SLOW Café was my first chance discovery in Prague. Although on my (very long) list of potential spots, I was on my way elsewhere for brunch when I wandered past, catching sight of the weekly brunch menu in the window. Consisting of just five items, each was intriguing, so since I was already hungry, in I went. Like Monday’s Coffee Spot, Pražírna Kavárna, SLOW Café has multiple rooms, although in this case, they’re on the ground floor, not in a basement. There’s also a wonderfully secluded courtyard at the back, albeit much smaller than the one at Pražírna Kavárna.
SLOW Café only works with roasters that the owners know personally, starting with Coffee Source, a local roaster based just down the street. Coffee Source provides the espresso (a natural Ethiopian during my visit), with SLOW Café offering an extremely concise menu of just espresso, flat white and cappuccino. This is joined by various filter options, the roasters drawn from around Europe. This includes Kaffa Roastery from Helsinki and, during my visit, Berlin’s Bonanza, plus SlowMov and Nomad (the owners had just been to Barcelona) on Aeropress and V60, while Helsingborg’s Koppi was on batch brew, although the options change regularly.
Prague’s Donut Shop, which styles itself as serving fresh, handmade doughnuts with style (I’m sorry, I can’t bring myself to type “donut”) along with speciality coffee, was recommended by the baristas at my very first stop in Prague, Pražírna Kavárna. Located in the Vinohrady district southeast of Prague’s Old Town, it’s been baking all its doughnuts on site in the kitchen at the back since 2016, pairing them with some excellent coffee. And that’s pretty much it.
There’s not much to the Donut Shop, just a counter and two three-person bars inside in the long, narrow interior. In fact, there’s more seating outside, with four tables spread out on the broad pavement, under the shade of a very large tree.
The Donut Shop has a different roaster on espresso and batch brew, the roaster changing every two or three months, although the individual beans on offer change more often. During my visit, it was the turn of Berlin’s The Barn, with a pair of single-origins, a Colombian on espresso and a Brazilian on batch brew.
I’m not sure how I first discovered Pražírna Kavárna, but there it was, a star on Google Maps, a five-minute walk from my hotel (chosen for its proximity to the office, not for coffee reasons) so I took it as providence, heading there on my first morning in Prague. Not knowing what to expect, I was reassured by the sign hanging above the door, which shows a stylised black and white line drawing of a coffee roaster looking, bizarrely, a lot like a steam locomotive pulling a train!
Pražírna Kavárna has a small, unassuming street level façade which hides a wonderful interior, accessible down two short flights of steps. There’s a series of gorgeous, brick-vaulted basement rooms, with, right at the back, a lovely, enclosed courtyard garden. When it comes to coffee, Pražírna Kavárna only serves single-origins, original roasted on-site (you can still see the roaster) but now it’s all done in a dedicated facility. There’s a simple espresso-based menu with filter on batch-brew, Aeropress, V60 and Kalita Wave. Opening late into the evenings, there’s also draft lager, wine plus spirits and cocktails. This is backed up by a small all-day lunch/snack menu and a selection of homemade cakes.
This time last week I was at the third annual Birmingham Coffee Festival, taking place at the Custard Factory in Digbeth, Birmingham. I went for the first time last year, enjoying it so much that I decided to return to Birmingham this year, even though it meant missing the World of Coffee in Berlin. In all I spent two days there, Friday and Saturday, skipping the final day (Sunday). Of the two, Friday was much quieter, as you would expect.
If you’ve attended any of the UK’s smaller coffee festivals (Manchester or Glasgow for example), then you’ll know roughly what to expect: coffee, coffee equipment and handful of related stands. Alternatively, if you’ve been to London Coffee Festival, then the Birmingham festival is much smaller and far more relaxed, featuring mostly local roasters and coffee shops, with a handful of national names.
As I usually do for coffee festivals, I’m going to write up my visit over a series of posts, starting today with a general round-up of the festival and the space. Subsequent posts will deal with the various roasters I visited and there’ll be a general round post covering everything else (including tea of all things!).
Dark Arts Coffee has been roasting since 2014 and I’ve enjoyed its coffee at various places, including The Black Chapel in London, plus in a cluster of places in the northwest, such as Manchester’s Idle Hands and Siop Shop and Chester’s Little Yellow Pig. I Will Kill Again, its interestingly-named coffee shop/roastery, has been on my radar pretty much since it opened in May 2016. My only excuse for not visiting sooner (other than to give Mike Stanbridge something to nag me about) is that Homerton, its East London home, is not somewhere I get to very frequently.
Located in a railway arch, the roaster (off to your right as you enter) is in action from Monday to Friday, while the space is open to the public as a coffee shop from Wednesday to Sunday. There’s a range of (mostly) communal seating, including several picnic-style tables outside.
Dark Arts only roasts single-origins, which it then gives some interesting names. The espresso, available as black or white (with milk) in sizes of 4, 6 and 8oz, rotates between Lost Highway and Dead Brick, while there’s a single filter option on batch brew. If you’re hungry, try the eclectic all-day brunch menu.
Knockbox Coffee is one of those legends of London’s speciality coffee scene that I’d assumed had been around forever. It was therefore a bit of a surprise when I finally called in one quiet Bank Holiday Monday in May to discover that it had only been around since 2014, although in today’s fast-moving industry, that makes it pretty venerable.
Located at the southern end of Lamb’s Conduit Street in Bloomsbury, there’s not much to Knockbox, a simple, square space offering limited seating around three of the four walls, while two picnic tables and a bench provide outside seating. The coffee is from local roasters, Workshop, with its seasonal single-origin espresso forming the bedrock of the simple coffee menu. This is joined by a wide array of teas and smoothies, plus an equally wide selection of cakes and toasties, which are joined (at weekends only, I believe) by a two-item brunch menu.
This time last year I was in Amsterdam for the World of Coffee, after which I spent three days exploring the city’s excellent coffee scene. The subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Scandinavian Embassy, was on several people’s lists, and, in keeping with the principle of leaving the best until last, I popped in for breakfast on my final day. South of the centre, in the De Pijp neighbourhood, it’s at the western end of the Sarphatipark, slightly off the beaten tourist track, but well worth a visit.
As the name suggests, Scandinavian Embassy has championed Scandinavian roasters since it opened in 2014. During my visit, there was a blend from Coffee Collective on espresso, plus single-origins from Drop Coffee Roasters, Koppi and Kafferäven Per Nordby on pour-over through the V60. My choices included two washed coffees, a Colombian and a Kenyan, both from Koppi, plus two naturals, an heirloom varietal from Ethiopia (Per Nordby) and a Geisha varietal from Bolivia (Drop), with the options changing every week or two. All of this is coupled with a limited all-day breakfast and lunch menu, plus a copious supply of cakes, featuring freshly baked cinnamon buns to round off the Scandinavian theme.
Welcome to another in my new series, Travels with my Coffee, where I take my coffee to all the best places, particularly when there are no speciality coffee shops to be found. This is the third Travels with my Coffee of 2019, which got off to a good start with my road trip through Arizona & New Mexico in January, followed by a trip to Shanghai in March.
Today it’s the turn of the five-week trip I took to the USA in April, which turned out to be a bit of an epic journey, starting in New Orleans and ending at the opposite end of the country in Chicago. In between, however, I flew to Los Angeles, took the train to San Jose, spent two weeks in the Bay Area, then took the train all the way to Chicago!
As ever, I was joined by my trusty Travel Press, Aergrind and Therma Cup. I also brought, for the first time ever, my rCup, a new reusable cup made from recycled paper coffee cups, which I’d picked up at the London Coffee Festival shortly before leaving on the trip, which doubled as a test-drive for the rCup.
Sometimes I plan my accommodation with great care, picking places on their proximity to outstanding coffee. On other occasions, I just get lucky, which was the case when I stayed in Canary Wharf for work. I selected the Novotel (technically on the Isle of Dogs, not Canary Wharf) because it was under 10 minutes’ walk from the office and conveniently placed for the likes of Taylor Street Baristas and Notes, which I already knew about and planned on visiting en route to/from the office.
What I hadn’t realised was that Canary Coffee, a speciality coffee shop serving Climpson and Sons, was an integral part of the hotel. This meant I could start my day with some excellent coffee before leaving for the office (and didn’t have to get up 20 minutes early to make it myself) while also rounding my day off with top-notch coffee, particularly since it’s open until 10pm every evening.
However, Canary Coffee isn’t just for hotel guests. Rather, it’s a fully-fledged coffee shop, accessible from the street. A cosy spot, complete with outside terrace, it morphs into a wine bar in the evening (still serving coffee). There’s a selection of cakes, toasted sandwiches and some excellent pizza.
Visiting Canary Wharf for work at the end of May, I already knew about the likes of Taylor Street Baristas and Notes. I also knew that the speciality coffee scene had evolved considerably since my last visit in 2015. However, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, 640 East, caught me by surprise, even though it’s been going since 2017. Located in Montgomery Square, right by the eastern entrance to Canary Wharf tube station, 640East was also directly outside my office, so I became a regular visitor, calling in most days for my morning (and sometimes afternoon) coffee.
Consisting of two reused containers facing each other across a large courtyard, the majority of 640East’s seating is outdoors, although one container has a small, indoor seating area. Serving a blend from Caravan on espresso, 640East does a roaring trade from the local offices, while in the evening wine, cocktails and beer take over (although all are available day and night). This is all backed up by a range of cakes and pastries, with a few savouries in the morning.
Note that 640East is takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own. It’s also cashless, so you’ll need a credit/debit card.