Part of my adjustment to London life is adjusting to working remotely. Working remotely definitely has its benefits, but I actually really miss having a set workplace to commute to every day, and I miss being around co-workers. I’ve been skyping and g-chatting with co-workers frequently, which helps, but I also really need to be out of my flat and around other humans to feel normal. While it is easier to do work conference calls from the solitude of my flat, I definitely can’t spend all day/every day in there or I would go insane. So I have been exploring various coffeeshops both in my neighborhood and further afield as a way to both get human interaction and see different parts of London.
I have a running list of criteria of what I am seeking when identifying a place to get work done. First and foremost, there needs to be free, reliable wifi. It also needs to have tables for working on, obviously, and an atmosphere where it is acceptable to spend 1 – 3 hours on a Mac book for the cost of a coffee and perhaps a scone (although I have quickly learned that a regular scone/muffin habit is certainly not sustainable from either a cost or health standpoint). Bonus points for a back garden where I can be on the phone without annoying anyone. Absent that, a quiet corner that is suitable for phone calls is also nice to find.
Speaking of the coffee itself, I have mostly been drinking black Americanos, long blacks and pour-overs where I can find them, and while I have found a number of places that pride themselves on their high-qualify coffee, few have really impressed me. I hate to stereotype or criticize, but the coffee scene in London is really not as impressive as the indie coffee shops all seem to think it is. Generally I prefer darker, richer blends and most places seem to serve lighter, more acidic roasts. But at least there is caffeine; in fact, I know I am overdoing it because I am getting caffeine withdrawal on the weekends, so I clearly need to start drinking ordering juice or something a little more often than always coffee.
I have also sought out non-cafe type places to work. Joining a shared workspace might happen in the future, but for now I am looking for more casual options. I went to the British Library to apply to use the reading rooms there.
Unfortunately I need an academic purpose to use their reading rooms. I am sure I will come up with something for that, but that particular day I wasn’t prepared to request any books so instead I just used the cafe at the library, which actually worked really well. I think there are other museum cafes with wifi that I could use, so I’m going to continue to look into options like that.
Also, I spent about an hour one day working in Bloomsbury Square Gardens when I had a document to edit in word and didn’t need wifi. That went well, and it was actually nice to focus on something without any email distractions popping up.
So I thought I might start a blog series documenting the best coffeeshops I’ve found so far. I mostly have found these through sites like Time Out and London Thru Cafes. Sadly, Yelp, my go-to in the U.S., doesn’t seem to be heavily used in London, other than by Americans and tourists, although it is sometimes helpful.
Here are a few of the places I have tried:
TAP Coffee (Soho location)
Lots of tables, other people working, very good pour-over coffees for 2.50, a selection of pastries and sandwiches that looked good (but I didn’t have any), a clean toilet, free wifi, good music (but too loud for phone calls). Win.
Gets a little crowded at lunch; 8oz pour-over for 2.70 was good but not amazing; good mix of background noise with people working and having small work-like meetings, but gets crowded at lunch and they shut down the wifi from 12-2 on weekdays; perhaps best early in the morning or later in afternoon.
Coffee Works Project, Islington
Filters start at 3.50 but they had cold brew on the menu too. I have sorely missed good iced coffee in London so I ordered that. It was 2.50 but tiny! Like 6 ounces of cold coffee and not very strong! But the space here and the location on Camden Passage in Islington was fabulous. Free wifi, clean toilet, food looked good although I didn’t try any. I would definitely go back but would order something else. Other people were working on Macs, and there was a back garden although I’m not sure if wifi worked out there; will have to try it.
Shoreditch Grind, Old Street
I was excited to try this place since it is apparently a bit of a legend in the London coffee scene and now has several new locations. The location and interior was definitely hip, and while busy, I was able to get a seat easily. I had a long black which was okay but not very strong, and the wifi is only available for 45 minutes. Food looked good and I would come back perhaps on a weekend for a coffee and to hang out, but wouldn’t attempt to get serious work done here.
I will say that I am always conscious of not overstaying my welcome, and if I camp out for too long I make sure to order another drink or something to eat. I also wouldn’t stay long at a place if I was finished with my order and other people were looking for seats, but I really haven’t had that problem yet. There are so many cafes in London, and so many other people working on laptops that I haven’t run into a problem yet.
Do you work remotely? Any tips? Any London coffeeshop recommendations?