I’ve long been a fan of Heart & Graft, and its co-owner, James, having first met in 2013 at Coffee Fix in Gatley on the outskirts of Manchester. Back then James was running his first roastery, The Coffee Circle, while also working as a barista at Coffee Fix. However, by the time the first Manchester Coffee Festival (then known as Cup North) came around in 2014, James was installed in a new roastery in Artwork, the venue for the original Cup North. By then, the Coffee Circle had morphed into Heart & Graft and soon after, James teamed up with Sean, the two of them taking Heart & Graft from strength to strength.
Sadly I never managed to visit the original roastery, which closed down at the end of the summer, moving to a new space in Newton Heath. At the same time, Heart & Graft had the opportunity for a coffee shop under a railway arch in Salford, a few minutes’ walk from the original roastery, the shop opening in early October. Naturally, when I was back in Manchester at the start of the month for this year’s Manchester Coffee Festival, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to call in.
I’ve just returned from 10 days in Rome, five for work, followed by five days of sight-seeing. It’s a city that I adore, but I must confess that I approached the trip with more than a little trepidation, looking forward to the sight-seeing far more than I was the coffee. I last went to Rome almost 10 years ago, long before the Coffee Spot, back when I thought that Italian espresso (and Italian espresso culture) was the pinnacle of coffee. It’s also the city, where, almost 20 years ago, I first gained my love for espresso.
Since then, many things have changed, including my taste in coffee and my opinions of it. I feared that I wouldn’t enjoy the coffee, which in turn might spoil my memories of Rome. Coffee in Rome, and Italian coffee more widely, divides opinion. There are those who dismiss it, saying that Italy has not moved on, that the coffee is rubbish, while at the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty who still hold Italian espresso as the pinnacle of coffee culture.
As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.
When I first came to Rome almost 20 years ago, there were two venerable espresso bars in the centre that came to my attention: Tazza D’Oro, and, on the other side of the Pantheon, today’s Coffee Spot, Sant’ Eustachio Il Caffè. Located on the Piazza Di Sant’Eustachio, it actually predates Tazza D’Oro by six years, having first opened in 1938 and, like Tazza D’Oro, it’s a classic Italian espresso bar, although it also has outdoor seating.
Unless you’re sitting outside (where you’ll pay an extra €2.50 for the privilege), you first need to queue up at the till, pay for your espresso, then take the receipt to the counter. This is where you’ll find the main difference, the espresso itself, which, by default is served infused with sugar and, I’ve been told, is Neapolitan style. It’s certainly very different from the other espressos I had during my time in Rome.
I’m pretty good at picking hotels that are close to excellent coffee. On my recent trip to Montréal, my hotel was chosen for its proximity to Paquebot Mont-Royal, while my hotel in Tokyo was close to multiple great coffee shops, including Lattest and Stockholm Roast. However, when it came to Rome, the only criteria was how close it was the various historical sights. The fact that it was under 10 minutes from the best coffee in the city turned out to be entirely coincidental.
Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria is part of a small group which includes a restaurant/deli, bakery, and this, a coffee shop and patisserie, which also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus wine and cocktails, in a small room at the back. I suspect that for most, the sumptuous cakes, pastries and tarts are the main draw, but it also happens that the coffee, from Laboratorio Di Torrefazione Giamaica Caffè in Verona, is the best I’ve had on this trip. There are two blends and a single-origin on espresso, plus multiple single-origins on pour-over.
When looking for speciality coffee in Rome, it pays to get a little off beaten track. Although you can find good quality traditional espresso bars like Tazza D’Oro and the occasional gem such as Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria in the centre, there’s also great coffee to found elsewhere. Today’s Coffee Spot, the Tram Depot, is south of the historic centre, beyond the Palatine Hill and Circo Massimo, on the far side of the Aventine Hill.
The Tram Depot consists of a small kiosk where you can take your coffee at the counter, with a spacious outdoor seating area if you want to linger. During the day, the focus is very much on the coffee, from Le Piantagioni del Caffè, a roaster I had not heard of before, hailing from the Tuscan coast. There’s a single-origin on espresso and three more on pour-over through V60, Syphon and cafetiere, while there’s also loose-leaf tea.
In the evening, the Tram Depot switches to a bar, staying open until 1am each night, serving wine, spirits and cocktails, although you can also get espresso-based drinks. This is all backed up by a range of tasty cakes and pastries, plus sandwiches if you want something more substantial.
If I was still doing the Coffee Spot’s Where It All Began Award, Tazza D’Oro would be top of the list. Rome was where I first developed my taste for espresso, almost 20 years ago, and Tazza D’Oro played a large part in that. However, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to Rome, almost nine years in fact, long before I started the Coffee Spot and my taste in coffee has evolved a lot since then.
Tazza D’Oro, the self-styled Casa Del Caffè (House of Coffee), is near the Pantheon, right in the heart of Rome. It’s a traditional Italian espresso bar, right down to having a separate till at the door, where you order and pay for your coffee before taking the receipt to the counter, where one of the baristas will make your drink. If you’re going to do things in true Italian style, you’ll stand there and drink it. Back in the day, I adored Tazza D’Oro. The question is, what will I make of it after all these years?
I’ll be honest: I came to Rome largely for the architecture and history, not for the speciality coffee. That said, I did have a small list, top of which was one of two places that people consistently mentioned to me: Faro, which styles itself as Rome’s first speciality coffee shop. Located north of Rome’s Termini station, it’s a little off the beaten track (about a 30 minute walk east of the historic centre), but definitely worth the detour.
Faro lives up to the billing, with a staggering 16 choices of coffee during my visit, all single-origins, two of which were espresso only, with the remaining 14 (which included one decaf) available as espresso or filter through either V60 or Aeropress. The beans, which came from seven different roasters across Italy, Germany and Denmark, are also available to buy in retail bags. In true Italian style, you can drink your coffee standing up at the counter, or you can take a seat and your coffee will be brought to you.
If you’re hungry, Faro has a concise brunch menu which is served until 15:30 every day, backed up by some excellent pastries and cakes, prepared in a kitchen behind the counter.
I wasn’t in Bangkok for long at the end of April, plus I was limited by a bad back, all of which meant I didn’t get around as much as I’d have liked. However, I was very impressed with what little I did see of Bangkok’s diffuse and diverse speciality coffee scene, including Size S Coffee + Bakery, a chance discovery at the end of the same road as my hotel. Despite that, I needed a tip off from to Lan Din Coffee, having already walked past Size S without noticing it!
Size S Coffee + Bakery does what the name suggests, although it’s also a roastery as well as a coffee shop and bakery, all of which comes in an unfeasibly small package. That said, it acts like it’s a big coffee shop, with a blend and single-origin on espresso and up to five single-origin filters, all roasted at the back of the shop (which is also where all the cakes are baked). There’s also a small breakfast and lunch menu if you’re hungry.
Regular readers know that I have a soft spot for Manchester’s Idle Hands, and its owners, Dave and Lucy. Having started as a pop-up near Piccadilly Station, Idle Hands is now into its fourth incarnation, although this location, in the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, is its first permanent home.
In comparison to previous incarnations, the new location is huge, with plenty of seating and, for the first time, a large kitchen at the back. Idle Hands has always been known both for its coffee and its (sweet) pies, both of which are on display here. A true multi-roaster, Idle Hands usually has two single-origins on espresso, another on batch-brew and five or so on pour-over through either the Aeropress or V60, depending on the chosen bean. The options change regularly: whenever a particular bean runs out, it’s replaced.
When it comes to pie, there are usually five or six choices, all made fresh that day by Lucy. When a pie is gone, that’s it for the day, although don’t expect to see it the following day, since Lucy frequently rings the changes. In addition, there are now full breakfast and lunch menus, along with beer, wine, spirits and cocktails.
Just Between Friends occupies a small spot on the south side of Tib Street, halfway between the venerable North Tea Power and another newcomer, Siop Shop. There are a couple of two-person tables outside on the busy street, while a large sign proclaiming “Coffee” in big letters catches the eye. Inside, Just Between Friends is a small, cosy space with limited seating and a warm welcome. The coffee, from London’s Assembly, is available on espresso, with a daily batch-brew option. There’s also a limited food menu, including toast, muesli, a couple of toasties and a selection of cakes.