The Caffé series: London coffee chains

So I’ve decided to finally write about where to I find good coffee in London. My first ever caffeine-inspired post is about the top three (four since 2012) coffee chains.

I used to hate coffee, down to the smell of it, due to parental associations with cigarettes, wasted time, late nights, and general bad health. Discovering it as an espresso shot, “un caffé” on a hot summer day in Florence was a revelation that poets should sing about. Since then, I have only had “proper” caffé, namely a macchiato, but typically a cappuccino or, when craving comfort and deliciousness, a mocha. None of that watered down fluid. Proper. Thick. Coffee. And yes, when I’m in Italy or France, I’ll greedily have an espresso after lunch.

Having moved to London in 2006 – a city I am beginning to consider a culinary capital of the world – posed the interesting problem of finding somewhere to caffeinate without burning out one’s tongue or desensitising one’s taste buds.

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The Big Three (which are, since 2012, four)

Starbucks – King of syrups

Found at every street corner and sometimes a second time once you turn said corner, Starbucks provides solid value in terms of slightly burnt beans, thick full fat milk, and seasonal flavoured coffees. They have a large collection of syrups which they aren’t afraid to (ab)use, and close attention should be paid to their newly-added (since September 2012?) calorie count next to each drink. Thank you, rebranding!
I love their hot chocolate, especially if they add hazelnut syrup or (let’s go nuts *giggle*) you catch them on the rare days when they have orange syrup hiding around, and stick that in too. Maybe with an espresso shot or two? MmmmMmm Praline Mocha Valencia… MmMMmMm.

Caffé nero – Most reliable roast

Lurking in each and every train station, around the corners from offices, in little carriages littered across the way of busy workers, Caffé Nero, (to be pronounced like “air” not “hero”), has the best takeaway coffee in London. Well. My favourite anyway. A cappuccino clocks in a 37kCal. Compare that to Starbucks’ 120kCal for a grande (due to full fat milk) and you’re getting a bargain! Coffee beans are nicely roasted, cups are a lovely shade of blue, service and quality are generally consistent… And they also have the cheapest coffee at £2.25 for a regular Cappuccino (November 2012). Don’t trouble them with syrups or fancy drinks. They can do them, but their choice of semi-skim milk as a default somehow makes their drinks less… creamy.
My daily coffee is a cappuccino with some cocoa whisked into the foam. My treat is a large mocha with a third espresso shot.

Costa coffee – Frothiest milk

I adore Costa’s massive mugs, and their very lax attitude towards hazelnut syrup (it ends up in lattes!) throughout the year. Their coffee is pretty decent, although I dislike their cappuccinos and mochas. Their speciality, I think, is their cold coffee. I’ll be writing up cold coffees later, promise!
I only head to Costa for a latte, usually with some syrup in.

Caffé Fratelli – Home of the XL cup

The fresh competition through the door is Fratelli. It used to be Amano, a single little store by the Clink, but that was bought out by Fratelli who have been springing up like little mushrooms all over the city! I love their XL cups. Their medium is everyone else’s large. It’s amazing! And they tend to spring up where I shop… Selfridge’s, Sloane square, Bicester village, … Handy! :)
I generally have a lovely cappuccino at Fratelli. And one of their amazing sandwiches or biscotti or cannoli or other awesome sweet italian delights.

Don’t worry, I know there are plenty of independent London coffee shops, and a pending mini-dissertation on them, and the controversial summer coffee is on my todo list.

I realise now that this post reads like a “my favourites” post. Umm, that’s because, well, it is. I often talk coffee with people. My opinions have been formed through educated experimentation, repeated testing, and a constant quest for the best things in life.

The bottom line? Treats from Starbucks, dailies from Nero, unless you like lattes – in which case costa – , and the occasional other pause-from-shopping coffee from Fratelli. I stay far away from Paul, Eat, Pret, and all the other sandwichy places. You’re better off with McDonald’s, if nothing else, it’s cheap.