Tonic Coffee Bar, Sherwood Street

January 2, 2014

Like a forest. Of bottles.

Like a forest. Of bottles.

A short walk north of the neon nexus that is Piccadilly Circus, so thin it seems strapped to the wall of its housing, lies Tonic Coffee Bar. Tonic is the most recent instantiation of the Coffeesmiths Collective, a by-word, to this coffee drinker at least, for quality. Coffeesmiths run five cafés in London at the moment, including the superlative Department of Coffee and Social Affairs and Chancery Coffee, both previously visited and reviewed, as well as The Liberty of Norton Folgate and Speakeasy. Tonic, open since July 2013, sits on the southwest corner of Soho’s caffeine-soaked environs and, arguably, now provides one of the finest brews available in the area.

Tonic is just that.

Of all London’s qualities, the one I find least charming is its love of bustle and busyness, strongly accented by the tourist economy and its faux glitz and relentless consumerism. The area of Soho and where it seeps into the even busier shopping districts of Piccadilly and Regents Street are a kind of personal hell. Thank goodness, then, for Tonic, which provides a poor, befuddled soul such as mine a quick respite from the chaos and a bloody good cup of coffee.

The machine and the coffee.

The machine and the coffee.

The layout is simple, with a coffee machine at one end of the narrow room, and food and cold drinks at the other. There is only a limited seating spot at the bar, three stools, and some room to stand. But Tonic is envisaged as a takeaway spot, in contrast to the delightfully relaxed ambience of Department of Coffee. That is not to say that thought hasn’t been given to the design. In some respects, Tonic is actually my favourite of the Coffeesmiths houses. The walls are a beautifully deep, verdant green, redolent of the depths of an Amazonian forest and thus wonderfully removed from the trashy colours of the Circus. The tiled walls are interrupted by shelving, upon which sit bottle after bottle with printed Tonic labels, which looks interesting and also catches the light and dances it around, creating a welcoming visual warmth. While the bar is busy, it doesn’t feel rushed, either. All in all, though this is a takeaway spot, it is still one where spending twenty minutes drinking a cup feels restful.

Food and prices.

Food and prices, if you squint.

The coffee is excellent. In keeping with house rules, there are a variety of filters and espressos, as well as a decaffeinated option. The filters are both from HasBean, and very good brews too: the Columbian Finca El Vergel and the Sumatran Wahana Lingtong are two of the best filters out there at the moment. I had an espresso using Climpson and Sons’ seasonal roast, which was pleasingly citrusy and cleverly balanced; I can see it working well with milk too. I also had a flat white, unusually for me, in order to try HasBean’s Nicaraguan Finca La Escondida. It was superb, sweet and smooth with a spike of berry and lime rising out of the caramel taste. Espressos are £2.20 or £2.30 and flat whites are £2.50. For £2.80 you can also have a ‘both ways’, whereby you get a single shot and a cortado/piccolo of the guest espresso so you can see how it plays, as you guessed already, both ways. For tea drinkers, they serve teas by Canton Tea Company that, I’ve little doubt, are also good.

They even have their own trucker hats.

They even have their own trucker hats.

In conclusion, Tonic is exactly what I would want from a takeaway café. The quality of coffee is excellent, with genuine thought put into the range of choices; I am a big fan of the ‘both ways’ option too, a clever way of learning about different roasts and different types of coffee. The atmosphere is a lot more laid back than I might expect from somewhere that clearly services a transient customer base. Tonic is a very welcome addition to the Soho coffee scene and, in my opinion anyway, has already pegged back and overtaken a lot of the more established names in the area.

Tonic, 16 Sherwood Street, W1F 7ED

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @TonicCoffee

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