Toro Coffee burst onto Glasgow’s speciality coffee scene (specifically the Southside) in September, becoming an instant hit, partly thanks to the efforts of cheerleader-in-chief, my friend Charlotte. Indeed, when I popped over to Glasgow last week, Charlotte’s plan for the morning was “we’re going to Toro”. Not, “would you like to go to Toro?”. No, we were going. On the other hand, Charlotte has excellent taste in coffee shops, so I wasn’t about to disagree.
Other than the coffee, the main draw is the wonderful, friendly and welcoming owners, Ross and Gill. Although a new name, Toro has good pedigree: Ross’ big brother, Iain, owns Primal Roast, one of my favourite Glasgow breakfast spots (and also home to some excellent coffee).
Although there’s a wide selection of cakes, plus toast for breakfast (as if I needed any further encouragement) Toro’s main focus is the coffee. It’s a multi-roaster, offering separate options on espresso and filter, the later available as batch-brew through the ever-reliable Moccamaster, and as pour-over, using hand-thrown ceramic Kalita-wave style filters. The espresso changes every week, while the filter is swapped every day or two, with roasters drawn from just down the road to half way across Europe.
It’s that time of the year, when everyone publishes Christmas gift guides. This year, due to all the travelling I’ve been doing, I’m a little bit behind, but if you’re looking for some last-minute presents, here’s the Coffee Spot’s entry into the fray, an eclectic selection of gifts for your coffee-loving friends/relatives.
The coffee-loving community can be awkward to buy for, particularly if, like me, they’re towards the far end of the coffee-geek spectrum, when any choice runs the risk of being ill-informed. Do you get them coffee? Or coffee-related kit? Or a book about coffee perhaps?
Never fear, the Coffee Spot’s here to help you out, whether you’re a novice, looking for pointers for gifts for your coffee-obsessed friend, or if you’re that coffee-obsessed friend, looking for a handy guide to point your friends towards. There’s also a few suggestions for presents to help your coffee-loving friends who’re at the top of the slippery slope of coffee-geekdom and just need a helping nudge to begin the headlong descent into the rabbit-hole of speciality coffee.
While this is a Christmas gift guide, feel free to return to it throughout the year. It serves just as well as a birthday/anniversary gift guide…
With all the travelling I’ve been doing recently, it’s been increasingly hard for me to get around the UK like I once did. Even so, I was rather embarrassed to discover that it’s been three years since I last visited Edinburgh. Unsurprisingly, rather a lot has changed since my last visit, including plenty of new faces and a few changes at some well-known old faces.
Where to start? Well, let’s try Lowdown Coffee on George Street, right in the heart of Edinburgh, which opened in February 2016, just across the way from old favourite and Edinburgh stalwart, Wellington Coffee. Like Wellington, Lowdown Coffee follows the tried-and-tested Edinburgh tradition of locating your coffee shop in a basement, which gets a thumbs up from me.
However, that’s where the similarities end. Lowdown Coffee is on a mission to do things differently. For starters, there’s table service, a refreshing change from queuing at the counter. The coffee, which changes weekly, is drawn from some of the best roasters across Europe, with one option on espresso and two on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. How about the daily food menu? Or the water, with different formulations for different beans? And that’s just for starters…
The Wudaoying Hutong in Beijing, northeast of the centre near the 2nd Ring Road, is a hot bed of speciality coffee. Home to last week’s Coffee Spot, Metal Hands Coffee Co, as well a second branch, Metal Hands White Space, which is a few doors down to the west, if you head a few doors east, you’ll come to today’s Coffee Spot, Barista Speciality Coffee & Roasters. And if you thought that Metal Hands and White Space were small, then Barista Speciality Coffee is even smaller, by some considerable margin!
Despite this, it still manages to offer a house-blend and single-origin on espresso, plus four single-origin pour-overs, all roasted in-house. There’s also cold brew, plus a choice of croissant, bagel or fruit cheesecake. All of this is served in a long, thin space with just enough room for the counter on the left and a small corridor on the right!
Regular readers will know that I’ve been following the rise of London-based/Aussie-inspired mini-chain Daisy Green ever since it opened a branch next to my office in Sheldon Square, Paddington. Since then, Daisy Green has grown rapid, first through its Beany Green coffee shops, and then through restaurants, such as Timmy Green in Victoria and Darcie & May Green, the narrow boats tied up outside Paddington Station.
Scarlett Green is the latest addition to the family, which now numbers nine coffee shops and restaurants. It follows in the footsteps of Timmy Green, offering full table service for food (breakfast, lunch and dinner), plus wine and cocktails, while still remaining true to its coffee roots, serving a house-blend from long-time partners, The Roasting Party.
Scarlett Green is the biggest yet, occupying the ground floor and basement of a tall, narrow building on Noel Street, in the heart of Soho. Open from 07:00 to midnight, it’s there for your morning coffee and a late-night cocktail, plus everything in between. The décor, as ever, is by the talented Shuby Art, another long-time partner and collaborator. As well as the usual bananas, you can also find a large, pink teddy bear enjoying Bondi Beach.
It’s that time of year again! The Coffee Spot Calendar is now into its sixth year! As always, the calendars are professionally-printed on glossy paper, each month featuring a landscape, A4 picture from one of my favourite Coffee Spots of the last 12 months. This year I’ve been ridiculously busy, so when it came to selecting the pictures, I relied heavy on my friend Keith, a long-time supporter of the Coffee Spot Calendar, who has an excellent eye for a good picture.
Indeed, it was touch-and-go as to whether I’d actually produce a calendar this year, so thanks to Keith, Amanda and everyone else who has encouraged and cajoled me into action. The calendars cost £12.00 (£10.00 for the desktop version) with a flat £2.00 postage and packing charge, regardless of how many you order. If you think we’re likely to meet up in the near future, I’ll waive the postage and hand your calendar over in person! You’ll find prices if you’re ordering from outside the UK after the gallery.
Unfortunately, work commitments have meant that I’m very late (again) in producing this year’s calendars, so while I’ll do my best, I can’t guarantee that they’ll arrive before Christmas.
Cheltenham’s come a long way, coffee-wise, since I first visited in 2013. On Monday, I wrote about The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, which has, along with Studio Coffee Roasters, been leading the way since 2014, although today’s Coffee Spot, The Coffee Dispensary, is not far behind, having opened just over three years ago in October 2015. Like The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, it’s right in the centre of town, on Regent Street, by the Regent Arcade.
There’s an impressive selection of coffee. Bristol’s Extract Coffee Roasters is the mainstay, supplying the house espresso (which changes every few months), while the weekly-changing guests provide multiple single-origins on both espresso and filter. The Coffee Dispensary wants nothing less than the best coffee from the best roasters: during my visit this included Bath’s Colonna Coffee and Round Hill Roastery plus Birmingham’s Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters. Filter coffee is usually available through V60, but the staff will also do Chemex, Aeropress or Kalita Wave, plus there’s batch-brew. All the coffee is available to buy in retail bags.
Alternatively, there are ten teas, six hot chocolates and five chai lattes. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of sandwiches, plus cakes for those with a sweet tooth.
Metal Hands Coffee Co is a small Beijing roaster/coffee shop chain which started in July 2016 with this, the original. When I visited, exactly a year ago in December 2017, following a tip-off that morning from the barista at Soloist Coffee, it had already expanded to four coffee shops, all in a small area in the Andingmen Residential District, centred on Wudaoying Hutong, a narrow old-fashioned alley which is home to Metal Hands.
There’s not much to Metal Hands, just a simple store front, with the counter on the right, and seating on the left, plus a small seating area in an annex at the back. However, that doesn’t stop Metal Hands offering a standard espresso-based menu using a house-blend and four single-origins, available either as cold brew or through the V60. The espresso by the way, is pulled on an old-school lever machine after which the shop/chain is named.
It’s been a very long time since I was in Cheltenham, with a visit well overdue, so when I got the chance to call in, I seized it with both hands. A lot has changed (and is still changing) in Cheltenham’s coffee scene, with today’s Coffee Spot, The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, leading the way. The Pod started life in September 2014, when it was, literally, just a cube, complete with espresso machine and roaster, around the corner from the current location.
The Scandinavian Coffee Pod moved into the Studios, a long, low single-storey building on Cheltenham’s Royal Well Place, 2½ years ago in 2016, the pod coming too. The original cube is now embedded into the front wall, which makes for an interesting architectural feature. Although bigger than it was, there’s still not that much space, the resulting coffee shop being best described as cosy, with a handful of tables and a pair of armchairs. That doesn’t stop The Scandinavian Coffee Pod from offering a house espresso from neighbours Studio Coffee Roasters, plus a choice of two pour-overs via the V60 (one from Studio, the other a guest). There are also small but tempting breakfast/lunch menus, plus plenty of cake.
My trip to Rome at the start of the month was, as might be expected given Rome’s espresso culture, dominated by espresso. I also didn’t help myself, visiting the likes of Tazza D’Oro and near-neighbour, Sant’ Eustachio Il Caffè. That said, if you look hard enough, you can find pour-over, usually hand-in-hand with speciality coffee. Most prominent of the places I visited was Faro, the self-proclaimed first speciality coffee shop in Rome. Pour-over was also on offer at The Tram Depot, although when we ordered some one evening we were told that the barista who knew how to do pour-over had gone home. To the staff’s credit, they didn’t want to serve us badly-made coffee, so politely declined (we had espresso instead).
Perhaps the most surprising find was Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria. A few minutes’ walk from the hotel my friend Amanda and I were staying at, we became daily visitors, enjoying single-origin espressos from Laboratorio Di Torrefazione Giamaica Caffè, along with some excellent patisserie. It was only on our fourth visit that I noticed V60s nestling alongside the bags of coffee, which is when I realised that Roscioli serves pour-over too. That evening we naturally popped back to order some…