Mornings on Portobello Road

Unike most European cities, London is not a coffee city.  But when you manage to find a great cappuccino or cup of joe, I guarantee you’ll make your way back often.  Having lived and worked in the Notting Hill area for a while before moving to Kensington, I spent my mornings at the Coffee Plant on Portobello Road.

The Coffee Plant has a very industrial feel to it – metal  bar stools and tables and a wooden L-shaped bar that lines two front walls.  It used to be a bit dingy, but after a face-lift in ’08 one could say it now has a clean minimalist or utilitarian look.  But despite the sparse furnishings, they serve the best of the best.  All of their tea and coffee is Fairtrade and the majority, organic.  And unlike most coffee shops, Coffee Plant’s beans are freshly roasted as needed in their West London roasting house and do not sit in bags for months (or years) on end waiting to be used.

To add to the delight, they train every barista they hire well – so much so that they steam milk perfectly and are often skilled at latte art – flowers, leaves, hearts, you name it.  If you prefer tea, they have a wide selection, including everything from English Breakfast to Ginzing (ginseng).  The last time I was there (8 months ago), a latte was £1.60 and tea was a mere £0.90.  An absolute bargain compared to the £3 lattes most Central London coffee shops are hocking.

As if good coffee wasn’t enough, this little place is full of life.  I would even go as far as to deem it the heart of the community.  Some of the best conversations of my life happened within a few feet of their espresso machine over a soya latte or ceylon tea.  Their reasonable prices coupled with the outstanding quality tends to make it an appealing haunt for many in the neighborhood.  Its clientele runs the gamut from bohemian types who barely scrape by to scions of English literary fortunes.  It’s rare to see such an eclectic blend of people hangout and enjoy each others’ company as much as they do at the Coffee Plant.

The photo I’ve included in this post is a testament to that.  I found it on Google – strangely didn’t take many photos during the years I lived in London – and the photographer captured a moment in the lives of two of my friends.  The gentleman just inside the door moved to London from Eastern Europe to work so he could send money home to his wife and family.  To do that, he opened a lovely boutique on Kensington Church Street called D-Lala (check it out!).  And the gentleman sitting out front with a white t-shirt and jeans is a fantastic poet.  If I wasn’t writing, a handful of us – including these two gentleman and a wonderful woman who shares my passion for Greece, film and travel – would spend our mornings talking story and discussing everything under the sun: travel, life, art, books, family, work.  Many years on, the lattes, the conversations, the friends and the people watching still warm my heart.

I guess this is proof that the gift of travel comes in many forms.   Because even though I wasn’t just visitor passing through London, I still had to make the decision to  pack my bags, cross the globe, and hang my hat somewhere new.  And as a resident, I experienced that beautifully simple pleasure of being somewhere foreign and getting to know people I would’ve never otherwise met – people who added an extra bit of color to my life.  And for that, I am forever grateful.

*The Coffee Plant is located at 180 Portobello Road (Notting Hill, London, UK).  You can get there by taking the Circle, Central or District Line of the Tube to Notting Hill Gate or the Hammersmith and City Line to Ladbroke Grove.  The Coffee Plant is open 7 days a week from 8am to 6 or 7pm (depends on business).

The Coffee Plant photo courtesy of: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_P4Uad_Fsc2w/Rzngr_EIlSI/AAAAAAAAAM8/134h1KPlp98/s400/IMG_0992.JPG

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