It's nice to immerse yourself in the coffee culture of a place - particularly Italy, but anywhere where there's a strong habit. When I first went to Italy I disliked coffee; by the end of my stay there I was tossing back a cappuccino every morning e un cafe (espresso, certo!) each afternoon. I've started ordering flat whites here, which are fairly similar to cappuccino. The flat white got started in Australia but the English have pretty much co-opted it, along with other aspects of Melbourne coffee culture.
I've been missing my favorite St. Louis haunts a lot, but it has been fun to get acquainted with the London coffee world. Filter coffee ("regular" coffee to Americans) isn't as common in shops here. They tend to rely on espresso & espresso-based drinks - what Europe would call "regular" coffee. So I've picked these places based on the quality of their espresso-based drinks, atmosphere, price, and service, among other things. All of these factors were fed into my highly quantitative formula machine, and then I went with my gut. Read on for some of the best Central coffee shops I've found so far.
TAP: Great coffee and music, and a laid-back vibe. They have three locations at present; of the two I've been to I prefer 114 (Tottenham Court Road) to 26. It has a better atmosphere and more light, in addition to being marginally cheaper. Oh, and that tree-stump I mentioned.
Workshop: Also has several locations; the one I visited had friendly and welcoming service along with excellent coffee. (I guess I should just say that all of these places have excellent coffee; if they didn't I wouldn't be mentioning them.) It's in a nicer area (Marylebone), so it's correspondingly a bit pricier.
Wild and Wood: Near Holborn, this place is notable for its homey and homely environment. The interior is a quirky jumble of wood, and the mix of patrons - of all ages and accents - is refreshing. They encourage shared seating in the tiny space, so it's best for socializing (or people-watching).
Fleet Street Press: Cozy, chatty, and comfortable, this is my most recent and soon-to-be-revisited find. They have quality music and drinks, and a nice downstairs area with couches for working or talking.
Kaffeine: For a flat white done right. If this place were slightly closer it would likely be my go-to spot. It seems like a chill, neighborhood-y place, so I'll have to work on getting to know the baristas here as well as I did in StL. The croissants are delicious too.
The Wren: is inside a former Christopher Wren-designed church, which makes it utterly charming to sit in. There's also lots of space - a valuable commodity in London, where most places are pretty small and limited in seating. it's a little oasis tucked away in the City, with quiet conversation, decent music, and no rush. Historic architecture, delicious coffee, and a bird logo? How could it get better? Oh, the cups are in my favorite color. SOLD.
New Row: Fantastic coffee, tiny premises. Always worth a stop, as you can usually squeeze into a seat, but a better spot for meandering and musing than for working/studying.
It was only after writing all these up that I sensed the theme in my favorite places - relaxed, comfortable, and cozy, quality coffee and music, and just enough buzz. Add in a historic space (there are funerary-flagstones on the way to the bathroom, people!!) and you have my absolute favorite. There's some difference between places I go to work and places I want to be social, but in general they can work both ways. Anyway, let me know if you have questions or suggestions!