A large chalk drawing of an octopus saying "Yo Kin" in a speech bubble, above the handwritten details of Kin's filter of the weekI’m always on the lookout for something slightly out of the ordinary, so I thought it was about time that I paid a visit to Kin, in Fitzrovia. In a city dominated by big-name local roasters such as Allpress, Caravan, Square Mile and Workshop, plus a host of other, smaller roasters, it’s always nice to find something from out of town. In this case it’s Bristol’s Clifton Coffee Roasters, with Kin using Clifton’s seasonal EQ espresso blend, plus a single-origin filter of the week on batch-brew, using the ever-reliable Moccamaster.

Kin, which will be two years old at the end of May, is in good company in this part of Fitzrovia. It’s on Foley Street, just along from Attendant and around the corner from the original Kaffeine. Long and thin, it’s an impressively bright spot, helped by generous windows at the front and a large skylight at the back. The focus at Kin is as much on the food as it is on the coffee (and loose-leaf tea from London’s Postcard Teas). There’s breakfast (served until 11.30) and lunch (12.00 to 15.30), plus copious quantities of cake to fill that awkward half-hour gap (cake is also available at other times).

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Asado Coffee, River North

A mug of filter coffee from Asado, River North.I discovered Asado Coffee when visiting Chicago last summer on my coast-to-coast train trip across the USA. Jeff Liberman, one of Asado’s co-owners, met me when I arrived at Union Station, giving me a behind-the-scenes tour of Asado’s Pickwick Place branch down in the Loop before adding a bonus tour of the River North branch. This was interesting because it hadn’t yet opened, although it was all kitted out and ready to go. It’s the first time I’ve been in a fully-functioning coffee shop before it’s opened. As it turned out, River North would have to wait another five months before Asado finally opened its doors. Hopefully my descriptions aren’t too out-of-date!

Asado is coffee shop/roaster chain with (currently) four branches in downtown Chicago. Asado roasts all its own coffee, each coffee shop having its own bespoke analogue roaster (the exception being Pickwick Place, which is too small for one). Asado’s other main quirk is that it only uses lever espresso machines, usually from Kees van der Westen, although in the case of River North, it’s an Astoria. As well as espresso, there’s bulk-brew filter in the mornings, plus hand-poured filters throughout the day using Zero ceramic drippers from Japan.

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Kaffeine Eastcastle

The front of Kaffeine, door to the left, windows to the right, with a pair of benches in front of the window acting as tables.Kaffeine, with its original store on Great Tichfield Street, is something of a legend in London coffee circles, part of the first wave of Aussie/Kiwi (in this case, Aussie) influenced coffee shops to appear in the capital. The second Kaffeine, a hop, skip and jump away on Eastcastle Street, took a while in coming, but in 2015 it opened its doors, effectively reproducing the original’s successful model in a similarly-sized, but differently-shaped space. This one’s a simple rectangle, with the short-side facing the street, counter on the right, seating on the left. There’s also a window bar and a long bench outside on the relatively quiet street (although I was there on Sunday).

There’s the ubiquitous Red Brick from Square Mile on espresso, all the usual favourites on the menu (the largest drink is a 7.5oz latte) and the added bonus of a coffee-tasting flight. There’s also cascara, a selection of loose-leaf teas and a small range of soft drinks. If you’re hungry, there’s a limited range of three baguettes/brioche (which can be toasted) and three salads, which you can have individually or in combination. Finally, there’s a selection of cakes, including the Aussie staple of toasted banana bread.

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London Coffee Festival 2016: The Cups

The Kaffeeform cup, made from recycled coffee grounds, in action at the London Coffee FestivalWelcome to the second of my detailed write-ups of this year’s London Coffee Festival (if you want an overview of the whole festival, take a look at my round-up). Here I cover individual aspects of the festival, starting with last week’s look at automatic filter machines. This week I’ll be taking a look at cups, before covering, in future Saturday Supplements, miscellaneous coffee kit, my coffee experiences and rounding things off with the coffee itself.

In previous years, my posts on cups at the London Coffee Festival proved surprisingly popular. This year, however, cups were somewhat thin on the ground, with the familiar (to me, at least) JOCO Cup, UPPERCUP and Frank Green all missing. Keep Cup was there, but since I managed to go a whole year with destroying either of my glass Keep Cups, for once I didn’t need to visit the stand.

However, if you looked, there were still some cups to be found, including those made from interesting materials (porcelain, bamboo and recycled coffee grounds), while one was claiming to be totally spill-proof (although I managed to get it to spill…). I also saw the all-in-one portable coffee maker, Cafflano, and its new product, the Kompact.

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Taylor Street Gallery

A latte-art style fern above the words "taylor st baristas" with "finely crafted coffee" written underneath, all in white on a black oval.I’ve long been a fan of Taylor Street Baristas, one of London’s best-known mini chains. However, I came to Taylor Street through its much-loved (now sadly-missed) branch on Brighton’s Queen Street. Until last week, the only Taylor Street Baristas I’d visited in London was the equally lovely Mayfair branch. That I tracked down the diminutive Taylor Street Gallery (sometimes known as the Monument branch) is due to a chance encounter with the manager, Lisa-Laura, at this year’s London Coffee Festival.

Taylor Street was founded in 2006 by the three Tolley siblings, who run the company to this day. Until recently, a variety of roasters appeared at the various cafés, but Taylor Street now roasts its own coffee. While production ramps up, the Gallery’s the only one exclusively using Taylor Street Roasted, with other branches taking it as a guest espresso/filter.

The Gallery itself is a delightful place which seats about 20 in a slightly subterranean setting, with two more small tables outside in the narrow alley it calls home. Despite the size, there’s a single-origin on espresso, two more on filter (batch-brew or V60), the coffee changing every couple of days. There’s a decent range of cakes and savouries too.

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Intelligentsia, Jackson Boulevard

The remains of a shot of Intelligentsia's Black Cat espresso, as seen from above. A five-pointed red star can just be seen at the bottom of the cup, a classic white espresso cup with a big handle.If I was still running the Where It All Began Coffee Spot Award, then today’s Coffee Spot, Intelligentsia’s branch in the Monadnock Building, on Jackson Boulevard, right in the heart of downtown Chicago, would be a shoe-in. It’s the second-ever Intelligentsia, a Chicago coffee roaster which now boasts six coffee shops in that city, plus three in Los Angeles and the High Line Hotel in New York City.

I think the Jackson Boulevard branch opened in 2002, but it was certainly there when I first visited Chicago in 2003. It’s quite possibly the first speciality coffee shop I ever visited, although back then I had no idea that speciality coffee shops existed. All I knew was that Intelligentsia served exceptionally good coffee.

Since then, I’ve become a regular visitor, regular in that I pop in whenever I’m in downtown Chicago. My latest visits came as part of my coast-to-coast trip across the USA last year, when I called into Intelligentsia twice, once when I arrived in Chicago and again, two days later, when I left. I’m pleased to say that it looks and feels very much how I remember it from that first visit all those years ago in 2003…

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Shoreditch Grind

The Shoreditch Grind logo, written on the wall of Shoreditch Grind.Shoreditch Grind is where London’s rapidly-expanding Grind chain (to-date, six, with a seventh coming next month) began in 2011, on the north side of London’s famous Old Street roundabout. In true Coffee Spot fashion, I’d already visited a couple of the other Grinds (the now-closed Piccadilly Grind and the still-going-strong Soho Grind). With that in mind, I decided it’s about time the Coffee Spot features the Grind mother-ship…

Although all the Grinds are different in terms of layout and atmosphere, this is the (successful) template that all the other Grinds follow, establishing the now-familiar formula of coffee by day and cocktails by night, along with an impressive (and evolving) food offering. This includes a full breakfast menu (served, as it should be, until three in the afternoon), sandwiches, cake and, in the evenings, small plates and more recently, pizza.

Grind will be roasting its own coffee in the near future, but for now Hove’s Small Batch fulfils that role, roasting the bespoke, seasonal house-blend (used in milk drinks), single-origin (used for espresso & short/long blacks) and the decaf, which all grace Grind’s espresso machines. There’s also Sandow’s cold brew on tap and a well-stocked bar for those evening cocktails.

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London Coffee Festival 2016: Automatic Filter Machines

The Ratio Eight automatic pour-over brewer in action at the London Coffee Festival 2016Welcome to the first of my detailed write-ups of this year’s London Coffee Festival. If you want to know what I made of the festival as a whole, take a look at my round-up. Here I’ll be covering individual aspects of the festival, such as the cups, coffee kit, my coffee experiences and the coffee itself. However, I’m going to kick things off with a look at something that really surprised me with their abundance at the festival this year: automated filter machines.

There have, of course, always been automated filter coffee machines, ranging for your simple drip-machine at home, all the way up to the large bulk-brewers found in coffee shops. However, they generally don’t make great coffee. Things started to change with the Moccamaster, an automated filter machine that many speciality coffee shops use to make small batch-brews.

Then, a couple of years ago, Alpha Dominche burst onto the scene with the Steampunk, a machine designed to make a single cup of filter coffee as good as any barista could make a V60, Chemex or Aeropress. And that, it seemed was that, until this year, when the London Coffee Festival appeared to be overrun with automated filter machines!

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Junction Coffee

The colourful front cover of the menu at Liverpool's Junction CoffeeJunction Coffee is the epitome of a neighbourhood café, serving the good folk of Aigburth, a suburb to the south of Liverpool city centre. Located near a busy junction (from which Junction Coffee gets its name) on the equally busy Aigburth Road, Junction Coffee has been quietly serving speciality coffee to its regulars since 2011 when the owner, Nathan, quit his job with the council to pursue his passion for coffee.

Junction uses Staffordshire’s Has Bean, which roasts a bespoke espresso blend for Junction, while there are usually two single-origin beans available through the Kalita Wave filter for those feeling more adventurous. There’s also hot chocolate, loose-leaf tea and a range of soft drinks.

However, there’s a lot more to Junction than just the coffee. It serves an impressive range of sandwiches, toasted sandwiches, panini, wraps and bagels, plus salads and a soup of the day. Add to that an impressive range of home-made cakes, plus ice cream, and Junction has you covered whatever the time of day.

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Speckled Ax

A square with the motif of an axe buried head-first in a tree-trunk above the word COFFEESpeckled Ax joins fellow roasters-cum-coffee shops, Bard Coffee and Tandem Coffee Roasters, to form a small and vibrant specialty coffee scene in Portland (Maine). Speckled Ax started life as a roaster in 2007 (under the name “Matt’s Wood Roasted Organic Coffee”), with the coffee shop following five years later in 2012, prompting the name-change to “Speckled Ax”.

Situated on Congress Street, just west of the centre of Portland, Speckled Ax is long and thin, with the counter at the back and tables along either side. There’s a neat seating area in the window at the front, with benches clustered around a tree stump. This acts as a coffee table, instantly reminding me of the window-seating in Menagerie Coffee in Philadelphia.

Speckled Ax’s particular claim to fame is that it is one of just a handful of wood-fired coffee roasters in the USA (reminiscent of Oxford’s Ue Coffee Roasters in the UK). Speckled Ax offers one or two single-origin espressos, plus decaf, in the shop through its Synesso espresso machine. There are usually three more single-origins available as filter, through the syphon, V60, Chemex or Aeropress, depending on your particular requirements. There’s also bulk-brew until 11am if you’re in a hurry.

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