by Anya Lawrence
For a city that rarely sleeps, it's no wonder that London's coffee shop scene is booming. Gone with the dominance of generic international chains, the emphasis is no longer just on the convenience of grabbing a freshly brewed cup from an insignificant cafe. From coffee shops boasting beautiful bespoke interiors and inventive design concepts to those championing ethical sourcing, there's something to suit every taste. Being inclined to a delicious caffeine fix ourselves, we set about London to find some of the most exceptional locales from among the capital's constantly evolving selection.
Look Mum No Hands
Nestled in between Clerkenwell and Shoreditch, Look Mum No Hands is the perfect mix of coffee and cycling—part cafe, part bike workshop. Set up by three friends whose mutual love of Bradley Wiggins and cappuccinos made creating a destination that combined the two an obvious project, the cafe has since become a hub for cycling enthusiasts, design lovers and avid coffee drinkers alike. Coffee comes from Square Mile, because as Look Mum No Hands rather pragmatically put it, “They're dedicated to quality, they're down the road and we like them.” The shop's interior is truly a cyclist's paradise. Racing bikes line the windows of the airy, open-plan space and typography comes from creative masterminds OPX. Workshops and events, including Italian dinner pop-ups and cycle speed-dating, are also regulars here, and it goes without saying that Look Mum No Hands will put on a great party in their backyard for this year's Tour de France.
Ace Hotel, Shoreditch
American design-savvy Ace Hotel first opened its London home in Shoreditch back in the autumn of 2013, marking the boutique's debut on British soil. Ace's dedication to providing exceptional coffee in beautifully designed spaces has always been something the brand has taken seriously. London is no different and, wanting to keep things local, Ace has also teamed up with Shoreditch-based roasters Square Mile to provide impeccably brewed coffee in their buzzy hotel lobby. Seating caffeine-hungry customers along a lengthy wooden table, the space attracts a healthy mix of working creatives, traveling entrepreneurs and style-conscious tourists. Don't be guilty of keeping your head down though, the Ace Hotel is an excellent people-watching spot.
Workshop Coffee Co.
For ethical bastions Workshop, their commitment to providing Londoners with the very finest coffee goes far beyond the skilled hands of the barista. Sourcing, roasting and brewing have all been meticulously tried, tested and then perfected since first opening their Clerkenwell doors in 2011. The team has already made six sourcing trips in 2014 to Rwanda, El Salvador and Guatemala, and pledge to spend up to 60 days each and every year traveling the world to source the very best coffee beans while nurturing loyal relationships with native growers. That's not to say that all this time spent sourcing means a lax design aesthetic—the interior of Workshop, with its exposed brickwork, solid wooden counters and rustic tabletops, is distinctly beautiful.
With workspaces in Central London coming few and far between, Timberyard takes its inspiration straight from America's surge in work-friendly cafes, and has quickly paved a reputation as a hub for London's freelance creatives. With spacious tables, fast WiFi and a bold mismatch of vintage furniture, customers are actively encouraged to stay as long as they want, but it's not all about ambience. Both the coffee (Jabberwocky espresso blend from Has Bean) and tea (Cardiff-based Waterloo Tea) are brewed to perfection and the fresh pastries stacked high on the countertops are simply delectable. The real art however comes in the presentation: everything is served on simple wooden tiles, miniature glass bottles hold the milk and if you are a tea drinker, this is where the real theatrics start. With infuser teapots and a digital timer ensuring perfect temperature and brew times, it may make you feel like the ultimate tea snob, but it sure does taste good.
Coffee shop by day and cocktail bar by night, Shoreditch Grind is the epitome of hip. Perched on the edge of Old Street's infamous Silicon Roundabout, the coffee shop is a hit with the local creative and tech scenes (you'll see a fair share of tortoiseshell glasses and bears). The illuminated signage with classic 1930s cinema lettering provides witty one-liners to passersby—usually something along the lines of “sex, coffee and rock'n'roll”—and sets the tone for the laid-back atmosphere within. Even more, Shoreditch Grind prides itself on using their very own blend of coffee and their caffeine-dominated cocktail list is sharply inspired by their daytime existence.
The Wilton Way Café
Tucked just a stone’s throw away from London Fields, The Wilton Way Café is a hub for the area’s burgeoning artistic community. Home to London Fields Radio, a unique local station at the cutting edge of London’s independent radio scene, as well as serving as a tiny community gallery for local artists to showcase their work, the cafe has quickly established itself as a London Fields essential. Everything at Wiltons is kept local. Coffee comes from Broadway Market regulars Climpson & Sons, cakes are from fellow Wilton Way residents Violet Cakes and even the duo behind the cafe’s interior design, The Dog & Wardrobe, are just down the road. The cafe’s rustic charm is a result of the motley collection of modern and classic furniture, and with all radio shows being broadcast from the corner of the small room, the cafe offers the perfect place to meet, or simply listen in and watch such an interesting part of the world go by.
Word of Mouth presents a destination the way we experienced it. Following both trusted tips and our own whims we explore with the goal of finding what's unique to that place. For deeper looks at some of our favorite metropolises, check out our CH City Guides.
Workshop image courtesy of Leo Bieber, Timberyard image courtesy of Andrew Moore, all other images courtesy of respective venues