East London Indie Cafes Provide Offbeat Caffeine Fix

There was a time not so long ago when London coffee was something to bemoan. As Starbucks and Costa’s began to dominate the high street, the British foretold of a future of identikit corporate café chains pushing out any hope of an independent coffee culture. Soon the only hope of a real espresso would be to fly to Italy. But somehow it didn’t happen. The naysayers were proved wrong, or perhaps some of them got up and did something about it, and now the city is booming with specialist independent coffee shops, notably in Hackney.


Of course, it is part of this rediscovered appreciation for the small scale, handcrafted and high quality across every category from fashion to food. Monmouth Coffee paved the way, followed by Square Mile, and such was the demand for this superior brew that the best British restaurants began to boast of stocking their coffee. Soho’s Flat White soon had people queuing around the block, one of the first to import Antipodean coffee culture, and a dedicated core of coffee fanatics grew.


Now the term barista is part of our vocabulary, with the status of sommelier or chef – someone with unique expertise in caffeinating the country. Talk of water hardness, provenance, timing and a whole host of variables that most of us know nothing about are discussed in cuppings and festivals around the city. What is widely acknowledged however, is that this is now a city for coffee lovers like never before. 


This Hackney café may seem out of the way, but perhaps that is what has made it consistently deliver from the excellent menu of seasonal international food to the Square Mile coffee. They source produce as locally as possible, with meat from The Rare Breed Meat Company and craft beer from London-based Camden Town Lager and The Kernal Pale Ale. You can expect anything from Vietnamese sandwich with spiced pork and pickled vegetables to lamb, pistachio and orange blossom kofte with beetroot borani. The space is cosy and relaxed with old school chairs huddled around tables, art on the walls and books for sale on the shelves with occasional live events in the basement room.

Recommended for East London's Best Independent Coffee Shops because: With Square Mile coffee, this is a relaxed local café where you can expect an excellent espresso after an excellent meal.

Tyler's expert tip: Located on Morning Lane, this is an area of Hackney quickly in the process of gentrification, and Railroad was one of the first to turn the tide.

Read more about Railroad →

Ever since the Haggerston Railway station opened, this corner of Hackney has blossomed with restaurants such as Duke's Brew & Cue opening up. The Haggerston Espresso Rooms or HER as it calls itself, is now where the locals come for the Climpson & Sons coffee, satisfying the demand for a serious coffee shop in the area. With a glass wall looking on busy Kingsland Road, the small room is packed with school desks, comfy sofas and mismatched chairs with the feel of a common room. There's free wifi, a friendly atmosphere and a small bookshelf for those without the compulsory Mac accessory.

Recommended for East London's Best Independent Coffee Shops because: This café is an example of the specialist coffee shop trend spreading to even small neighbourhoods, such is the demand for a flat white.

Tyler's expert tip: They're famed for their Sexy Toast – thick cut brioche bread slathered with cream cheese, honey and cinnamon – and their banana bread, dripping with butter.

Read more about Haggerston Espresso Room →

46B Espresso Hut was the dream venture of couple Eva and Dominic, a Greek fashion designer and artist. Eva was a barista for eight years, and it shows. They are studious about their coffee here, and it is the best you'll find in the area hailing from independent Square Mile Coffee Roasters. They serve up a small selection of baked goods and sandwiches, each made fresh on the spot with affection using local produce where possible. They're happy to improvise if nothing suits your tastes. It's a tiny spot with simple décor – blackboards, old mirrors, nice books for sale and lots of wood. There are a few outdoor tables in summer, and always a sociable vibe.

Recommended for East London's Best Independent Coffee Shops because: They stock multi-award winning Square Mile Coffee, an East London roastery, and are adorably pocket-sized.

Tyler's expert tip: While here pick up a jar of London Borough of Jam preserves to take home. Home made, delicious and award-winning.

Read more about 46B Espresso Hut →


Based on Old Street roundabout, this corner coffee bar is a saving grace for many in the area. The cinema-style sign out front often lightens up the morning commute with some innuendo or other on display, enticing many in to refuel. Don't let the tongue-in-cheek attitude fool you though; they take their coffee seriously, they just don't see the need to get all pretentious about it. They have basic menu of baked goods, sandwiches and soups, as well as a fully licensed bar with after work coffee turning to an after work cocktails. The space is light and simple, with outdoor picnic tables in summer and an upstairs recording studio just to up the cool ante.

Recommended for East London's Best Independent Coffee Shops because: Their espresso blend is roasted exclusively for them to precise specifications, so you won't taste coffee like this elsewhere.

Tyler's expert tip: By day go for a slice of carrot cake with your coffee, but an espresso martini is the order of the night.

Read more about The Shoreditch Grind →

The queues around the block testify to the quality of the coffee here. Started by a pair of Aussie brothers, they wanted to bring much-needed decent coffee to London, and in that they succeeded. They use Union Hand Roasted beans, one of the best roasteries around, and train their baristas rigorously. Now with six branches, the empire is spreading over London, yet it has kept true to its original coffee values. The Liverpool Street branch is a no nonsense outlet designed for the local workers. Come for a takeout caffeine hit before visiting the local markets in the area. They also stock sandwiches, quesadillas and the usual baked goods.

Recommended for East London's Best Independent Coffee Shops because: The sign says, 'For serious coffee drinkers' and they mean it. The Rogue Espresso is made of coffees that are in season, re-blended throughout the year.

Tyler's expert tip: There are no branches on Taylor Street, unless you're in Sydney, where the owners once lived together.

Read more about Taylor St Baristas →

This Antipodean café and roastery is in that typical stripped-back Shoreditch style with exposed brickwork and weathered tables, packed full of Old Street office workers. It's comfy too though, with booths to shimmy into, pot plants and big windows to watch the world go by. The large espresso bar wraps around the coffee station so you can watch the baristas at work. They offer single origin coffees through a range of brewing methods and blends. Roasted on site, you can see the roaster from the stairwell in the lower floor of the café, surrounded by sacks of the green beans. They're just as serious about their food though, with baked goods freshly made on site every morning (taste tested by front of house staff) and locally sourced, sustainable products in the changing menu.

Recommended for East London's Best Independent Coffee Shops because: This NZ roastery began as an initiative to help the coffee workers on plantations in Guatemala and El Salvador, and remains true to its roots.

Tyler's expert tip: They also hot cupping (coffee tasting) sessions in the downstairs rooms, as well as private dining functions.

Read more about Ozone Coffee Roasters →

Broadway market is bursting with cafes, but Climpson & Sons is widely acknowledged as one of the greats. Restaurants around the neighbourhood will boast of stocking Climpson coffee. This is where 'hipster Hackney' come for their coffee, and you'll get the fashion types, tattooed foodies, the fixie-riding laptop wielding cool crowd all queuing for the serious coffee. They also stock flaky pastries, warming porridge and other breakfast and lunch munchies. Sometimes service can be a little slow, some of the baristas adopting a studied nonchalance, but who's in a hurry? Sit at the counter, or get one of the pavement pews and watch the Broadway Market show reel.

Recommended for East London's Best Independent Coffee Shops because: The speciality grade coffee comes from beans roasted just around the corner, and is stocked in cafes throughout Hackney.

Tyler's expert tip: On Saturdays, Broadway Market is packed with food stalls and kooky products from vintage tea cups to retro baby clothes. Expect a wait.

Read more about Climpson & Sons →

Headed up by former World Barista champion Gwilym Davies, this is the mecca for coffee nerds from around the globe. The spacious, bright and bustling Leather Lane café is also home to the London Barista Resource and Training Centre with tons of equipment for coffee creation. The results are as perfect and professional as it gets in London, and star baristas often come and take a turn behind the bar at cuppings. They have an in-house baker too – order the banana bread or cheesecake for a real treat. And coffee paraphernalia and geeky goods are available for purchase. It may be pricier than some places here, but coffee connoisseurs say it's worth it.

Recommended for East London's Best Independent Coffee Shops because: The Leather Lane café is also the London Barista Resource and Training Centre, with more than 2000sqft offering tastings, training and events.

Tyler's expert tip: The loft like space has plenty of seating room, a rarity in London coffee shops.

Read more about Prufock →

The city's leading micro-roastery, Londoners can discuss the merits of Nude coffee at length. Roasted around the corner from the Brick Lane café, they personally source their beans from around the globe, with an eye for quality that hasn't waned over the years. All the food is prepared fresh daily made from seasonal produce using locally sourced ingredients where possible, with delicious home baked goods. The menu is short yet always has some satisfying treats like toasted banana bread or warm falafel wrap. They can sell out of the best dishes by the end of the lunch rush. There is a second cafe in Soho Square, as well.

Recommended for East London's Best Independent Coffee Shops because: Nude Espresso won the Independent Café of the Year award, 2013, from the Café Society.

Tyler's expert tip: Hardcore coffee fans should try the signature 'east' espresso blend, aged for seven days, for an intense coffee hit.

Read more about Nude Espresso Roastery →

They select the highest-grade Arabica beans, use innovative roasting techniques and train up their baristas to expert level; that's the philosophy they bring to all their roastery cafés in Australia and New Zealand, and now London. Located on Redchurch Street, arguably one of the coolest streets in London, the incredibly popular corner venue is filled with light and happy caffeine addicts, right up until they're booted out at closing time. They serve perfectly prepared rich and deep espresso, as well as single origin filter brews. Headed up by chef Tony Papas, they have a simple yet delicious selection of gourmet artisan sandwiches, breakfast dishes and canteen-style lunch. The atmosphere is leisurely and warm, easy to wile away a few spare hours.

Recommended for East London's Best Independent Coffee Shops because: This frequently tops lists of coffee roasters in London, and their breakfasts are just as worth stopping in for.

Tyler's expert tip: You can watch the roaster in action, and purchase freshly roasted blends and single origin coffees to brew at home.

Read more about Allpress Espresso Roastery →


Meet Tyler Wetherall

Tyler Wetherall is a freelance writer specialising in travel, food & drink, covering topics as varied as narcs in the Colombian jungle to cocktail drinking in Cuba. Tyler has lived in London...  More About Tyler