Which is Croydon’s best independent coffee shop? The hunt is on

By - Friday 22nd May, 2015

Bernadette Fallon has opinions about coffee and cake. Strong, well-informed opinions

Cupcakes, Croydon-style, at Ebears Attic.
Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

There is a growing number of independent coffee shops in Croydon. What does this burgeoning café culture say about our place in the world? What does it say about perceptions of our town, or its self-belief, image, community spirit and philosophy? That’s a lot to pin on a few coffee shops – fair point. But from the earliest times, coffee houses have been more than just a place to drink a few up ground beans.

London’s coffee revolution didn’t come about in the ‘90s when suddenly there were skinny lattes around every corner; it happened in the late 1600s when 3,000 coffee houses in the capital kick-started caffeine-fuelled debates and boosted the economy in many different ways. Opened as an alternative to the rapidly-becoming-more-seedy ale houses, they attracted intellectuals, professionals and businessmen, and doubled as reading rooms, information centres and trading houses.

Some of these 17th century ‘coffee houses’ are still with us today. Lloyds of London? Started life as Lloyds coffee house on Tower Street, the place to go for marine insurance. London Stock Exchange? Born when the owner of Jonathan’s coffee shop in Exchange Alley began to issue a a list of stock prices called ‘The Course of the Exchange’.

Cafés hold out the promise of intellectual discourse – and cake

From Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre in Les Deux Magots in Paris to the ‘Friends’ in Central Perk, cafés have long held the promise of intellectual stimulation, deep discourse and profitable pairings – even if Phoebe strumming ‘Smelly Cat’ does not run quite as deep as Sartre’s existentialism. And there’s cake.

And from the greasy spoon with its economic and social benefits – a cheap place to get a hot meal and see a friendly face – to the behemoth brand bully boys pushing out the little guys, coffee shops say a lot about the areas they inhabit. But the arrival of the big brands is the downside of ‘gentrification’ – if everything looks the same, how can we tell if we’re in Croydon, Clapham or Clacton on Sea? And surely, if the coffee shops come, rising property prices cannot be far behind?

That’s the fight that’s currently raging in Brixton, as independent shops and businesses are forced out by rising rents: the type of rents only international money-making machines can pay.

We’ve launched the search for Croydon’s best independent coffee shop

But there is an upside – and it’s this. Truly independent coffee shops can also thrive in areas where wealth is rising. I’m not talking Russian oligarchs’ wealth – just people who have enough money to treat themselves to a big cappuccino and a nice hand-made cake of a Saturday. Or on Monday, if they so desire.

And it’s this independence that we’d like to celebrate: the Croydon cafés that are offering something more than the big brands can supply, be it home baking, personality or leaving books out for customers.

So a group of Croydon’s enthusiastic community tweeters started the search to find Croydon’s best independent coffee shop. To answer the question: what does Croydon’s café culture say about its place in the world? And the even more important question – who does the best Victoria sponge?

For the answer, we’ll look to the cafés themselves to tell us!

The judges are me (@bernibee), Gemma Johnson (@gemmathebaker), Lis Watkins (@lineandwash), Ian Marvin (inthelight_ian), Michael To (@DracorumOrder), Josi Kiss (@ParkHillFriends) and Liz Sheppard-Jones (@LizSheppardJone). We’ve been hunting high and low, from Crystal Palace to Coulsdon and from New Addington to Waddon, and we’ll soon announce our shortlisted finalists. Judging criteria are consistent for every entrant, and we’re marking on quality of coffee, cake, and service, value for money, and that hard-to-define café ambience that makes all the difference between a pitstop and a quality piece of coffeeshop downtime.

We’ll be inviting our fellow Croydonians to have their say in the people’s picks and all our finalists will be listed on Twitter and will receive window stickers. We’ll then announce a runner-up, and that all important winning coffeeshop. Watch this space!

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette has been a journalist since the age of 7 when she devised, designed and launched ‘Fallon’s News’ – much to her family’s delight. Brought up in Ireland, she was born in Addiscombe where she now lives, though it took her several decades to find it again. She works as a journalist and broadcaster. Follow her at Twitter.com/bernibee

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  • Mrs_P

    Bobski’s at Matthews Yard for cakes – no contest. Best coffee too.

    • Anne Giles

      I go to Matthews Yard for the wonderful selection of herbal and other teas rather than the coffee and I don’t eat wheat, so cakes are out. Also, the atmosphere there is fantastic.

    • Bernadette Fallon

      Cakes, atmosphere, it’s brilliant

      • wendymcwoo

        Sadly the espresso at Matthews Yard is dire. Foul. I could spend all day and a lot of money there but the coffee is dire. A great spot but the coffee doesn’t hit the spot.

        • Stephen Giles

          I think it really depends what you want a coffee to be. Many like weak tasting coffee like a laaaaaaaaaaartaaaay (as they say in Croydon) but some of us like a strong espresso, best found at Cafe Adagio in Addiscombe, at a considerably cheaper price than one has to pay in the centre of Croydon!

  • Anne Giles

    For hot, frothy and generous espressos I use the Jubilee Cafe at Selsdon Hall, below the Selsdon Sainsbury’s. A single espresso there is a small cup filled to the brim, rather than a single shot, which is quite tiny. They also do gluten free chocolate muffins, as I don’t eat wheat and there is always someone to chat to.

    • Bernadette Fallon

      Haven’t been there but will definitely check it out – sounds great

    • Anne Giles

      I no longer buy single espressos in cafes where their single is a single shot (literally a couple of teaspoonfuls in a small cup). By the time you get your cup to a table it has cooled down! The best places for a full single cup, apart from the Jubilee Cafe are the cafes/restaurants owned by foreigners – Spanish, Argentine, Turkish, etc.

  • michael badu

    You’ll notice from my twitter page that I’m a self confessed coffee fascist. I’ve only had the cappuccino but I think Smoothbean On Dingwall Road serves some of the best coffee in London, let alone Croydon. I want to love Mathews Yard but the coffee’s not very nice in my opinion. Sorry :( . But Matthew’s Yard ambience is great.

    • Bernadette Fallon

      But the cake in Matthews Yard – oh, the cake ….

  • Devendra Kumar

    Nothing beats Yeha Noha in Norwood Junction. The best exotic kind of coffees are the unique tastes that you will struggle to find anywhere in London..Try chilli hot chocolate and if spices are not for you , try almond coffee . You will dream of going again and again . The supplement food is also awesome. Try their pierogi which are one of the best I have tried so far in UK.

    • Bernadette Fallon

      It’s such a great place and we went there Saturday – gorgeous rooms to hire for private parties too, they even do weddings!

    • Anne Giles

      Haven’t been to Yeha Noha for a while. Yes – it was really good.

  • Pass The Deutschy

    Sweets! It’s local and convenient and I discovered the Croydon Citizen there! :-) xx

    • Anne Giles

      Where is Sweets?

      • Pass The Deutschy

        Next to the McDonalds on George Street, about three minutes away from East Croydon Train Station and opposite the tram shop.

        • Anne Giles

          I shall look out for it. Thanks!

  • LibertyGal

    The Tram Stop in Addiscombe. Coffee is lovely, food and service superb. Haven’t tried Cafe Adagio yet. Smoothbean is great for food and tea x

    • Stephen Giles

      I agree the food is very good in the Tram Stop, but i found their £1.70 espresso to be rather weak, compared with the strong £1.20 espresso in Cafe Adagio!

      • Anne Giles

        £1.70 is a bit pricey anyway.

  • Catherine Stephenson

    I too highly reccomend Matthew’s Yard off Surrey Street. Even with it’s ongoing regeneration of the site it is a fantastic venue. The atmosphere is welcoming and calm. After sitting studying in there on a week day I couldn’t but notice the wide range of customers. Mothers with babies in prams, students with a pop-up shop, bussinessmen to name but a few.
    There is a real comunity feel, with art on thw walls, fresh flowers on the tables a genuine welcome from the staff behind the counter who know about the range of teas,coffeee, and cakes.
    Again the cakes are fresh, locally souced and delicious. Each has been baked by Bobski who also works behind the counter. Each slice is genoures and well priced .
    Otherwise there is The BURGR BAR, with it’s range of cooked to order fresh to order burgers with fries and sauces.
    Combined with it’s art gallery, performance stage and community education spaces I cannot imagine a more deserving winner.

  • Stephen Giles

    Now, let’s get Matthews Yard ‘s spelling correct !!!!!

  • Shujah Iqbal

    Folks, for me it would have to be between http://www.artrebellion.co.uk in Coulsdon Vs matthewsyard.com in Croydon

  • Steve Ryall

    Tram stop cafe for any families. Brilliant food, brilliant atmosphere and really baby friendly. I’m a convert!!