A while back our writer, Holly Atkins, wrote about impending motherhood – and the impact it might have on her south London independent café habit (never mind the impact it’s gonna have on the whole rest of her life). Specifically, she worried that the need for buggy space and changing tables would suck her into airy, well-equipped – but depressingly bland – chain coffee shops. So whether this guide to south London’s best little places to get a caffeine fix is her indy coffee swan song, or a forecast of where she’ll be hanging out as soon as she’s back on the hard stuff, time will tell. Meanwhile, we’d love to know what other coffee hounds make of Holly’s top five, which she talks us through below…
I love coffee. I’m horribly fussy about it, I blame Alessandro: I used to temp for a branding consultancy where it was my job to make coffee for clients from the Gaggia coffee machine (whilst simultaneously drinking as much coffee as I desired – heaven!) Alessandro was the twinkly, thick-accented Italian man from Illy who periodically dropped in to check that the machine was being cared for properly and the Illy beans being stored and treated with due reverence. Oh how I wanted to please him! He taught me that it’s possible to tell if a coffee machine is clean from the taste of an espresso. He developed my palate to such an extent that while on the one hand I felt like I’d been handed the secret keys to coffee heaven, on the other, I was aware that I was destined to be disappointed by most coffee in most coffee shops for the rest of my life.
Luckily for me, this isn’t the case as south London boasts a number of superb coffee shops run by people even more passionate about the black nectar than I am. As an added bonus, lots of them also serve cortados, my favourite kind of coffee. My mate Will moved to Barcelona a few years ago and introduced me to the cortado – it’s spanish for “cut” and consists of an espresso cut with an equal amount of steamed milk on a ratio of between 1:1 and 1:2. If you like espresso but sometimes find it a little bitter, or are tempted to put sugar in it then I encourage you to try a cortado – the milk adds a silky edge without masking the essential flavour of the coffee. Just the thing to perk you up mid morning/afternoon, without the sleep inducing qualities (or calories) of the latte.
So. Here are my favourite places to drink coffee (and I like to think Alessandro would approve too):
The coffee here has a deep rich flavour, is made with care and always on the strong side – no insipid looking lattes here. They also serve great cakes (including one really good one made with Guinness) and fantastic meals – with the place turning into a full restaurant in the evenings.
67 Peckham road SE5; open Tues-Fri from 8am, Sat and Sun from 10am
Federation blend and roast all their own coffee and it really shows – the coffee here has a deep, complex, nutty flavour. Absolutely delicious. Their Anzac biscuits (belying the owner’s Kiwi roots) and delicate French financiers (every day a different flavour) are also delicious.
Unit 77-78 Brixton Village Market SW9; open Mon-Fri from 8am, Sat and Sun from 9am
This popular tapas destination run by London’s chief importer of Spanish fare should serve a great cortado – and they don’t disappoint. Although most people stop here for a full meal, I quite often pop in on my way to the market and stand at the bar to enjoy a cortado.
18-20 Southwark street SE1; open Mon-Sat from 9am, Sun from 11am
Just around the corner from Brindisa, and opposite Brindisa’s deli, this was the second Monmouth coffee shop to open in London. All their coffee is roasted in Bermondsey and they only use organic Jersey milk from Somerset. There’s always a long queue at the weekend but it’s worth the wait – just stand in line enjoy the aromas!
2 Park street, The Borough SE1; open Mon-Sat from 7.30am
I discovered this latest addition to the Street Coffee empire (they also have branches on Brick Lane and Goswell road) by accident, after a friend and I went to see an exhibition at the White Cube on Bermondsey Street. The place has a lovely relaxed vibe and they make every kind of coffee (and hot chocolate) you could imagine; all their beans are organic and Fair Trade from Papua New Guinea. The cortado is smooth – not as flavoursome as some others on this list but a fine cup of coffee nonetheless.
163 Bermondsey street SE1; open Mon-Fri from 7am, Sat and Sun from 8am
Words: Holly Atkins. Main image: Kate Burt