OK, so Monmouth Coffee is far from a secret, but my aim is to bring you quality, not novelty. A recent refit, and the arrival of some delicious Lemon Madeleines, is the only excuse I need to remind you what a great place for coffee this Covent Garden resident is. The shop occupies a tiny space, and there's nothing they can do to change that - I doubt they'd want to. If you don't fancy take-away (and doesn't coffee taste all the better out of porcelain), the lovely young, knowledgable, mostly arts student, staff will do their best to squeeze you into one of the booths at the back.
The original treacly wood interior has been stripped out and replaced with untreated oak and some new lighting, making the space much lighter and at least look roomier. The place has lost none of its charm in the process. You still get cosy with your neighbours. If you don't like that, don't go. Maybe it's the stimulating effect of the drink but, along with a few grumpy encounters, I've had many fascinating conversations whilst knee-to-knee with perfect strangers in here. True, I've also had to put up with some annoying food bloggers trying to get the perfect photo of a cup of coffee. I agree with Giles Coren - Stop it!
For my money, Monmouth still sells the best coffee in London. Owner Anita Le Roy has been running Monmouth for 33 years and is very much hands-on and as enthusiastic as ever. She created a vibrant, independent and distinctive coffee company, and it still is. It shows in the attention to detail and, not least, in the excellent coffee. There is a growing trend for making a great fuss of the brewing process, generally involving test-tube-like equipment which puts you in mind of a laboratory rather than a coffee shop. You won't find that here. No amount of time spent faffing over the beans will compensate for a poor product. Monmouth source all their coffees personally on regular buying trips around the world. They make no extravagant claims for their business but personally source from single farms, estates and cooperatives, travelling extensively to do so. They believe by investing time in building relationships, an equal, fair and sustainable trading policy is achievable.
My favourite filter coffee right know is the Kenyan Wathenge, produced by the New Gaturi Farmers Cooperative Society which has around 1200 members from four villages in the area. Monmouth's espresso is currently a mix of two Brasilian Fazenda beans, Tunje Grande from Colombia and the Guatemalan Pasajquim. To take home, you can buy the the freshly roasted beans or have it ground to your requirements.
If you want something to eat with your coffee there is a selection of pastries, Sally Clarke's gorgeous chocolate truffles and, on Thursdays only, the special treat of delicious Lemon Madeleines. Monmouth also has a cafe at 2 Park Street, Borough and they open their roasting arch at Spa Terminus, Bermondsey as a cafe on Saturdays from 9-2pm. Now remember, if you go be prepared to share your space and leave room for me.
UPDATE JUNE 2014: All about Origin at Monmouth Coffee