There are lots of blogs and guides about where to get good coffee and tea in London, but we were looking specifically at where to go for a cuppa after trawling round St Paul’s Cathedral for two hours, or indeed where to go to charge up your batteries before hitting the turnstiles and forking out your £15 entrance fee to the Cathedral.
Yes, sadly, St Paul’s is one of those cathedrals (still few in the UK, thankfully) that have officially become a tourist destination first and a religious building second. At least they throw in a free guided tour and the guy that took us round was pretty good on the telling of stories from St Pauls’ past.
But first up was coffee. Now, the two coffee shops we have chosen are both about a 10 minute walk from St Paul’s, but in opposite directions so not really in competition and, for the visitor, they give a great opportunity to walk through different parts of historic London.
It’s hardly surprising that Workshop Coffee looks more like a night club than a coffee shop from the outside, since it used once to be just that: the Dust night club!
They’ve kept the subdued lighting, but have transformed the place inside otherwise, with their own in-house roaster, kitchens where head chef Ian bakes the daily batch of cakes and muffins, and even a garden growing up one of the walls…
Most important of all, though: their coffee is first class. Owner James Dickson wanted to bring a bit of the Melbourne (Australia) coffee culture back to the UK and he’s really succeeded.
He’s a canny judge of location, too, mind. Clerkenwell is ultra trendy these days and as he said in one media interview he gave, they had an eager customer base with the number of architects, designers and other creative types working (and living these days) locally.
But don’t worry: you don’t have to be hip or chic to feel relaxed here, and they’re a really friendly bunch, just keen that everyone should enjoy top quality coffee…and cake.
If you’re approaching St Paul’s more from the City side, your best bet for a good espresso is Association Coffee in Creechurch Lane, EC3.
I loved the story behind the coffee shop name: their building was once upon a time the home of the West India Tea and Spice Association, so when they found this out, they wanted a name to link themselves to that past: Hence, Association Coffee.
Coffee here is really good, again. And there’s more Australian influence too, via manager Sam, again from Melbourne (note to self: must have a coffee feast next time we’re in Oz). But at Association they’re also into their tea and had a good selection of loose-leaf blends as well.
St Paul’s Cathedral was impressive, of course, though a little too full of worthy dignitaries most of us haven’t heard of anymore and perhaps a tad smug about its importance in UK history.
But there are also great stories to be told, including the scorched urn from the Great Fire of London, the rather wonderful Henry Moore sculpture telling three different stories, and of course the Whispering Gallery (though rather disappointingly nobody was whispering while the Cuppa team was present…).
After two hours in St Paul’s, we all need a good cuppa and a place to rest those weary soles…
You could, of course, go to the St Paul’s canteen downstairs next to the crypt, but it was rather busy with noisy groups for my liking and had that corporate feel that is anathema to the Fancy a Cuppa? template.
So, our recommendation for tea near St Paul’s is: Bea’s of Bloomsbury.
The quality of the tea is fantastic. They get their loose-leaf blends from Jing Tea (London-based tea suppliers). And they bake all their cakes and scones in-house – the passion fruit marshmallow was quite delicious and I’m so glad they gave us two of those…
You can get a really good tiered platter afternoon tea for £17, which may seem like an extravagant treat, but if you time it right, it can feel like lunch and afternoon tea thrown in together. And it’ll certainly keep you going should you decide to go for tea BEFORE embarking on the St Paul’s tour.
And the best thing about Bea’s of Bloomsbury – at least for our cathedrals tour – is that if you pick the right seat, you can look at St Paul’s while sipping your tea. Can’t get better than that, surely?
Our only regret for our visit to St Paul’s was that the other tea room we had hoped to visit: We Are Tea, had closed its doors at the end of September. I guess it was another victim of the recession…or of the rental rates in the area…Still, if they had been there, we may not have discovered Bea’s…