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May 23rd - London, United Kingdom

How to Spot a Hipster Coffee Shop in London

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I am an eight-inch travel writer based in London. It's not always easy being a tiny traveller but it's seldom dull. This is a place for me to share my weird and wonderful travel stories with the rest of the world.

A guide to the ridiculous staples that can be found in most of London's hipster coffee shops. From borstal school interior design to fixed wheel bikes, bearded baristas and lots of wood: this is how you decide where to get your flat white.

There’s an art to spotting a hipster coffee shop in London. It’s all about keeping an eye out for a number of telltale signs. This article aims to equip you with the tools of discernment to distinguish between a cool hipster café that brews exquisite coffee and some place that just serves food and drink.

Here’s what to look out for…

Wood

wood hipster coffee shop

Lots of wood. Hardwood bars, sanded wooden floors, bleached wooden walls etc. This is the most important thing to look out for. There are no exceptions to the rule: kitting your coffee shop out in wood shows you know how to make a flat white, it’s a visual sign. It’s the equivalent of perfume and aftershave brands making dreamy filmic TV ads: if an eau de toilette won’t make me a model in Paris with at least three gorgeous love interests then what’s the point? The same applies to coffee shops without wood.

European staff / men with beards

hipster coffee shop beard

If a café has a team of effortlessly cool European baristas with attractively quirky intonations who can draw pictures in foam more beautiful than the ceiling at the Cistene Chapel, or construct pulled pork sandwiches with more intricate detail than the Sagrada Familia, then you’re onto a winner.

If not, then a couple of men with big beards will also do.

FUNNY SIGNS

hipster coffee shop sign

Because hipster coffee shop owners tell hip jokes.

Keep an eye out for this kind of thing:

“If Carlsberg did coffee…Ours would probably be better”

“How did the hipster burn his tongue? He sipped his coffee before it was cool”

“Instagram your meal and receive a free concussion”

‘Students’ on laptops

laptops hipster coffee shop

https://www.flickr.com/photos/koonce/

If a café isn’t almost exclusively filled with students on laptops discussing misreadings of Derrida, or planning to launch an app that keeps track of split ends, then the owner is doing something wrong.

Note that the term ‘student’ here also applies to freelancers, startup workers and social media ‘ninjas’.

Bikes

hipster fixie bike

https://www.flickr.com/photos/aadm/

For some reason a love of bicycles has also become entwined in the visual lexicon of hipster cafés. But don’t step foot in an establishment that caters for bikes with gears: fixies only I’m afraid. Extra kudos if the café also bans cyclists with brakes because skidding through traffic with your foot on the top of the back tyre is so much more ‘legit’.

Mismatched furniture

hipster coffee shop chairs and wall

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kristofarndt/

Tasteful colour combos, sleek lines and harmonised seating options – ALARM BELLS! This place has been put together by someone with an actual qualification in interior design. But chances are they missed the boat on pouring heavenly microfoam, and their flat whites won’t have a silky texture akin to the clouds beneath Angel Gabriel’s feet.

Hipster coffee shops these days have wooden benches stolen from primary schools, dilapidated walls borrowed from German squats and stylish lampshades that are invisible to the untrained eye. They get twelve-year-old kids from borstal schools to paint the fittings and train chimpanzees to artfully hang framed pictures of Ronald McDonald sunbathing in Cambodia at jaunted angles on the wall. And best of all, they purposely expose parts of the brickwork to show that they have read and taken heed of the seminal architectural polemic: ‘The Three Little Pigs’.

Water in a jug with vegetables

hipster coffee shop water

Cucumber, red pepper, mint leaves… whole butternut squash. You can find just about anything in a jug of water at a hipster coffee shop.

Note that I’m not talking about vegetable broth. If the café is cooking its water in a jug with vegetables, then you’re probably in a Pho or Ramen joint.

Pretend coffee making lessons

hipster coffee shop barista training

https://www.flickr.com/photos/daseindesign/

This is obviously a scam. If the lessons in how to set the water temperature in your espresso machine or pick a blend of Arabica and Robusta beans were so good everybody would be making their own coffee at home instead of bringing their fixies and laptops to hipster coffee shops all the time…

The right sized cups

hipster coffee shop small cup

https://www.flickr.com/photos/prunejuice/

An espresso should come in a miniature mug about the size of a shot glass, a flat white should be served in a small ceramic mug and a cappuccino should arrive in a similarly shaped mug of a slightly larger size.

Anywhere trying to pour a flat white into a tall beaker, tip a cappuccino into a plastic tumbler or serve an espresso in a pint glass is seriously off the mark.

Please don’t take offence hipster coffee shops… I love you really!

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