The best place to buy coffee in London is also its oldest. Hidden in plain sight on Old Compton Street in Soho is the incredible Algerian Coffee Stores, a small shop that has been selling rare teas and choice coffees ever since 1895. It also has a place in my heart, as a shop my Dad and I regularly visit on our dad and daughter London days out which we’ve been doing since I was four years old!
Walking inside this tiny shop is a feast for the eyes and senses! There is every sort of tea and coffee your heart could desire. Coffees with exotic sounding names – over 80 types and blends – imported from all over the world, and blends, are hand-painted and listed on the beautiful old price list atop the original wooden counter. Anything from Kona, a rare variety from the volcanic soils of Hawaiʻi’s Big Island, and the precious, pricey Jamaican Blue Mountain to the strong and unique Torino.
As well as coffee, the shelves and cabinets are filled with jar upon jar of fragrantly spiced tea leaves. In fact, they stock an incredible 120 plus types – teas such as from Japanese Genmaicha green tea to Indian Nilgiri Pekoe tea to good old Argentinian mate, England Breakfast and Earl Grey. You name it, they will have it.
The Algerian Coffee Stores gets its names from its first owner, a Mr Hassan who was Algerian – though Algeria itself doesn’t produce coffee. He opened the shop in 1887 and I managed to find some beautiful original photos on the shops’s Facebook page of it around the time it opened.
The business was bought by the Crocetta family in 1948 who have owned it ever since. The beauty of Algerian Coffee Stores is in the age of the shop, which is the essence of the business, everything is old and wobbly – or patched up. A few of the shop’s original features can still be seen, including the shelves lining the walls, the wooden counter and the display case.
Each time I visit, and it really doesn’t matter how early I arrive, it’s either busy or teetering on chaos to mayhem. On my most recent visit this month, I was surprised to arrive and find no one else inside! Seconds later, just as I’d settled in to read the price list, three people walked in behind me, leaving little time to browse. Try not to let this pressure you, though. Choosing the right coffee or tea is a big decision, and it’s important to get it right. The team might work fast and efficiently, but want you to leave happy and are always willing to answer any questions you have to help you make the prefect choice. Queuing is all part of the experience on a trip to the Algerian Coffee Stores!
Around 10 staff work in the tiny shop at any one time, not only serving customers quickly and efficiently, but also preparing and packing up orders placed online. It’s interesting to see this well-oiled miniature machine at work. Oh, I almost forgot, they also make coffee to takeaway – the cheapest place in London! Despite inflation, the coffee shop has kept its prices low, selling an Americano for £1 and a latte or cappuccino for as little as £1.50. While you wait for your beans to be ground and your hot coffee to takeaway, there are more shelve to browse, this time filled with treats like artisan chocolate and sweets. Heaven.
So while much of Soho has been gentrified out of existence, Algerian Coffee Stores is still hanging on in there, and the finest place to buy your coffee and tea in the city.
Find the Algerian Coffee Stores at 52 Old Compton Street, London W1D 4PB