The story of the Camden Coffee Shop on Delancey Street

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Stepping through the door is a rare moment of authenticity in a world of the salvaged, restyled and re-purposed


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Clad in a blue overall, his bald head tanned, George has the appearance and rhythm of a master craftsman. Photos: Stephen Emms
Hands up if you’re a caffeine fanatic but have never visited the Camden Coffee Shop? I reckon there are a few out there.

Why? Well, it’s on Delancey Street for starters, the one-way sweep up from the high street towards Regent’s Park. And it’s tucked away on a parade of retro Mediterranean restaurants, opposite doomed boozer the Crown & Goose (forlorn since its adjoining snooker hall was pulled down. But that’s another story).

Camden Coffee Shop ExtSixtysomething George Constinantou has run his tiny outlet for 35 years, after taking over from his uncle back in May 1978. Originally from Cyprus, he came to London ten years earlier and trained as an engineer, but eschewed it all in favour of being his own boss.

Stepping through the door is a rare moment of authenticity in a world of the salvaged, restyled and re-purposed: with its rusty machines, original tiling, chipped scales, plastic trays of beans, and sacks stacked flat, it’s an oasis of roasting and grinding. A refreshing antidote, in fact, to nearby Blues Kitchen’s artfully battered facade. And of course, with the rich aroma in the air, the senses are on overdrive: “It’s like a museum!” is perhaps a natural exclamation, except the place is nothing of the kind; it’s simply an artisan workplace unchanged for three decades.

Beans, beans, beans
Beans, beans, beans

Clad in a blue overall, his bald head tanned, George has the appearance and rhythm of a master craftsman. The shop is busy on our visit but later, on the phone, he explains that the roasting is all done on the premises using one machine from the 1960s and another from 1912 or 1918 (he isn’t quite sure which). The older is “better made”, hence his attachment to it. And both work by roasting beans from the core: spun slowly, they shed their husks as they brown. To ensure a prevailing freshness, they’re not ground unless a customer requests them that way.

George sticks to a small range of six or seven coffees at a time. Note the unfussy names: Continental Blend, Kenya AA Estate, Costa Rica, Ethopian Mocha, Colombian, Santos Light. Regular readers will know how strong we like our hard stuff, so we chose a Santos Dark, and, preferring them ground, watched the coffee pouring out, the smell wonderful.

Camden Coffee purchaseThe obvious question is: why doesn’t George have a sideline selling the actual drink itself? After all, a single cup can be sold for the same price as a bag of beans. “Too small,” he says. “Too difficult in this space,” before pointing out that everyone on the street – “the pub over there, the restaurants next door” – uses his beans for their coffee anyway. Not to mention the “three generations” of regular customers, as well as tourists “from across the world” who make the pilgrimage.

George concedes that London’s coffee obsession is one trend that shows no sign of abating. And, he says, with something like a giggle, if one of his kids doesn’t take over when he retires, a whole army of fans will fight to ensure the shop’s survival – for at least the next three decades.

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Find Camden Coffee Shop at 11 Delancey Street NW1.

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  • Dean

    I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know this place existed. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, will be visiting soon!

  • Sam

    Why did I not know about this place? Why would I have walked passed it dozens of times and not dropped by? Why have I lived in Camden for 20 years drinking hundreds of gallons of coffee and not been in the kind of shop that I salivate over? I actually feel embarrassed. Tell George i’m sorry and i’ll be in by the end of the week. I’m sure i’ll be a future regular.

    Thanks for highlighting this place. Anywhere else i’ve missed?

  • Neeef

    We’ve been buying the medium roast mountain blend for years and have fantasised about taking over and preserving it exactly as it is. I love this shop. Never found a better bean..

  • Gavin

    When we started up I used to get my decaf blend from George. He is great.

  • Angela

    This place is a total gem. About ten different coffees. Spit and sawdust kind of place and I have noticed queues of people from time to time. Just the sort of independent shop that truly deserves local support.

  • Sharon

    Couldn’t agree more.

    I discovered George’s delicious coffee when we lived just around the corner. Occasionally the aroma of a particularly dark batch of freshly roasted beans would drift in through the window and we just had to follow our noses. We’re up in K-Town now, but it’s well worth the journey.

    Another local tip – just round the corner from George’s place is The Little Baker on Camden High Street. Now, they produce a whole range of tempting treats, but my favourite are their hot cross buns – the best in town for sure (yes, that is a challenge).
    On Good Friday morning pick up a dozen of their hot cross buns, invite a few good friends over and brew up some of George’s columbian coffee to accompany. Just a delightful way to start the long weekend.

    • Trace

      Even better is Melissa Patisserie, a few doors down from The Little Baker. Best pretzels in London!

  • Graham Moss

    We try to make the trip from Oldham every couple of months, buying a different roast each time, and resent the stuff we have to drink inbetween!

  • Peter McCarney

    I’ve long known known about and love the aroma that wafts down to Camden High Street. One was always aware of it by The Brighton and Woolworths (now very different establishments). Sadly, I don’t like the taste of coffee, so it’s Tea for me and lots of it. Great aroma though so we should thank him for that service 🙂

  • Victoria Bradley

    Reading this article made me feel very emotional. For the 10 years I lived in the area I relished the experience of entering that beautifully fragrant shop. Kenya AA beans were my regular purchase. Once when feeling poor I asked if there was another bean that might taste like the Kenyan one (they were always the most expensive). He shook his head emphatically and said ‘nothing tastes like Kenyan’. He certainly seemed like a pro to me.