Tucked away in Westbourne Park tube station on the Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines, two stops west of Paddington, is the delightful Bica Coffee House. Having bemoaned the absence of top quality coffee in tube stations, I’ve now found two in as many months. However, unlike Piccadilly Grind, which I believe is a pop-up, Bica is here to stay.
Serving takeaway only, It’s a small spot, occupying what could have been an old booking office or kiosk. There is, however, a generous serving hatch and shelf, which is large and deep enough for a decent display of pastries and other baked goodies, as well as affording a view of the bright red two-group La Marzocco.
Unlike many coffee stalls/kiosks at stations, Bica’s commitment to excellence is there at the outset. The coffee is from east London roasters Nude Espresso and there are no 12-second extractions here, despite the steady stream of customers, while the milk is properly steamed, resulting in a great texture. There’s a decent range of espresso-based drinks: espresso and Americano, plus macchiato, cortado, flat white, latte and cappuccino. For those with a sweet tooth, there’s mocha and hot chocolate, plus tea of various types.
On the pedestrianised Central Road, located, appropriately enough, right in the centre of Leeds, is the delightful Mrs Atha’s, perhaps one of the most complete coffee shops I’ve been to in ages. With a lovely interior, cosy little basement and small outside seating area, there’s plenty of seating options.
The coffee is provided by stalwarts Has Bean, with a house-blend, the charmingly-named “Mrs Atha’s Little Tipple”, on espresso and a single-origin on filter. There’s also a selection of single-origin filters from regularly-rotating guest roasters, quite often from Europe. Typically, I arrived the day before Mrs Atha’s new espresso machine, a Slayer no less, was due to be installed! Tea drinkers are also well catered for, with a wide selection of loose-leaf tea from Postcard Teas.
As good as the coffee (and tea) is, Mrs Atha’s is just as much about food, with a comprehensive all-day breakfast menu complimenting lunch and a selection of (very) specials, all of which are prepared in the basement kitchen. Add to that a wide range of extremely tempting cakes and you can’t really go wrong.
There is, by the way, a Mrs Atha: she’s the grandmother of the three brothers who own Mrs Atha’s.
CRAFT London is a new project by chef Stevie Parle and designer Tom Dixon. As the name suggests, it’s focused on the craft of making things. Located on the Greenwich Peninsular, a stone’s throw from both the O2 and North Greenwich tube station, it will ultimately be a café, restaurant and bar.
I visited it on Friday, five days after the café, occupying the ground floor, had opened, having been alerted to it by Robbie Calvert, who is café manager, head barista and (ultimately) roaster, all rolled into one. I had previously run into Robbie at Edinburgh’s Artisan Roast, where he’d impressed me with his passion (and his coffee).
I’d heard that he’d come down to London, so I was keen to find out what he was up to. As luck would have it, I was already going to the O2 that evening for a Caro Emerald concert, so snuck in just before closing time to catch up with Robbie and his new venture.
I have to say that I was impressed. Although CRAFT London had only been open for five days, it seemed to me to be a pretty decent operation with lots of exciting things in the pipeline!
Just a block down the street from the mighty North Tea Power, and a few steps along Oldham Street from its junction with Church Street, is relative newcomer to Manchester’s coffee scene, Fig + Sparrow. Established in 2013, it’s half life-style shop, half café, but 100% excellent. Serving an espresso-based menu using beans from London’s Climpson and Sons, with guest filters on Aeropress and Chemex, plus loose-leaf tea from Newcastle’s Ringtons, Fig + Sparrow also does food. There’s a small but excellent range of cakes, an all-day breakfast menu, lunch, with various specials, sandwiches and a separate toast menu. You have to admire a place that has a separate toast menu.
The front half of the store is given over to the retail arm, selling gifts and various items for the home. The back half houses the coffee shop, with two rows of seating and the counter right at the back. It’s beautifully laid-out, uncluttered and spacious, with wooden floorboards and whitewashed walls and ceilings. Although not much natural light reaches the back, the high ceiling and multiple light bulbs make it surprisingly bright. The result is a very relaxed atmosphere, with quiet, easy-listening music in the background.
Continuing the Coffee Spot’s recent theme of finding great coffee in unusual places (Cambridge, Norwich and St Albans for example), I was recently persuaded to pay a visit to Milton Keynes. This, by the way, is quite an achievement, given that I have something of a hate-hate relationship with Milton Keynes, going back to my basketball days, when my team, the late, lamented Guildford Heat, used to slug it out with local rivals, the Milton Keynes Lions (who themselves are now the London Lions).
However, I was in the area and was determined to call in. Thus, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I found myself approaching the rather artificial and somewhat unpromising environment of “The Hub”. Despite this, I persevered and in due course I found myself in the oasis of loveliness that is Bogotá Coffee. If there is a coffee shop more out of keeping with its immediate surroundings, I have yet to visit it. Amidst the soaring glass, steel and concrete of central Milton Keynes, Bogotá Coffee is a homely spot of wood, brick and natural warmth, topped off by some cracking coffee from Cirencester’s Rave Coffee Roasters.
It’s been a bumper year for Coffee Festivals and it keeps on getting better. As well as the annual fixture that is the London Coffee Festival, there was the first ever Amsterdam Coffee Festival (which I would have gone to, had it not been so soon after the London Coffee Festival!), both of which graced us with their presence back in April. Not to be outdone, 2014 also saw the first Dublin Coffee and Tea Festival (which was September and which, alas, I also couldn’t attend), while end of November will see the inaugural Scottish Coffee Festival in Glasgow. I have, however, every intention of attending that one!
Then, of course, there’s Cup North, which comes to Manchester on the first weekend in November. It’s a self-described two-day northern coffee party which promises to be, well, a two-day coffee party. In the north. Straight-talking folk, these northerners. With a guest/sponsor/exhibitor list to make even the hardiest coffee fan’s eyes water, it really is a must-attend event. I’ll be there on the Saturday (1st November) for sure, and, depending on how things pan out, I hope to be there on Sunday as well.
Not to be confused with London’s Dose Espresso, Dose, Dealer de Café, is another Paris Coffee Spot that I’m indebted to Fancy a Cuppa? for putting me onto. It’s very useful, having advanced scouts to do the leg-work for me! Dose is on the popular Rue Mouffetard, which runs due south from near the Pantheon down towards Rue Monge and Avenue des Gobelins. It’s an area I’ve visited on many occasions, but without having the pleasure of Dose to call in on.
Dose was set up earlier this year by owners Jean-Baptiste and Grégoire (who I briefly met) and brings Brittany’s Caffè Cataldi to Paris. There’s a standard espresso menu, plus pour-over and a good selection of loose-leaf tea and hot chocolate. There’s also a limited menu of pastries, cakes (including muffins of Foxcroft & Ginger type excellence), a couple of sandwiches and a bagel of the day.
Unusually for Paris, but in keeping with Rue Mouffetard, which has an above-average number of takeaway places, Dose has a separate takeaway counter. So, in theory, you can order your coffee “à emporter” without having to go in the shop, although that would be a shame, since Dose is very lovely indeed.
Every now and then I come across the sort of coffee shop that the Coffee Spot was created to write about. Such it is with Charlie’s Coffee Shop, the indoor half of Charlie’s Coffee & Company. The other half is Charlie’s beloved coffee van which you can still find at Platform 4 of St Albans (City) Station, but only if you’re willing to get up far earlier than I am!
Charlie’s Coffee Shop has much more Coffee Spot friendly hours, opening at the civilised time of 11.30 during the week (this is to give Charlie time to get down from the station after her early morning stint in the van), with an 8:30 – 12:30 slot on Saturday (when the van has the morning off).
The shop itself is a delightful little place, set back from the busy London Road at the end of a little row of shops. Despite its size, there’s a decent espresso-based menu, centred on Charlie’s own bespoke blend from Staffordshire’s finest, Has Bean, plus Has Bean’s decaf blend. There’s also a range of loose-leaf tea, hot chocolate from London legends, Kokoa Collection, with a lovely selection of pastries and cakes, plus coffee-making kit for sale.
Last weekend I celebrated the Coffee Spot’s second birthday with a coffee-crawl around London, taking in three of my favourite Coffee Spots, Doctor Espresso Caffetteria, The Wren and White Mulberries. I had a lovely time and, if you’re interested, you can see what I got up to in the gallery.
I’m also running a special competition with some great prizes. You can win a copy of this year’s The London Coffee Guide or some coffee from the lovely Round Hill Roastery. To enter, all you have to do is tweet about your favourite Coffee Spot, or post about it on Facebook.
I’m not sure why, but the competition has been rather slow to take off this year. I’ve got eight prizes to give away in all and so far I’ve had four entries, so if you enter now, you’re in with a pretty good chance of winning. Just don’t tell your friends…
No, wait… Tell your friends! All your friends!
I’ve been visiting Caffe Reggio, a Greenwich Village institution, for years, almost as long as I’ve been coming to New York City. Like Boston’s Caffé Vittoria and Little Italy’s Caffé Roma, it’s the sort of old fashioned, American-Italian café that I can’t help but fall in love with (although I also have a soft spot for the Anglo-Italian variety). Established in 1927, Caffe Reggio been going strong ever since, trading partly on its heritage, although there’s a lot more behind its success than just nostalgia.
In terms of its coffee, it’s not going to win any third-wave aficionados over, but it serves a decent espresso, while there is an excellent range of cakes, which I’ve sampled before. Like many cafés of its ilk, there’s also a full food menu, which, due to illness, I didn’t get to try on this visit.
It’s a fairly small, busy space, with a sumptuously-appointed interior, which is half the attraction. You can also sit outside at a row of tables on the sidewalk. Full table service is an added bonus. It’s fair to say that while I enjoy the coffee, the main purpose of my (continued) visits is to soak up the atmosphere.