05 August 2020

The Caffeine Chronicles: WatchHouse, Maltby Street Roastery

I've long been a regular at the WatchHouse coffee shops, the first two of which opened in my neighbourhood on Bermondsey Street and Shad Thames. And what with one thing and another, I've been spending even more time than usual in Bermondsey over the past few months. While the Bermondsey Street WatchHouse — based in the former watch house of St Mary Magdalen churchyard — has been closed for a refurb, I spied a new member of the family in the works, located at the top of Maltby Street, near the titular market.

It turns out that the new WatchHouse is a roastery as well as a very sleek coffee bar. WatchHouse previously used Ozone coffee in their shops but have now taken their roasting in house. I visited on Sunday morning while doing some errands, before Maltby Street Market was in full swing. There was a short queue outside the WatchHouse, however, as staff had implemented physical distancing practices, which limited the number of customers inside. Hand-washing and mask-wearing was also required and although there were a few stools at the long counter that runs along the shop's perimeter, it's take-out only for the time being (there are a few seats, with integrated cup-holders, out front).

The coffee bar itself is an impressive sight, a curving, red-brick structure that occupies most of the cafe space, punctuated by custom coffee drippers, Modbar espresso machines and a selection of light bites and sweet treats. Espresso-based drinks and pourover coffee are available. On my first visit there was a minor steam wand crisis, so I had an espresso; I'm not sure the origin, but it tasted bright and fruity.

When I returned — oh, the luxury of visiting Maltby Street on a weekday lunchtime — I brought my reusable cups with me, having spotted the tray by the brew bar where customers could place their own cups for filling. Although it got busier by the time I left, as it was quiet when I arrived, I decided to order both a piccolo and a pourover, which were expertly brewed by the very friendly baristas. The espresso for the former was brewed in one of the WatchHouse's (admittedly attractive) disposable cups, so I ended up not using my HuskeeCup. I sipped this in one of the bench seats outside, watching Maltby Street meander on by.

While I waited for my pourover, one of the baristas gave me a sample of an Ethiopian coffee that was on batch brew, whose Earl Grey flavours were perfect for a hot, sunny day. My pourover was brewed with a coffee from Burundi (this one, I believe), which was beautifully sweet with lovely floral flavour notes as it cooled. The barista prepared the coffee over a glass server and then decanted it into my Frank Green cup, which I took home to fuel me through a long afternoon of video calls. Retail bags of beans and coffee-making kit are also available.

WatchHouse has made a real name for itself, in Bermondsey, and beyond, and I've been really impressed with the fruits of their new roasting arm so far. If you visit the roastery at the weekend, you can combine it with a trip to Maltby Street Market, but it will probably be less busier during the week.

WatchHouse. 36 Maltby Street, London, SE1 3PA (Tube: Bermondsey). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

For 120+ more of my favourite coffee shops in London, please check out my London speciality coffee guide.

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