When the good people at DRIVETRIBE review a car, they do so under no illusion that flat out performance is the only important attribute. And while there are times when speed, handling and acceleration are paramount, there are just as many times when an entirely different set of attributes are prioritised. Things like space, comfort and durability. As someone who spends far too much time in coffee shops, I’ve come to realise that any self-respecting coffee shop reviewer must make the same divisions.
Those seeking the absolute best brews in the city know where to find them; a quick google search will throw up a variety of places that roast in-house, have extremely skilled baristas or have a slightly different, unconventional espresso recipe. These are, to continue my poorly constructed analogy, the super coffee shops. Uncomfortable, overpriced, and focused on performance alone. They serve incredible coffee, but provide only cramped benches, and sacrifice seating space for brewing space behind the bar. Often, they focus on high-quantity takeaways rather than those drinking at a table. People wishing to stay for a little while find themselves crowded by a continual swarm of waiting customers. It’s only reasonable of the establishments: high repute wins them a lot of trade, and the only way to serve everyone coming through the door is to keep the traffic flowing. Examples of these super coffee shops are Climpson and Sons in Broadway Market, Monmouth Coffee on Monmouth street, Allpress on Redchurch Street and Nude Espresso near Brick Lane.
This article takes you through what I would describe as the SUVs of east London’s coffee shop scene. They don’t put performance over comfort, they’re not necessarily the coolest, and they don’t take themselves too seriously. They appeal to people who, like me, know that ‘going for a coffee’ is about far more than the liquid itself. They settle for someone else’s beans, a lower quantity of customers and a better focus on the other aspects of the coffee shop experience. Namely, table service, comfy chairs and a bit more space. With that, here are a few places which I choose not for their coffee quality (although all of them serve superb coffee, even if it isn’t tourist attraction good) but for other attributes, which make each one an excellent place to spend a lazy afternoon.
This coffee shop is enormous: it has a multitude of different areas with different seating styles. Those looking to work can take a table and chair and make use of the many plugs and free wifi; those looking to socialise can take a sofa or trendy 1970s armchair. Everything is spaced out amply, providing real contrast to the cramped, table-sharing norm of east London. With one side of the building being floor to ceiling glass, the light in this cafe is phenomenal, such that you ought to avoid a window seat in the summer months! It has such a unique feel; glass separates well-chosen vintage furniture sets from each other, and the hard, well-worn concrete floor is contrasted with the homeliness of full bookshelves. The staff are friendly and obliging, and the food and drinks are all very reasonably priced. They offer small plates of daal and soups to keep laptop warriors going, and their coffee is Climpson and Sons. This place is very popular with freelancers and students, as you really can stay all day nibbling on small plates. There's also a roof terrace, which is pretty cool.
E5 Roasthouse, Poplar
This one might be out of the way of many, but few coffee shops have a community feel comparable to the E5 Roasthouse. This is because E5 has successfully posited itself as a place for the community, as the host venue for the Poplar Union. There are numerous classes, band performances, open mic nights, mothers’ meetings, and group play sessions. Go here on any day of the week and you will be surrounded by hubbub and excitement. Honestly, it really warms your cockles. Whats more, they have an employee scheme aimed to help migrants and disadvantaged people, so the workers are a departure from your average middle class hipster barista. Of course, they still make amazing coffee, which, roasted in house, undergoes a regular change in beans to make every drink slightly different. Like Husk, this shop is glassy and bright, with a sense of openness created by huge windows, high ceilings, and views over a park. Their food is great, too. Go on a Sunday and you’ll be able to try their unbeatable roast, which, for only £8, bucks the trend for high prices and low quantities which is set by the majority of third wave coffee shops.
Barbour and Parlour, Shoreditch
This place isn't the easiest to find, as the building doubles as a cinema. Heading up the dark stairs just off Redchurch Street, it can feel a little like you’re in the wrong place, but you’re not. This is, in my view, a perfectly decorated coffee shop. Located in an old warehouse, light pours in through the huge, gridded windows onto the mix of coffee table books, plants and furniture. Again, space here is ample, although things are a little more tightly arranged than in the other two. There is so much to occupy oneself with looking at; bottles, boxes and books occupy the shelves, some of which are enormous, wooden and vintage and some of which are made of crates and pallets. Plush leather sofas fit neatly between chairs and tables, and a long bar selling coffee and alcoholic drinks lines the back wall. This is a loud room which seats lots of people, but it is a perfect place to watch the people of Shoreditch go about their business, socialising and meeting as drinks are ferried to and fro by waiting staff.
Barbour and Parlour
Kahaila Cafe, Brick Lane
The dimly lit opening to Kahaila means many walk past without so much as looking at the delicious cakes in the window, but venture inside and you’ll find a safe-haven from the mayhem of Brick Lane, especially on market day. The dark, woody tones in here make for a blissful place to relax while going about your business, and the bare-brick walls are made homely by the addition of artworks, all of which are by local artists and on sale. The furniture is a mixture of wonky benches, huge oak wooden tables and relatively conventional cafe furniture, so whether you want to sit up with a laptop, chat from a bench or lounge on the sofa you’re going to be happy. The coffee is amazing here. Their filter is probably my favourite in London, and is served in a glass jug. Kinda gimmicky I suppose, but I like that. The colourful characters of brick lane pass by the window as you sink back into your chair. This cafe is a registered charity and is run by a Christian organisation, which gives the place a certain friendliness which is tangible, even to non-religious folk like me. Also, if you’d like, you can join them for a variety of church activities and prayers throughout the week.