A review of the venerable specialty coffee shop, Monmouth Coffee, at its original location in the Seven Dials, close to Covent Garden, London. Notes are by an amateur coffee enthusiast and shoestring digital nomad.
I must disclose that Monmouth is a discovery unique among my cafe reviews; I discovered it a decade ago on my first trip to London, became a regular in 2012, and visited again every time I’ve been in town ever since. The photos and reviews are from the latest, 2017, visit to my preferred location at the Seven Dials (though I have been to the Borough Market one several times, too).
Monmouth is great for coffee, not remote work. It doesn’t have Wi-Fi or plugs. The narrow shop is virtually a shoebox with seats at the back. However, I have seen people over the years persevere with a laptop; many people come to read (I’ve seen books, newspapers, academic papers, business briefs, and reports). Even though the cafe seems to have a perpetual line-up, I’ve never seen the staff ask anyone to leave.
I think the hardwood bench seating can actually accommodate close to 20 people, as the place somehow does encourage a cozy cramming if a big group takes the corner table.
Monmouth serves espresso and single origin pour-over coffee at reasonable prices that make me wonder why anyone would wander over to a Nero or Costa. On the table (and at the door if you do take-away), you will find a list of their latest beans, which they source directly from growers. The selection of coffees goes by region and includes detailed tasting notes as well as extensive information on the estate. Even after scanning, you may want to ask the baristas for their latest recommendation anyway as they will inevitably have stock that’s not updated yet.
As one person, I usually manage a seat within 5-10 minutes if I go at an odd hour on a weekday. Even though I love to buy their single origin whole beans to take back, I usually order their espresso since I don’t have a machine at home. In my earlier years, I would usually order a cappuccino, but recently I’ve taken to a piccolo latte. Friends who are unfortunate enough to accompany me know that I stop talking until I’m done my drink here because exhaling after you sip allows the delightful aroma to last. They serve a Monmouth Espresso blend that is usually on the nutty end with a hint of acidity that pairs perfectly with the milk.
Monmouth’s Seven Dials shop sells beans at the front and the coffee bar is in the back. I would highly recommend getting one of their pastries (my favourite is the croissant or chocolate croissant).
Also, if waiting and cramming isn’t your thing, just get take-out and walk 1-minute away into Neal’s Yard (yes, where the organic skincare product Neal’s Yard Remedies comes from) to enjoy your drink on the public seats in the courtyard.
Their Story / What I like About Them:
Monmouth Coffee is arguably one of London’s first independent roasters when Anita Le Roy opened shop at the Seven Dials back in 1978. For the first two decades, they didn’t even sell coffee to cafes and they only opened their Borough Market branch around 2012.
She was ahead of her time, aiming for single-origin and microlot beans in an industry dominated by wholesale distributors. Her dream wasn’t feasible for a decade. Coffee as the second most traded commodity after oil, is traditionally sold in markets with spot auction prices in massive, mixed batches. In the past, by the time the green beans arrive for roasting, they have already been mixed. Unless a roaster specifies the stock is single-origin (and can be transparent about exactly which grower), you can safely assume that your beans have been mixed.
Roasters and coffee drinkers are increasingly appreciating is another layer: the importers. Most cafes even today buy through importers because they cannot purchase in bulk enough to source their beans otherwise. Monmouth’s growth as a single origin roaster came in tandem with Mercanta in 1996.
Even without the coffee history and industry backstory, Monmouth Coffee’s operations will likely strike a first-time visitor. You don’t buy prepackaged bags of coffee. You can pick from whatever they have behind the counter, clearly labelled with price by weight. A staff member will take your order, which can be from 50-500 grams, weigh it, put it into a bag, and tape the label for you. You can look at their catalogue or simply ask for a recommendation.
The customized ordering of such quality beans at such reasonable prices (a 250 gram standard rarely breaks £9) means I as a consumer can try as many flavours as possible while they’re fresh. I wanted to get 5 different bags of whole beans to take back to Asia. After listing a few I thought I would like to one of the staff, we had a bit of a back and forth. I could see that behind the agreeable face, she thought there were alternatives to my options. After explaining my preference in tasting profiles, I left it entirely for her to choose.
In my decade of going, the staff have been consistently professional and friendly. They meet you where you are comfortable: if you want to call the shots, tell them exactly what you want and they will prepare it without question. If you want recommendations, give them your taste preferences and they’ll walk you through their latest options. That day, the barista ended up giving me 4/5 beans that were off the menu. Plus, the one she told me was the most interesting and unusual was spot on — I’m glad I got twice as much. And, as always, I’m glad I came, even though I only had a 7-hour stop over.
Monmouth Coffee at Borough Market also has the same hospitality once it’s your turn in the line, so don’t feel pressured to make a decision and ask as many questions as you need. Also, the Borough Market location has an unlimited bread & butter offering at the communal table not available at the Seven Dials location.
- Coffee: Pour-over, espresso
- Food: Pastries
- Cafe Space: About 10-16 in a tight squeeze
- Friends: Hangouts, catching up, readings
- Workspace: Tiny, but possible
- Remote Work: No Wi-Fi, no phones, no plugs
|Address:||27 Monmouth St, London WC2H 9EU, UK|
|Hours:||Mon – Sat: 8:00-18:30
If you liked this post, check out my list of Off-Centre Tokyo Cafes.