Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.
Coffee House: Coffee Plant
Address: 180 Portobello Road, London W11 2EB
Rating: TBA verging on Toby’s (Sydney-Coffee Rating System)
Website | Map
Discovered on busy Portobello Road thanks to an “I had a good coffee at this place” comment from a co-worker Coffee Plant has a special place in my caffeinated heart: my first good UK ristretto. It’s hard to describe the moment. About two weeks after getting into the UK I had decided that coffee was a thing of the past, so any halfway reasonable attempt at an espresso would have knocked me out. Trying to explain feeling of sheer glee in discovering that I was wrong would just make me look loony (as if I don’t already). I think I had four doubles — not wise after two weeks of very litle caffeine (I had switched to drinking a lot of green tea though).
Coffee Plant is a decent sized café with a mid-floor counter populated with barristas and a counter up the back where they sell beans (including green beans for home roasting). Their prices are just not London – with a single espresso clocking in at only 80p (but I must say that all the good coffee places I’ve found have remarkably below-chain pricing for espresso, including back in Sydney). They’ve been busy every time I’ve been in, but with the high customer turnover means you often do get a seat, the atmosphere is lively and has an almost un-Londonian friendliness (another common trait amongst the coffee places I like here).
They’re fair-trade up to their eyeballs and what a friend of mine would call long-haired-tree-huggin’-hippies. Peace symbols scrawled across a wallpaper of anti-war, anti-golbalisation, anti-Bush, anti-Blair and anti-anything-non-long-haired-hippy propaganda. In fact the owner of the place is known for such politics and has even written book about the inconsistencies in the US governments “official story” for September-11. I’ll neither agree nor disagree with any of this, I must admit that some of it seems a bit far-out. But hippy politics and good coffee seem to go hand-in-hand, Coffee Plant is merely the most extreme example I have seen thus far. Fair-trade is an excellent and sensible way for things to be and since my own political views lean Left and have a strong hippy bent to them I don’t mind the extended politics.
But this is about the espresso! At Coffee Plant you can have your excellent espresso and rest assured that third-world farmers have got a reasonable deal (as at any coffee house that really cares about their coffee).
On the ristretto front the only negative is that occasionally you’ll get a barista who doesn’t quite pour one that is up to their usual standard (but I’m not the sort of person who can make a point about this so unless it is terrible I don’t say anything – and it has never been even close to terrible!). On a measure of personal taste I rate them just below Monouth Coffee and on-par with Coffee Tree in Aylesbury – I think this may have more to do with the roast than anything else. Honestly, I can’t specifically fault anything at any of these three places and they’re my “top three” for the UK – thus far.
The photo on the right was taken from the same point that the façade photo was taken from, but facing 90° to the left — so this stall of sweet carbohydratic delights is directly outside Coffee Plant. If you’re visiting London the Portobello Road market is one of the top-ten locations to visit in my mind (especially if one of the movies you grew up on was Bedknobs and Broomsticks!), it’s chaos stretches along the road for a mile or more on Saturday so wear good walking shoes. You’ll need to fight your way down the road (from the Notting Hill end in my case) to get to Coffee Plant, but it is well worth it (it is a lot easier on weekdays).
The market area around Coffee Plant is devoted to food, mainly fruit-and-vege but with a smattering of meats, cheeses, spices, preserves and take-away. If you wander further along towards W10 it’ll degrade to clothes and trinkets, then to garage-sale quality junk and finally to tip-quality junk and bodgey furniture. If you go far enough you’ve hit Golburne Road where you’ll find a variety of interesting delicatessens and cafés (including a seemingly Australian one, it matches the street name I think) — and in the distance you’ll see the absurd looking building pictured on the left.
So for an interesting morning out and excellent espresso hit the Portobello Road market and drop into Coffee Plant a couple of times, or maybe more.