Earlier this summer I took a trip back to the US to visit family, having been abroad for the past year and a half. A stopover in London was the same price as a direct flight, making it a perfect opportunity to explore the Anglo coffee world and meet some of the people I’d only talked to on Twitter. Here’s the first in what will be multi-part series of posts from that trip!
The National Gallery – beautiful inside, but too dark for photos.
Trafalgar Square, in front of the National Gallery.
First up, in roughly chronological order, is Notes Music & Coffee. This cafe is located in a touristy part of town near the National Gallery and right up the street from Trafalgar Square. With its two large mirrors framed by decorative columns, Notes feels much larger than it is and hints at the classic continental cafe atmosphere, which fits in well with staid neighbors like the National Gallery. They do mix things up a bit by selling art films and jazz albums in the back — and you’re greeted by a giant poster of Miles Davis when you walk in.
I was happy to be able to meet up with one of the partners, Fabio Ferreira, who I’d chatted with occasionally on Twitter. He was a gracious host, bringing out multiple coffees to try despite being in the middle of a rush of customers. Baristas Francis, Yasuko, and Jamie as well put in a great effort on the brew bar & behind the Strada, leaving me impressed by their professionalism and service – two things that are definitely, and unfortunately, not a given at specialty cafes.
Notes rotates their offerings, and when I was there they had Square Mile’s summer espresso, along with several different Has Bean coffees. This was one of the few places that served a good shot of SQM’s summer blend (the other being Prufrock’s two locations). However, I was not a huge fan overall of the SQM summer blend. Instead, I really enjoyed Notes’ preparation of Hasbean’s SO Costa Rican (forgot to write down the farm name, oops), which had the aroma of lemon and orange zest, and a sweet, citrusy flavor. In milk it reminded me of lemon meringue.
I tried Has Bean’s Shakiso Natural on the Hario woodneck with cloth filter. At first it tasted weak and watery to me, (they prepared it at 15g/250ml, and I guess I’m used to updosed and often under-extracted coffees), but as it cooled it really presented a range of taste notes, first pear, then strawberry, raspberry, and a pronounced fermented beer-like flavor. A complex coffee! Unfortunately when I returned to Notes a second time with Brian and Kalle the brew was a bit off and it tasted mostly over-extracted. I can’t complain too much because this wasn’t a regular offering and we’d ordered off the menu.
Despite the one minor disappointment, everything else was great and I really enjoyed visiting Notes Music & Coffee. I hear they’ve opened a new location in Covent Garden, so keep an eye out for that as well. If you’ve been to Notes, leave a comment about your experience!
Map and directions
31 St Martin’s Lane,
London WC2N 4ER
Phone: 020 7240 0424
View FRSHGRND – Global Cafe Guide in a larger map