14 April 2023

The Caffeine Chronicles: % Arabica, Spitalfields

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that I've visited a fair few speciality coffee shops over the past 16 years. Many of these cafes have been beautifully and thoughtfully designed. But the new branch of % Arabica in Spitalfields really takes the cake (canelĂ©, perhaps) with its stunning coffee bar. If you enjoy the works of Yayoi Kusama, you'll probably feel at home here.

% Arabica is a Japanese speciality coffee company founded by Kenneth Shoji to celebrate his twin passions of coffee and design. He opened the % Arabica flagship cafe in Kyoto in September 2014 — four months too late for my trip to Japan, unfortunately. I've been to one of the London branches, in Covent Garden, a few times, but I hadn't realised how much the company had expanded: they currently have 150 cafes in 20 countries.

I had seen a couple of pictures of the company's newest coffee shop, inside Spitalfields Market, and took advantage of a bank holiday Friday to check it out. Spitalfields can be very crowded at the best of times but arriving at % Arabica relatively early meant it wasn't too busy. Located on Market Street, the cafe is towards the south-west corner of the market. Its large windows let in a lot of natural light even when the sun isn't shining quite as much as it was on Friday.

Once inside, your eye is immediately drawn to the circular wooden kiosk at the centre of the bright, minimalist space. I say 'circular' but it depends somewhat on where you are standing as to what shape it appears. From some angles, you could describe it as a particularly large, particularly beautiful pipe fitting.

 Large mirrors on the walls make the space look even larger, although also make it slightly confusing to work out which opening you need to stand by in order to order, pick up your coffee or talk to the friendly baristas.

One of the reasons I haven't been to % Arabica as often as I might otherwise is that they only have disposable cups available, which isn't ideal if you don't have a reusable cup with you. They are gradually phasing out the use of plastics, which is good to hear. In the meantime, I remembered to take my mini Ecoffee cup with me — and got a small discount for using it.

When facing the kiosk, you place your order at the window on the right-hand side of the structure. They do serve single-origin pourover coffees, but the espresso-based drinks are by far the most popular drinks on the menu. There's a Kyoto Latte, made with condensed milk, on the menu too if you like something sweeter. My (regular) cortado was perfectly sweet as it was. It was very well brewed and had a lovely smooth taste and latte art that lasted down to the bottom.

There are also a few baked goods and sweet treats on offer and I treated myself to the aforementioned canelĂ© — it was the Easter weekend, after all. I took a seat at one of the small, white, circular tables, which afforded a great view of the kiosk and of the market outside.

% Arabica. 2 Market Street, Spitalfields Market, London, E1 6DT (Tube: Liverpool Street). Website. Instagram.

For 140+ more of my favourite coffee shops in London, you can also check out my London speciality coffee guide.

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