Flat Whites in SE23

So this started out as a bit of a lockdown project, an excuse to get some daily exercise while supporting local coffee shops. The plan was to go to every coffee shop is SE23 and try to objectively rank the quality of their ‘default’ flat white offering on taste and texture alone.

The initial methodology saw me sample two coffee shops per excursion, aiming to determine the better of the two and so over time come up with an overall ranking of the best using a loose bubble sort. To begin with I was building a list I hoped even the famed coffee consultant James Hoffman could admire. But then it started to go wrong.

The problem is that there are a lot of variables in coffee, and a shop that makes it good or badly one day may be different later. Particularly the time of visit and the Batista could greatly change the quality of the drink that was made. Coffee beans and milk are also natural products and can vary, but also the taste-buds I was using to test the coffee could be inconsistent and affected by weather and my mood.

So what I’ve come up with is a vaguely ordered list of most coffee shops that do reasonable coffee in SE23. I might have missed some, or had a coffee bad enough that I didn’t consider it worthy of listing, so like bad coffee, take it all with a pinch of salt. Each entry has been sampled multiple times, and the ones at the top are the most consistent.

But before we get on to that, here are some observations about good coffee outlets:

1. Latte art is a good sign, but it isn’t everything.
Tulips, hearts, feathers and ferns may look pretty, but they don’t guarantee a good tasting coffee. They are an indicator that the Batista has however been trained and made enough coffee that they should know what they are doing.
Tip: refuse a plastic lid on your coffee so you can appreciate the art and get more aroma while sipping.

2. The equipment is important.
A La Marzocco machine (hand built in Florence, you know) is a good sign the shop is serious about coffee and going to make it good. Similarly a Victoria Arduino grinder is another standout bit of kit that should raise the hopes of great coffee. Neither can guarantee a good serving however.

3. Own brand beans are suspicious.
As one of the fundamental ingredients of coffee beans are pretty important. I don’t think there are any ‘bad’ roasteries, but I’m always suspicious of venues that have their own branded beans that can’t be attributed to a known roastery - that’s generally a bad sign.

4. Dairy alternatives.
I’m still on the moo juice, and while it’s almost unheard of for a coffee shop not to offer a non-dairy milk alternative, shops that present more options tend to make better coffee too.

5. Selling coffee equipment.
Some coffee shops also sell V60 drippers, filter papers, or aero-presses and other equipment. This is generally a good sign that the shop knows what is up to and takes coffee seriously.

And so, onto the list of flat whites - ‘prizes’ to the first three.

:trophy: St David

This is the most consistent coffee shop, open 8am to 2pm every day and having never made me a bad flat white in lots of visits. They use digital scales to weigh the dose before brewing and seem to have a small set of staff that all make coffee to a high standard. Rumor is that the great James Hoffman has visited and approved the shop himself (they do sell his coffee after all).

It’s also possibly the most expensive flat white in SE23, but take your KeepCup for a small discount.

:trophy: No 41 Coffee & Kitchen

Friendly and almost as consistent as St David, here they use Origin coffee which I think is about as good as Square Mile. They are related to The Espresso Cartel by Catford Bridge and it’s clear that coffee runs in their family. Their coffee is also very reasonably priced.

:star: Rise

A lovely cafe with a side-focus on burgers, this is a little less consistent but generally serves up great flat whites using beans from the Old Spike roastery, a social enterprise up the road in Peckham.

The List

Venue Beans Notes
St David Square Mile, Red Brick Small and tasty, perfect!
No 41 Coffee & Kitchen Origin, Resolute Very good flavour and size
Rise cafe Old Spike Good
Pantry Press Coffee & Co, Press Blend Good flavour, good bitterness that develops softly
Grounds & Grapes Ozone Sometimes inconsistent, often good on weekday mornings
My Jammi Cafe Extract Coffee, Original Espresso Best velvety smooth texture, good rounded flavour, neither overly bitter or sweet, but sometimes inconsistent
Moustache ??? Large but good flavour
Marvelous Greens & Beans 80 Stone Nice, not bad at all
L&C Brazilian ??? Bit weak but reasonable texture
Pat & Rob’s Emporium Drury Bit big, but nice flavour
On the Hoof (Honor Oak Park) Monmouth Smooth, a little hot, some sweetness, nice*
Aga’s Little Deli Monmouth Smooth but a bit milky & little foam
Archie Parker Clapton, Guatemalan Light in flavour, thin, a bit on the hot side
Canvas & Cream Monmouth Bit hot, slightly bitter & sour (under extracted?), but improved on the finish
Horniman Cafe Volcano, Firehouse Blend Reasonable, much better than the top kiosk
Brown & Green (Mayow Park) B&G branded Consistently slow to serve, often a bit milky, sightly bland
Honor Oak Provender Monmouth Big, hot, thin, but alright flavour
On The Hoof (FH Platform 1) Monmouth Smooth but milky, bland
Marchetti (Blythe Hill Fields) Mont 58, Espresso blend Big, hot and possibly a bit under extracted
On The Hoof (FH station kiosk) Monmouth Very hot, a bit bitter
Horniman (top kiosk) Volcano, Firehouse Blend Milky, weak
Two Spoons The Gentleman Baristas, Deerstalker Large and very milky
Guava Cafe ??? Bit big, recommended oat milk
The Teapot ??? Bit milky, funny taste (oat milk?)
Cobb’s Corner (SE26) Blue Mountain coffee (ex-own brand) Small but hot, bitter and thin in texture

* nice touch of self-serve lids, or go topless to save plastic!

Note I’ve linked to the roasteries that have some local / London interest.

Let me know of any I’ve missed or got wrong!

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Now I need to go to all these venues….

Nice to see St David at the very top, if you were including customer service/friendliness they’d get 5 stars from me… and not just because they sometimes give me free pastry.

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Grounds and Grapes - when it’s on top form - is some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. Only been there on a weekday morning on the commute though.

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