Best coffee brands in the UK to order online

·7-min read
 (Unsplash)
(Unsplash)

For a time, there was breakfast coffee and there was after-dinner coffee; the breakfast one was milder and the evening one was darker. That was pretty well all there was to it. Now, London is awash with coffee buffs who talk about coffee in terms of things like chocolate, citrus, lemon sherbert or walnut whip.

Vinny de Oliviera, the founder of Chapter Coffee Roasters in West Kensington says that “we in the coffee business had to develop a whole vocabulary to talk about coffee, and we took the terms from wine”. That’s happened over a remarkably short period, roughly the last 20 years. In the course of it, London has moved from having not much of a coffee culture – not by comparison to Italy where each region has a favoured blend – to a sophisticated market, notwithstanding the presence of the big, bad café chains. There are umpteen small independent roasters and blenders in London and we can source coffee of remarkable quality online.

Coffee houses have been a London thing since 1652, when an enterprising Greek called Pasqua Rosee, who had acquired a taste for Turkish coffee in Smyrna, set up his coffee house in Cornhill (seventeenth century coffee was disgusting), but it’s only recently we’ve become experts.

Obviously, the permutations of coffee blends are endless. Are you using an espresso machine or a filter or cafetières? Are you drinking with milk? The water in London is hard; that makes a difference. Indeed, an Italian friend of mine, although broke, would buy spring water especially for her coffee.

If I’d make one suggestion, it’s that we lose the reflexive assumption that coffee means an espresso, usually with milk. (BTW, asking for a latte just means asking for milk). Some blends respond brilliantly to being forced under pressure through tiny perforations in an espresso machine; it makes others undrinkable. If you’ve got a delicate and sophisticated blend, it’s usually best to make it with a filter, at least to start with. Compare and contrast methods and outcomes.

If you can, invest in a coffee grinder – cheap electric ones are fine, for it makes all the difference to have coffee that’s freshly ground. I include a ready-ground blend below, but in general, buy whole beans and grind daily. I salute those sturdy souls who use a hand machine.

This is a selection of some of the best coffee blends from some of the best coffee roasters and retailers in London and outside. Obviously, it’s all a matter of taste, and essentially subjective but these coffee blenders are almost all exceptionally reliable. Many take the trouble to get to know the growers they deal with and pay them a fair price.

I am suggesting just one blend from each supplier but if you browse through their websites, you’ll find several others. As always, there’s no substitute for trying things out, so get a small quantity first to try.

Chapter Coffee Roasters, Chaucer Blend, (90 per cent Brazil; 10 per cent Kenya)

This excellent roaster in West Kensington has a range of blends as well as single estate coffees. Brazilian beans are often the base because the founder, Vinny de Oliverira, is from a family of coffee farmers and his Brazilian beans are from his father’s farm. This blend is bright and ever so slightly acidic; good for everyday drinking. The staff are knowledgeable and helpful, so feel free to ask for advice.

 (Chapter Coffee)
(Chapter Coffee)

£8 for 250g | Chapter Coffee

HR Higgins, 1942 Blend, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica

HR Higgins is, I should say, my favourite coffee (and tea) shop in London. It was founded in 1942 and packages its beans up in little brown paper packages tied up with string. The Duke Street shop has a tiny café underneath which should be reopening before long. There are some excellent blends here, as you’d expect, but after agonising over the smooth and moreish Vienna blend (originally created for central European customers ), I’m plumping for the 1942 blend, which is rich, caramelly and excellent for expressos and cappuccinos.

 (HR Higgins)
(HR Higgins)

£10.50 for 250g | H.R Higgins

Fortnum and Mason, Akbar Blend, Ground. Columbia, Kenya, Brazil and Ethiopia

The coffee section of Fortnum’s, tucked away in the corner of the ground floor, is a haven from the hurly burly and full of good things. The Akbar is one of the store’s oldest blends, with a nice mellow flavour; good for all day drinking. Ready-ground, and in an elegant tin. Best for filters or cafetières.

 (Fortnums)
(Fortnums)

£12.50 for 250g tin | Fortnum & Mason

Monmouth Coffee Espresso Blend. Brazil, Columbia, Guatamala

Monmouth Coffee Company was at the forefront of the renaissance in coffee drinking in London, beginning with its first shop in Monmouth Street, which is still a destination of choice for coffee lovers. It has a terrific range of single estate coffees; this is its only blend (so far), excellent with or without milk. It’s predominantly Brazilian (Agua Limpa) with Columbian and Guatamalan beans for brightness.

 (Monmouth Coffee)
(Monmouth Coffee)

£7 for 250g | Monmouth Coffee

Lost Sheep Coffee. Get To the Hopper, Colombia and Brazil

This is an excellent little company, founded by former backpackers who wanted to bring Australian coffee culture – this is a thing, ok? - to the UK. The quality of the beans is superb and the approach friendly. While the packaging fun – sheep with spectacles – it’s also compostable and the Fairtrade credentials impeccable. The coffee comes in a box labelled Emergency Caffeine Supplies. This is its best-selling blend, suited for espresso machines: smooth, sweet and creamy. If you want something for filters as well, the Kiss My Face blend is described as a cross between Walnut Whip and Aniseed. I can’t say it would be my way of putting it, but a nice balanced blend.

 (Lost Sheep Coffee)
(Lost Sheep Coffee)

£7.95 for 250g | Lost Sheep Coffee

Exhale Healthy Coffee, Finca Nueva Esperanza, Mexico

This is a single estate coffee, not a blend, but I’ve included it because it’s one of the fashionable new range of healthy coffees, which are meant to be positively good for you. Coffee acts on me as a kind of toxin – which doesn’t mean to say I don’t drink it – but Exhale is, it seems, rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. It says that one cup of its coffee has the same antioxidant power as 12 punnets of blueberries or 1.2 kilos of kale. At any rate it’s organic and it tastes like normal quality coffee rather than a health food. It’s bright and invigorating, which is more than you can say for kale. There’s a darker roast for espresso. Usefully it offers a small trial size to taste.

 (Exhale)
(Exhale)

£7.95 | Exhale Coffee

Pact Coffee, Gran Fondo Filter, Columbia and Rwanda

A very good coffee, bright and Italianate. This is the filter blend; there’s a dark roast espresso version. It’s the product of an unexpected collaboration with the Welsh Tour de France champion, Geraint Thomas. Did you know there was a connection between coffee and cycling? Me neither, but there’s a nice Art Deco bicycling design on this one. The ethical credentials of the brand are excellent; it deals directly with the farmer suppliers and pays at least 25 per cent over the basic Fairtrade rate.

 (Pact Coffee)
(Pact Coffee)

£10.50 (special offer)/£11.95 normally for 250g | Pact Coffee

Wood Street, Seasonal Espresso, Brazil

I’m cheating here, because this is a single origin coffee but I’m adding it because it puts Walthamstow on the map for coffee lovers and the quality of the beans and the attention to detail is exemplary. This espresso is bright, strong and lively. And you get a roasting date, so you know just how fresh it is.

 (Wood Street)
(Wood Street)

£8 for 250g | Wood St Coffee

Sant Eustachio, il Caffe. Brazil, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, and the islands of St. Elena and Galapagos

This has the reputation of being the best coffee blend in the world. Or at any rate, the little cafeteria from which it comes has the reputation of serving the best cappuccino in Rome. I’ve actually been there, and it is indeed very good. It has a nice sweetness where the beans are gently wood roasted. The caffeine level is actually lower than most, which is all to the good. The cafe has its own well, which always helps. The beans tin is a jolly red and yellow.

 (Sant Eustachio)
(Sant Eustachio)

£6.99 | Caffe Sant Eustachio

Wilkinson’s of Norwich, Bella Napoli, Central America

This is an excellent espresso blend from a small family run coffee shop in the middle of Norwich. It’s the favourite blend of a Norfolk friend who is as obsessed with coffee as it’s possible to be. And it’s excellent, rich and lively for a good start to the day.

 (Wilkinson’s of Norwich)
(Wilkinson’s of Norwich)

£7 for 250g | Wilkinson’s of Norwich

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