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Cafe Review: Penny University at 5 Redchurch Street

I am a complete brewed coffee novice.  All of my travels to coffee shops in London have involved one type of coffee – a flat white – ever since Gwilym and his coffee cart introduced me to them several years ago.  The only variation has been caffeination (and at times of true horror skinny milk).

It seems that the next stage of London’s coffee education is now well and truly on us – that of brewed coffee.  It is now London coffee lore that flat whites are good things to drink and the NY Times has even published a travel article about where to buy them in London.  However, to really appreciate the taste of the coffee and to take on the unique aspects of each bean it appears it is time to leave the textured milk to one side and have coffee bean + water.  Nothing else.

As part of this new you will have started to notice the random implements that have started cropping up in places like Dose Espresso, Prufrock coffee and Taylor Street Baristas.  They look quasi medical.  Like a special Brooklyn version of how to look cool whilst injecting heroin.  These are siphons and burners and filters and ceramic drip cups things.  It is a whole range of new peripherial stuff to get excited and learn about.

So to to Penny University.  This is Square Mile’s new enterprise and it is more akin to a wine tasting shop than the Antipodean brew house you are familiar with.  Completely uncluttered.  Dark, simple and beautiful (and reminds me a bit of Stumptown’s digs in Brooklyn).  It is also not about the money (well not directly but they are selling beans) but educating people’s palates about the range of beans and the ways they can be brewed.

I went this afternoon and had the kind of lesson on taste, terrorr (if you can call the “land” coffee comes from that) and flavours that I expect at a high class wine tasting.  However, this was new, these were tastes that I am familiar with but have not had at this intensity, this purity and alone before.  Oh and at £2.50 to £3.00 a cup or £12 a flight.

Some of the baristas I recognise from Taylor Street Baristas and elsewhere.  All are passionate.  All show the focus and future of coffee in London and elsewhere.

Price – £3 to make you think about something which is a daily essential in a new and more nuanced light.

PS I won’t explain where Penny University comes from since you will shortly read another 50 reviews telling you.

PPS it is worth having a look at this blog by a coffee junkie – Option C – for a more erudite look at coffee if you are interested.

Penny University on Urbanspoon


  1. sarah, Maison Cupcake

    My! This looks like something from a science lesson! I don't drink coffee so am unlikely to check it out but it all looks very intriguing.

  2. Larissa

    Huzzah! Brewed coffee love has made it to London!

  3. Tom

    Sarah – they might do decaf but I would be a little scared to ask. Or maybe not as they are such nice guys. Still is an interesting shop aesthetically just to pop in and see.

    Larissa – a strange strange thing this brewed coffee. It is going to take me a while to adjust.

  4. The Grubworm

    Only flat whites – you've not hit the Turkish coffees? Wow. That is dedication to a single drink 😉

    This place does look very interesting, i would pay that just to watch the whole preparation/ceremony to create the coffee. Fantastic.

  5. Tom

    Well I do have a penchant for Vietnamese coffee as it is basically and after dinner sweet due to the evaporated milk. I also like Turkish coffee though that is more akin to a sludge melted coffee chocolate… Still good though.

  6. The Grubworm

    I really love the chewiness of Turkish coffee, it's a lovely change from the smooth feel of a good Italian/Aussie style cup. Of course, for me though, a good cuppa beats both…

    I'm with you all the way on Vietnamese coffee. Condensed milk. Lovely.

  7. OptionC Coffee

    Wow – some great photos! And thanks for the link!

  8. Tom

    OptionC – no problem. I actually went back today and had a flight (with paired chocolates) and what an experience. It makes food academic, and gives you a snapshot of each country or terroir where the beans came from.

    This is a stunningly interesting precedent and one which deserves to bloom (and hopefully be emulated by other food producers). Imagine a jamon serrano equivalent…

  9. Brian

    i'm an american living in london and i've been so sad about the severe lack of good brewed coffee. this place is great, i agree. (next step: a spot that will brew some nice filter coffee for takeaway…)

  10. Tom

    Brian – they did tell me they would put it into one of those plastic barista recyclable cups which you can now buy at all good independent places. However, I think they were slightly concerned about the effect the plastic might have on the taste.

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