Island in Hackney, but if they do, you should check out the Counter Cafe: a bright spot with terrific coffee, warm Antipodean hospitality, and tasty Anzac biscuits.
posted by hot soup girl at 7:59 AM on January 15, 2011

Two near Seven Dials (Covent Garden/Theatreland sort of area):

Canela isn't a tea room, it's a Brazilian café. But it's worth coming here for the spice teas (cinnamon, ginger or lemongrass) because you get actual fresh ginger root, cinnamon sticks, etc. infused in boiling water. Their Portuguese coffee is also widely praised.

Souk Medina is likewise not a tea house but a Moroccan restaurant. However, it is open until all hours and they're happy for you to stagger in late at night and just have mint tea and maybe some baklava. I normally sit in the entrance passageway where it's not too loud.
(This is actual Moroccan-style mint tea, i.e. insanely sweet and served in a brass teapot with little glasses. They probably also do coffee, but I haven't tried it.)
posted by Pallas Athena at 10:06 AM on January 15, 2011

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