Best and Worst group tests / Coffee

Where to find the best Flat White coffee in London

Where can you find the best flat white coffee in London? I risk overdosing on caffeine by sampling 21 different versions to find out.

I’m an incurable caffeine addict  and my favourite poison is definitely coffee. My favourite type of coffee is the flat white and I wholly blame The Lensman for introducing me to this lovely drink. I’ve subsequently indoctrinated The Flame Haired Squelchie and The Prancing Hippy.

What is a flat white?

There’s much debate over what exactly a flat white is, but for me it’s an Australian/New Zealander version of the latte. The difference is subtle but important – a flat white should be made from two ‘short’ double shots of espresso (also known as a ristretto, the definition of which is another source of debate among coffee lovers) giving it a strong, bold flavour with little to no bitterness or acidity. The other essential component is hot steamed milk which is prepared and poured in a specific way to add a thin but velvety, silky smooth ‘microfoam’ to the top of the brew. Various other blogs and illustrated webpages show the preparation of a flat white in some detail.

Why are you writing about coffee? I thought this was a blog about restaurants?!

This blog isn’t deviating from my stated purpose of stuffing my face in London’s restaurants for your reading pleasure to cover coffee too, but I’m making an exception for the flat white given how truly mediocre or just plain awful some commercially made flat whites are.

How did you conduct this caffeinated jaunt of idiocy?

I’ve judged each flat white on texture, taste and their ‘kick in the pants’ factor – how alert I feel after drinking the coffee and for how long. This is obviously very subjective, but I’ve attempted to add some pseudo-scientific method to it by sampling each flat white on a weekday morning before I head into the office for a hard day’s work without any additional caffeine either before the flat white or after it until I start feeling sleepy/fatigued. There were a handful of exceptions to this rough baseline as you’ll see below.

I drank flat whites from 21 different establishments, both chains and independents, across London over the past two and a half months. There are doubtless more and I’ll probably try them out too in due course. The quality of the final coffee is obviously very much dependent on the skill of the specific barista behind the bar, so there will doubtless some natural variation between the way they’re described here and how you might experience them yourself.

The Lensman has a pet theory that the longer the preparation time, the better the flat white. I’ve therefore timed how long it took for each flat white to be prepared, but this is only approximate since my view of the barista at work is sometimes blocked or I may have been distracted by my fellow customers.

Without further ado…

Abokado

This small London chain of ‘lunch bars’ also serves coffee. The flat white I tried barely had any foam, so it wasn’t smooth or silky at all. It tasted quite tart with a hint of sweetness but ended on a slightly sour note. It wasn’t especially strong either – I felt the urge to curl up for a nap under my desk around two hours later.

abokado flat white

Preparation time: approx. 1 minute 15 seconds

Taste: ★★★☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★☆☆

Branch tried: 16 Newman Street, London, W1T 1PB

Opening hours: Monday-Friday 07.30-19.30

Apostrophe

The conditions for this tasting were a little different – it was still a weekday morning but I was flying out to Spain on holiday so the flight may or may not have affected the coffee’s effect on me (any science bods can agree or disagree in the comments). The flat white was very foamy with a large head, although it wasn’t quite as voluminous as Starbucks’ attempt. Despite this, it wasn’t at all silky or velvety. It tasted very tart with an occasional, slight tangy hit every now and again. It was relatively strong, but I needed more coffee after about two and a half hours.

apostrophe flat white

Preparation time: approx. 30 seconds

Taste: ★★★☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★☆☆

Branch tried: Gatwick Airport South Terminal, airside

Opening hours: 24/7 ?

Barbican Food Hall

No afternoon of watching Studio Ghibli films at The Barbican Centre with The Lensman and The Flame Haired Squelchie would be complete without a flat white. Unless it’s a flat white from the Barbican’s onsite ‘Food Hall’. The flat white’s minuscule foam wasn’t silky smooth at all. It was slightly creamy and tart with a very subtle molasses-like tang. It was weaker than a bespectacled nerd attempting to climb the monkey bars though – I was feeling sleepy a mere hour later and only the antics of Totoro and the Catbus kept my eyes open.

barbican food hall flat white

Preparation time: approx. 45 seconds

Taste: ★★★☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★☆☆☆☆

Address: Barbican Centre (level G), Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS

Opening hours: Monday–Saturday 11.00–20.00; Sunday 11.00–17.30

Black Truffle

This place is weird – a boutique clothes store that also serves coffee. The flat white had a very thin layer of foam that wasn’t very silky or velvety. There was a slightly tart and tangy taste which became slightly sweeter as I worked my way down the cup – not bad, but not especially distinctive either. It wasn’t very strong – I was gasping for another brew just two hours later.

black truffle flat white

Preparation time: just over two minutes

Taste: ★★★☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★☆☆

Address: 52 Warren Street, London, W1T 5NJ

Opening hours: Monday-Friday 08.00-15.00 (somewhat erratic)

Caphe House

Caphe House is the first Vietnamese restaurant I’ve been to that also does a flat white. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good one. Although it comes in three sizes, including the epic large size pictured below, it’s not especially strong leaving me gasping for another caffeine kick a couple of hours later. It tastes bland and very milky too and there’s little in the way of smoothness. It’ll do as an accompaniment to the array of traditional Vietnamese dishes also on offer, but the flat white is not worth seeking out in its own right.

a flat white from the caphe house

Preparation time: just over two minutes

Taste: ★★☆☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★☆☆

Address: 114 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3TX

Opening hours: Monday-Friday 07.00-17.00; Saturday 0.800-16.00; closed Sundays

Costa

I wasn’t expecting much in taste from Costa’s flat white and that’s what I got – tart but also slightly bitter. Despite the fairly large head of foam, it wasn’t velvety smooth at all though. Its saving grace was that it was remarkably strong – it was around four hours before I needed another caffeine hit.

costa flat white

Preparation time: just over a minute

Taste: ★★☆☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★★☆

Branch tried: Gatwick Airport South Terminal, arrivals

Opening hours: 24/7 ?

Eat

Inexplicably, both Wicket and LeChuck like having lunch here. The flat whites aren’t very good either – the consistently bitter tang is unforgivable. In terms of strength it’s unremarkable – I needed another drink after around two hours, if only to cleanse my mouth of the residual bitterness.

eat flat white

Preparation time: approx. 1 minute 15 seconds

Taste: ★★☆☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★★☆☆☆

Branch tried: 44 Goodge Street, London, W1T 2AD

Opening hours: do you honestly care?

Flat White

The simply-named Flat White produces some of the most consistently excellent flat white coffees that I’ve tasted so far. The thin, silky smooth head dissolves into the coffee easily which seems to make it feel even smoother. I usually prefer my coffee mellow, but I’m willing to make an exception for the bright, tart, slightly spicy brew here which sometimes also has a slightly smoky initial hit. It’s strong too – I’ve gone four or five hours before needing another fix. Sadly, the large sized portion is no longer available, but that wouldn’t stop The Lensman from living there if he had the chance.

Flat White flat white

Preparation time: approx. 2 minutes

Taste: ★★★★★

Kick in the pants: ★★★★★

Address: 17 Berwick Street, London, W1F 0PT

Opening hours: Monday-Friday 08.00-19.00; Saturday-Sunday 09.00-18.00

Kaffeine

Kaffeine is a small cafe with some brutally uncomfortable seats, but aside from Flat White it has one of the best tasting flat whites I’ve had. The tangy, malty coffee has a molasses-like quality to it that the Prancing Hippy can’t get enough of and tastes consistently good. The thin head of foam can vary in silkiness though depending on who made it, ranging from lifeless to velvety. It is strong though – I’ve gone around four hours after drinking a Kaffeine flat white before needing another.

kaffeine flat white

Preparation time: just over 2 minutes

Taste: ★★★★☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★★☆

Address: 66 Great Titchfield Street, London, W1W 7QJ

Opening hours: Monday-Friday 07.30-18.00; Saturday 09.00-18.00; Sunday 10.00-18.00

Kopapa

The breakfasts at Kopapa are pretty good and their flat whites aren’t too bad either. The taste is a touch too muted, but there is a nice tartness with smoky and malty hints here and there. The thin foam is very silky though, adding a gentle smoothness to the coffee. It’s not especially strong though – I was gasping for another brew within a couple of hours. Not bad, but only worth drinking if you’re having breakfast here too.

kopapa flat white

Preparation time: approx. 2 minutes

Taste: ★★★★☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★☆☆

Address: 32-34 Monmouth Street, Seven Dials, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9HA

Opening hours:

Weekdays breakfast 08.30-11.30; lunch and dinner 12.00-23.20 (last savoury orders 22.45).

Saturday brunch 10.00-15.00; lunch and dinner 15.30-00.00 (last savoury orders 22.45).

Sunday brunch 10.00-15.00; lunch and dinner 15.30-22.50 (last orders 21.45). Phew!

Lantana

Lantana is split into two properties – a sit-down cafe and a small take-out counter next door. The flat whites are surprisingly creamy with a muted tartness that’s hard to make out. Sadly, the thin layer of foam isn’t very silky or velvety. What it lacks in taste and texture, it makes up for in strength – I’ve lasted three to four hours before needing another caffeine hit. If I ask for a third shot to be added, I can last even longer although I will start bouncing off the walls. Another favourite haunt of the Squlechie and the Hippy, but the nearby Kaffeine is a better bet unless you need to make your spine buzz with energy.

lantana flat white

Preparation time: approx. 1 minute 45 seconds

Taste: ★★★☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★★★

Address: 13 Charlotte Place, London, W1T 1SN

Opening hours: Monday-Friday 08.00-18.00; Saturday 09.00-17.00

Lick

I’m not sure why ice cream places also feel the need to serve coffee. Unless they’re also serving affogato, there’s just no sense in it. Despite my low expectations walking into Lick, their flat white turned out to be reasonably decent. It wasn’t very silky and tasted rather bland and inoffensive, despite a slight initial hint of tartness and malt. It is quite strong though – it even kept me awake during a surreptitious episode of Countdown.

a flat white from lick

Preparation time: just under two minutes

Taste: ★★★☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★★☆

Address: 55 Greek Street, London, W1D 3DT

Opening hours: ?

Milk Bar

Despite being owned by the people behind Flat White, Milk Bar, which is only a few minutes walk away, produces a markedly different coffee. It has a tart and malty taste that’s more reminiscent of a Kaffeine flat white than the Flat White version. It’s just as strong as those versions, but lacking in their silky smoothness. Odd and somewhat disappointing – head to Flat White instead.

Preparation time: approx. 30 seconds!

Taste: ★★★☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★★★

Address: 3 Bateman Street, London, W1D 4AG

Opening hours: Monday-Friday 08.00-19.00; Saturday-Sunday 09.00-18.00

Nude Espresso

Despite the name, the bespectacled hipsters at this little corner cafe thankfully don’t prepare and serve coffee in the buff. Which is just as well considering the dangers of splashing, seepage and spillage. For some reason I wasn’t expecting much from the flat whites here, but I was pleasantly surprised by the tart, smoky, slightly chocolately taste of the coffee. It’s not very smooth, but it is strong, keeping me going for several hours or so before I needed a refill. Pretty good overall, but the nearby Flat White is even better.

a flat white from nude espresso

Preparation time: approx. 1 minute 30 seconds

Taste: ★★★★☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★★☆

Address: 19 Soho Square, London, W1D 3QN

Opening hours: Monday-Friday 08.00-17.00; Saturday-Sunday 11.00-18.00

Pret A Manger

I wasn’t expecting much from a Pret flat white, but I didn’t expect it to be not only the worst chain flat white, but the worst one out of all 21 coffees reviewed here. Pret’s version was devoid of any silkiness and had a nasty bitter tang at first which then gave way to unremitting blandness. It was also very milky which, combined with its big foamy head, made it seem like a standard latte more than a flat white. Worst of all, I wanted to take a serious cat nap little more than a hour later. Rubbish.

a flat white from pret a manger

Preparation time: approx. 50 seconds

Taste: ★★☆☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★☆☆☆☆

Branch tried: Heathrow Terminal 3, airside

Opening hours: seven days a week 06.00-21.00

Polka Gelato

A gelato parlour that serves coffee? This can’t end well. Actually, it’s not too bad. Although the head is too foamy, the coffee does have a mellow, tart, slightly sweet taste to it that’s very mild but still pleasing. It’s reasonably strong too, keeping me going until lunch time. Not bad, but unless you’re also getting the pretty decent gelato (the green tea flavour is one of my favourites), you’re better off heading to the nearby Kaffeine instead.

polka gelato flat white

Preparation time: approx. 1 minute

Taste: ★★★☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★★☆

Address: 45 Fitzroy Street, London, W1T 6EB

Opening hours: Monday-Friday 08.00 – 20.00; Saturday-Sunday 13.00 – 20.00

Reynolds

The Charlotte Street branch of this two store chain serves up a bland flat white. There’s a slight tartness and sweetness, but you have to be concentrating to make it out. The thin head isn’t very silky or velvety. It’s not very strong either – I was ready for another caffeine hit within two hours. Go the nearby Lantana or Kaffeine instead.

reynolds flat white

Preparation time: approx. 1 minute 15 seconds

Taste: ★★★☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★☆☆

Branch tried: 53 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 4PA

Opening hours: Monday-Friday 07.30 – 17.00

Sacred Cafe

The Ganton Street branch of this six-strong mini-chain has an appealing array of sandwiches, but it’s the flat whites I’m interested in. The coffee is available in small and large sizes and the large size was very effective at keeping me going – it was well into the afternoon before I felt even vaguely tired. Sadly, the taste doesn’t match up to the jolt factor. It tastes bland and is very milky too. It’s not very smooth or velvety either. Still, with long weekday opening hours, it’s a good last resort when purveyors of more well-rounded flat whites have closed.

a flat white from sacred cafe ganton street

Preparation time: approx. 1 minute 15 seconds

Taste: ★★☆☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★★★

Branch tried: 13 Ganton Street, London, W1F 9BL

Opening hours: Monday-Friday 07.30 – 20.00; Saturday-Sunday 10.00-19.00

St Ali

This London outpost of the Melbourne original is larger than I expected and has a striking vine-covered wall. Despite being reasonably smooth and a promising initial hit of tartness and maltiness, the taste of the flat white soon settled down into bland mediocrity. It is strong though, keeping me going for several hours before I started to feel fatigued. It’s not the most well-rounded flat white ever, but I don’t know of any other places serving flat whites in the City.

a flat white from st ali

Preparation time: approx. 1 minute 15 seconds

Taste: ★★★☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★★☆

Branch tried: 27 Clerkenwell Road, London, EC1M 5RN

Opening hours: seven days a week 07.00-18.00

Starbucks

Ahhh yes, the ubiquitous king of multinational coffee chains. It won’t surprise anyone to learn that a Starbucks flat white is a bland and inoffensive cup of coffee. If I focussed really hard, I could just make out a slight tartness although it was so fleeting it may well have been the taste of my own saliva. The ridiculous, almost cappuccino-like head is far too foamy and isn’t silky in the slightest. It does at least pack quite a punch – I was buzzing along well into the afternoon.

starbucks flat white

Preparation time: approx. 30 seconds

Taste: ★★☆☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★★☆

Branch tried: Paddington Station, Unit 3 The Lawns, London, W2 1AE

Opening hours: seven days a week 06.00/07.00 – 21.00

Tapped and Packed

I can never remember the name of this two-branch Fitzrovia mini-chain. Tipped and Picked? Ticked and Papped? Tickled and Plucked? Thank goodness for the internet. Sadly, despite the stylish decor, the quality of their flat white is merely satisfactory. The coffee has a tangy, molasses-like taste to it, but it’s not as pronounced as it is in the flat whites from Kaffeine. The thin head is mildly silky and I usually manage to get a modest buzz from the brew, but it usually wears off after about two or three hours. Not bad, but the only thing it has over the nearby Lantana and Kaffeine is that it’s open an hour later on weekdays which might make it useful for an evening fix.

tapped and packed flat white

Preparation time: approx. 1 minute and 15 seconds

Taste: ★★★☆☆

Kick in the pants: ★★★☆☆

Branch tried: 26 Rathbone Place, London, W1T 1JD

Opening hours: Monday-Friday 08.00 – 19.00; Saturday: 10.00 – 18.00

And the winner is…

The unimaginatively, but authoritatively named Flat White (of Soho). Hands down, no question – tastes beautiful, sets my brain alight. An honourable mention goes to Kaffeine which comes an honourable second. Both of these are independents, so if you need a fix elsewhere in London, the best of the widely available miserable chain attempts is Starbucks. The Seattle flat white may taste of nothing, but at least it gives you a strong kick in the pants. If you know of a cafe/coffee house serving flat whites, let me know and I might check it out and report back.


		
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10 thoughts on “Where to find the best Flat White coffee in London

  1. First, is this a euphemism: “it even kept me awake during a surreptitious episode of Countdown”?

    Second, although Starbucks’ flat whites are generally pretty poor, the branch by Camden Lock does one that’s passable in a pinch (perhaps due to several Australian baristas that were manning the steamers last time I was there). Downside, it would appear that none of the staff there has time to pick rubbish up off the tables.

    Meanwhile, my personal vote for the worst flat white in London has to go to the branch of Costa at Mornington Crescent. Just: no.

  2. Totally agree with your comments, Kaffeine to me serves one of the best flat whites in London. I would urge you to try Scooters Cafe just south of Waterloo train station just on Lower Marsh. I searched all over London for an amazing flat white, you can imagine my happiness when I found Scooters less than a mile from home.

    One thing I will say, the service is a little lacking, I don’t want to say bad, just…different.

  3. Pingback: Caphe House review – noodle soups & sandwiches ahoy « The Picky Glutton

  4. Pingback: Kopapa review 2 – breakfast and brunch bonanza « The Picky Glutton

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  6. Pingback: The best and worst flat white coffees in London | The Picky Glutton

  7. totally agree, I’ve been to about 90percent of the coffee places you have reviewed for me hands down Kaffiene is my favourite and Flat White too…

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