When you think London, instincts would cause you to believe the beloved morning tea is the only decent beverage around. Maybe Queen Elizabeth hasn’t quite changed her ways, but with more than 13 million people, and as one of the most culturally rich and diverse cities on this planet, the Brits hold their own when it comes to coffee.
Like it is in the States, coffee is fairly communal in London. It serves as an icebreaker, a morning starter, and like any good hobby, there are those who truly have honed their craft.
Traveling with my sister and brother-in-law, as well as my coffee-crazed-self, one, two – even the gluttonous third and fourth cup – are never unrealistic for us.
The scene itself is slightly different though here in London. A black cup of coffee is definitely an option at any shop, but the popular Chemex, and various Pourovers that cause the eyes of connoisseurs in the US to glaze over, aren’t necessarily the leading sellers.
So what does sell? They call it a Flat White – imagine a latte, but good. Sorry if I offended anyone, but there is no better way to put it. It’s more condensed, almost like a cappuccino, and it is roughly two parts espresso, one part milk.
It makes for a great blend. Insanely smooth, but not a Starbucks Frappuccino – I still have the dignity of drinking really good flavorful espresso, but I’m not spending 30 dollars on a traditional macchiato where I take two sips and poof – adios! I can take it to go and it sticks in my hand for four to five blocks, or I can throw it down the hatch quick enough to temporarily satisfy my – what doctors would call unhealthy – caffeine addiction.
Shops? It’s simple. They are nicer. Most notable thus far, Notes Coffee Roasters, the one in Sir Simon Milton Square near Buckingham Palace, and Coffee Island UK. I’m sure there are less appealing places somewhere, but I feel as if the average store is generally more enjoyable than its American counterpart.
The idea of community touched on earlier very heavily bleeds into the atmosphere created in most shops. It is seemingly more so the experience, than just the cup of coffee that is being purchased. Intentional lighting, music, and not just the same 40 songs shuffled daily, seating that isn’t so grunge and hipster that I no longer feel sanitary after getting up – catching on?
It might just be that I am still head over heels infatuated with this brilliant city, but I really do think that quote unquote, “chill vibe,” that everyone appears to be yearning for really has been accomplished. It’s how it looks to be, not always how it actually is sort of thing. A Kraft Single between two slices of Wonder bread is just a grilled cheese. But an elegantly prepared sandwich with a cheese that you can’t pronounce coating the interior of a bread somewhere from the south of France – now we’re talking Food Network status. So whether or not my taste buds are under some British witchcraft, I still think from bean to cup, the British folks are doing something right.
But to put this whole thing in perspective, my sister and brother-in-law both pleaded that I bring more Valiant with me, as they had run out of coffee beans at the home they are staying at in London. This can only mean one of two things – all of the coffee in London sucks, or this Valiant stuff is actually pretty good – I’ll let you decide.