I can’t believe that it’s been six months since my trip to Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Such was the embarrassment of riches that I found during my visit, especially in Philadelphia, that here I am, still writing up places from the trip.
Today it’s the turn of Bodhi, the first stop on the Sunday Coffee Spot tour of Philadelphia I took with my local guide, Greg of Coffee Guru App, and journalist, Drew Lazor, who was writing about my visit You can read Drew’s piece on-line and also see what Greg’s made of this leg of my trip.
Other than being a lovely spot for coffee, especially on a sunny Sunday morning, Bodhi’s main claim to fame is that, as far as Greg knows, it’s the oldest building in Philadelphia that’s in use as a coffee shop. Situated on Headhouse Square in Philadelphia’s south side in the historic (and beautiful) Society Hill neighbourhood, the building dates back to the 1700s, although Bodhi’s only its most recent tenant.
Serving Elixr on espresso, and with beans from both Elixr and Stumptown available as either bulk-brew or filter, Bodhi certainly makes the grade when it comes to coffee.
My visit to The Fleet Street Press was an exercise in going from the sublime to the ridiculous, since I had just come from the soaring, glorious space that is The Wren, to the small, intimate series of spaces that make up The Fleet Street Press. Really, the two of them are like chalk and cheese, representing the two extremes of coffee shop spaces, and yet I love them both.
The Fleet Street Press fills a fairly awkward, long, thin space at the start of Fleet Street, opposite the Royal Courts of Justice. Spread over two floors, the highlight is a cosy basement, stuffed with sofas and armchairs, although upstairs, with its bright, window seats, bar opposite the counter and intimate nook at the back, is pretty decent too.
Talking of decent, The Fleet Street Press serves a bespoke seasonal house-blend (The Press Blend) on the espresso machine, roasted by Caravan, plus regular guests and a daily-changing single-origin on filter. Add to that a wide range of loose-leaf tea from London Leaf and award-winning hot chocolate from Kokoa Collection and you’re onto a winner. And I’ve not even mentioned the wide range of cakes and the friendly staff…
Of all New York City’s fine Coffee Spots (and there are many), my favourite from my trip in 2013 was the wonderful, tiny and appropriately-named I Am Coffee on Saint Marks Place. So, naturally, I had to go back on my return in March this year and catch up with Giovanni, the inspiration behind I Am Coffee. Equally naturally, Giovanni wasn’t there, having gone on a business trip to Florida. I ask you, the lengths people go to avoid me!
However, I Am Coffee is still there and I was well looked after by the lovely Iker, Giovanni’s newest member of staff. Although the shop itself hasn’t changed much (and given the lack of space, that’s not a great surprise), there are changes going on behind the scenes.
The most important things, the wonderful coffee and the warm welcome, are still there in equal measure though, so I was happy.
I discovered La Colombe in its hometown of Philadelphia, visiting the glorious Dilworth Plaza branch. There I was recommended the Lafayette Street branch in New York City (several New York baristas suggested it too). However, they might have meant the flagship store at 400 Lafayette Street, near Union, which I only discovered having already visited 270 Lafayette. Although it looked impressive, there was a line out of the door when I went by, so perhaps I chose wisely.
Although Lafayette Street shares many things with Dilworth Plaza (excellent coffee, splendid crockery, soaring glass windows, high ceilings, interesting mural on the wall, no Wifi or menu, forcing you to engage with the lovely, friendly baristas) in many ways they’re like chalk and cheese. Compared to Dilworth Plaza, Lafayette Street is tiny, although by NYC standards (eg I Am Coffee, Gimme! Coffee, Bluebird or Everyman Espresso) it’s positively huge. However, it lacks Dilworth Plaza’s open spaces, multiple seating options and there’s nowhere to linger at the counter and chat with the baristas. That said, given how busy it is, it wouldn’t be practical if there were.
Despite this, Lafayette Street has more than enough positives to make up for any perceived shortcomings…
York is part of the not-very-well-known Yorkshire Coffee Triangle, along with Harrogate (home of the inestimable Bean & Bud) and Leeds (which featured in my latest article for Caffeine Magazine). This lack of recognition is a shame, since the area contains one of the greatest concentrations of high-quality coffee shops outside of London. Spring Espresso, on York’s Fossgate, is right up there with the best of them.
Like the other mainstays of York’s independent coffee scene, The Perky Peacock and Harlequin/The Attic [coming soon to the Coffee Spot], Spring Espresso is very much a home-grown talent. Opening in the autumn of 2011 (although with roots going back to 2006), Spring Espresso is the creation of the lovely Steve and Tracey, both of whom I was fortune enough to meet when I visited one Sunday morning.
There are two main reasons for visiting Spring Espresso: the excellent coffee from London’s Square Mile and the warm welcome you get from Tracey and Steve. The food’s not bad either (okay, so that’s three). And the cakes are excellent (four). And I’ve been told the tea’s very good too (five). I think I’ll stop now…
As the Coffee Spot approaches its second birthday, I thought I’d present another first. I’ve visited a few Coffee Spots that serve full dinner menus, but I rarely go for (or write about) the food. However, at the start of the summer, I was en-route to Leeds for my most recent Caffeine Magazine feature when I found I had a couple of hours to kill before my evening train. Instead of grabbing something at King’s Cross station, I took a short stroll to the north and today’s Saturday Supplement was born…
A roastery, coffee bar and restaurant, Caravan, in its cavernous space in an old grain warehouse next to Regent’s Canal, is many things to many people. For me, it’s always been a great place to sit inside at the counter at the back, drinking coffee and shooting the breeze with the baristas, or, on a summer’s evening, somewhere to sit outside with a carafe of one of Caravan’s many fine single-origins. It’s also one of my favourite roasters: as well as the single-origin pour-overs, I’ve always liked Caravan’s Market espresso-blend, keeping an eye out for its coffee wherever I go.
I first became aware of Loustic after a tip-off from Fancy a Cuppa, who I’d sent ahead to scout out Paris for me. It’s a lovely spot, tucked away on rue Chapon and, while not far from the Pompidou Centre, it’s off the regular tourist track.
Unashamedly blending French café culture with speciality coffee, Loustic is the brain-child of Channa, an ex-pat Brit, who has lived in Paris for the last 13 years. He seems to have managed it as well, with a customer split of about 70% locals to 30% tourists/ex-pats, a much higher ratio than several other Parisian speciality coffee places I’ve visited.
Loustic itself is long and thin, but a masterpiece of internal design, with a clever use of mirrors giving it a much bigger feel. At the same time, it’s split into three distinct seating areas, giving it a cosy, sometimes intimate, nature. The coffee is from Caffènation in Antwerp, while the tea is also very good (as vouched for by no lesser an expert than Mr Fancy a Cuppa himself). To round things off, there’s an interesting array of cakes and a selection of savoury tarts for when you need that little bit more.
Good coffee can be a little hard to find in France, especially if you don’t like traditional, dark-roasted espresso (if, like me, you do, there are plenty of places that will serve you a very drinkable cup of coffee, but woe betide you if you want a pour-over or single-origin espresso). Therefore it’s always nice when you come across a place such as Nantes’ Sugar Blue Café.
Situated right in the centre of the new town, just north of the splendid Place Royale, it had been open all of two weeks when I called by. The brainchild of joint-owners, Marlyse and Emmanuelle, it’s an attempt to bring the coffee culture of London (and increasingly, Paris) to Nantes and I wish them every success.
With coffee roasted by Caffè Cataldi of Brittany, Sugar Blue offers two single-origin espressos and a third single-origin as a filter. Equally as impressive is the food offering (its slogan is “All you need is good coffee and fresh food). Everything is homemade and there are good breakfast and lunch menus, with a great selection of cake. To round things off, it’s a lovely spot, the perfect place for a quick (or leisurely) coffee and some food.
The last time I visited Coutume, the (relatively) old, established player in Paris’ third-wave coffee scene, I arrived just before closing on a day when the espresso machine had just been repaired, having been broken all day. It was also my last stop before heading back home on the Eurostar.
This time, in a nice piece of symmetry, I decided to make it the first stop of my visit. So, having arrived from Nantes, I turned up just before closing on a day when the espresso machine had just been repaired, having been broken all day … Some things never change!
I was there at the invitation of Connor, one of Coutume’s baristas, who had been following my progress around France. He made me a lovely cup of an Ethiopian Nekisse through the V60, a rich, complex brew which matured as it cooled. While I drank it, I sat (out of the way) at the bar at the front and chatted with Connor about all the things that had changed since my last visit.
Artisan Roast is a chain of three coffee shops, two in its home town of Edinburgh (Broughton Street and Bruntsfield Place) and this one, on Gibson Street in Glasgow’s West End. Compared to the other branches, it’s massive, although that’s not too much of an achievement, since both of Edinburgh’s Artisan Roasts are fairly compact. Nevertheless, the sense of space afforded by Gibson Street was refreshing.
Despite its size, it manages to have the same sense of intimacy, largely due to a clever partitioning of the store into multiple, smaller spaces, which includes a mezzanine. Generous windows, running from almost the floor to the (very high) ceiling, make the front of the store a very bright space, helped by a large mirror over the bench opposite the counter. This is in stark contrast to the back, where the lighting is (deliberately) subdued, adding to its sense of intimacy.
Until April 2013, Gibson Street roasted all its own coffee in a Toper called Fatima which sat at the far end of the counter. Then Artisan Roast centralised its roasting in Edinburgh, freeing up space for Gibson Street to do more food. It now has the best food offering of the three.