Four Corners Update/1st Birthday

Four Corners Award Plaque from the 2014 London Coffee Stop Awards. Four Corners won the award for London's Coolest Coffee Shop on Social Media.So, last Wednesday (a week ago today), I popped along to Four Corners on London’s Lower Marsh, ostensibly to celebrate its first birthday, which, naturally enough, was the day before. Let’s face it, celebrating first birthdays is commonplace, but who celebrates first and one day birthdays, eh? No-one, that’s who, and it’s about time that changed!

Being serious for a moment, while it was in my mind that Four Corners was one and one day old, the real reason for my visit was to catch up with my friend and fellow coffee-blogger, Kate (aka A Southern Belle in London) before she disappeared to the Americas for the summer. Four Corners was a convenient place to meet and I was keen to see what had changed since my first visit there last summer.

As it turned out, the answer was not a lot, Four Corners being much as I remember it from August last year. So much for this being an update! In fact, the major change I noticed was the absence of the roadworks directly out front, which plagued For Corners for the first few months of its life. Other than that, it was the same wonderful place!

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Look Mum No Hands! Old Street

Look Mum No Hands! sign, proclaiming itself as a Cafe, Bar & (Bike) Workshop.To celebrate the Tour de France, which enters its last week today, I thought it was about time I visited one of London’s most famous cycling cafés, Old Street’s Look Mum No Hands!. Ironically, I wrote about Look Mum No Hands! South Bank pop-up this time last year, with an update last month, so I really was overdue a visit to where it all started.

Towards the western end of Old Street, Look Mum No Hands! occupies a long, low building on the north side of the street. This being Look Mum, it’s one of the most bike-friendly places I’ve been: lots of bike-rack space out in the courtyard, a free pump for anyone wanting to top-up their tyre pressure and, just inside the door, a bike workshop.

That said, let’s not overlook the café side of the equation. With coffee from Square Mile, Look Mum No Hands! holds its own in an area dominated by top-notch coffee shops. There’s no pour-over or fancy options, just straight-forward espresso, loads of cake and a decent selection of other drinks. This backed up by a comprehensive food menu, served throughout the day, from 7.30 in the morning to 10 o’clock at night. Continue reading

The London Coffee Guide and Others

The cover of the 2014 edition of the London Coffee Guide by Allegra PublishingFollowing on from last week’s Saturday Supplement reporting on the launch of “The Bitter Trade”, I thought I’d take this opportunity to plug three other books that I have read recently. What’s more, they’re all actually about coffee!

The first, “The London Coffee Guide”, does what it says on the cover. As an added bonus, there’s a brief but informative “coffee knowledge” section at the end. Coincidently, I was also at its launch (it came out at London Coffee Festival).

The second, “Coffee Obsession” by Anette Moldvaer of London coffee roasters, Square Mile, is published by Dorling Kindersley. It’s a wonderful introduction to the world of coffee, covering everything from growing coffee to making and drinking it, and includes everything in between.

My final book, “From Lime Street to Yirgacheffe”, is by Robert Leigh. It deals with the author’s trip from his home in Liverpool to the coffee growing regions of Ethiopia where he was researching a report on traceability and sustainability in the coffee industry for a UK coffee importer. A first person account of his journey, “From Lime Street to Yirgacheffe” is beautifully written and is an honest, penetrating insight into coffee growing and production in present-day Ethiopia.

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Artisan Roast, Bruntsfield Place

Artisan Roast on Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh.Stepping into Edinburgh’s second branch of Artisan Roast, on Bruntsfield Place, there is a distinct sense of déjà vu. In look, feel and layout, it’s similar to the original on Broughton Street, right down to there being a back room called “The Mooch”.

Bruntsfield Place, which started life in 2011 as a Festival pop-up, is similar in size to Broughton Street, perhaps a little narrower and a little longer. Here the espresso machine is in the back right-hand corner rather than the back left-hand corner, and the passage to The Mooch is similarly reversed, but other than that, the similarity is striking.

What you get, of course, is the same Artisan Roast excellence. Everything is roasted in-house, and all the beans are available to buy. However, Artisan Roast seems to be moving away from the “any bean, any method” model that I first came across at Broughton Street. At Bruntsfield Place, specific beans are tailored to specific methods; during my visit, a Kenyan was on offer through the Kalita Wave filter, a Brazilian through the Aeropress.

Naturally there’s the traditional espresso-based menu, along with tea, hot chocolate and the usual range of cake, plus soup for lunch.

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Coffee Charisma Update

Trish, the Proud Owner of Coffee Charisma, at her Stall on Guildford's North Street MarketAs regular readers with long memories will know, my long-time coffee bean supplier is Coffee Charisma on Guildford’s North Street Market. I wrote about Trish and her excellent market stall not long after the Coffee Spot first started. Back then Trish supplied most of my coffee beans, with the exception of my espresso beans, which I got from London’s Algerian Coffee Stores. How things have changed!

Now my coffee comes from all over. Sometimes, it’s gifts from friendly roasters or suppliers (Leeds’ North Star Micro Roasters and the Press Coffeehouse subscription service being the latest examples: thanks guys). Other times I’ve been so impressed with a coffee that I’ve impulse bought a bag (for example, the Tiger Espresso Blend from Steampunk that I had at Monday’s Coffee Spot, Machina Espresso). There’s also the massive haul of coffee I obtained at the London Coffee Festival.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I don’t buy many beans from Trish these days. However, I do make a point of popping in to say hello as I wander by. Last Saturday I noticed that there was something different about the stall, so I strolled over and made a shocking discovery!

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Machina Espresso

The window Edinburgh's Machina Espresso, showing off some of the wares, including cups, grinders and espresso machines.Machina Espresso might just be the perfect coffee shop. Set a little back on a wide pavement on Brougham Place in Edinburgh’s west end, it’s not a huge place, with just enough room for a few tables, a counter and multiple displays for coffee equipment. However, there’s an atmosphere about the place that just feels right, a certain calm that even an intransigent toddler (who was swiftly taken home by an indignant parent) couldn’t ruin.

Machina Espresso started life in Lock-up Coffee, a city-centre, weekend pop-up run by Ben Wylie, a barista at the late, much lamented Freemans Coffee. Back then, Machina Espresso was just an equipment supplier, but in November last year it moved into its current premises to become a fully-fledged coffee shop. The equipment is still here: (very) shiny espresso machines from Rocket and Expobar; compact grinders, great cups, tampers, pouring kettles… Everything, in fact, that you need to make great coffee at home.

However, if you can’t wait, Machina Espresso will happily serve you coffee (and cake). During my visit, the espresso was from nearby Steampunk Coffee and London’s Nude Espresso, with three single-origins on filter (all made through the Chemex). Spoilt for choice!

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The Bitter Trade

The front cover of "The Bitter Trade", a novel by Piers Alexander, winner of the PEN FactorToday’s Saturday Supplement is something rather different. This week’s theme has been one of new openings: on Monday, we had the new Workshop Coffee in Fitzrovia, while on Thursday, it was the turn of the latest Beany Green on the South Bank. So today I’m continuing this theme with a book launch.

Last week (Thursday, to be precise), I was invited to Prufrock Coffee for the launch of “The Bitter Trade”, a novel by Piers Alexander. Set in the late 17th century, it’s a story of mystery and intrigue that’s largely set in the London coffee shops of the period (hence the interest and why Piers was kind enough to invite me). I had a lovely evening and thought that you, dear readers, might like to find out what I got up to. I’m also indebted to Alex, aka liquidjolt, for bringing me to Piers’ attention in the first place!

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Beany Green, South Bank

The Beany Green container on the South Bank as seen from the foot of the steps to the bridge.As regular readers may have worked out, my contract didn’t get extended at the start of June, so consequently I haven’t been heading up to Paddington every Wednesday. This in turn means that I’ve been missing my weekly trips to Beany Green. I’m therefore very grateful to the good folks at Beany Green HQ (aka Daisy Green) who have opened a new branch on the South Bank just for me! Since it’s just a few minutes’ walk from Waterloo, I can now get my Beany Green/The Roasting Party fix whenever I come into London. How cool is that?

Tucked in beside the east stairway of the Hungerford Bridge and almost on top of the Look Mum No Hands Pop-up, Bean Green’s container looks like another pop-up operation, but don’t be fooled. I’ve been told that the new branch has a multi-year lease and will be here come rain or shine, fair weather or foul (ie a typical week of a British summer!).

If you’re familiar with Beany Green in Paddington, then this is like a miniature version, with all the same elements that make my ex-regular haunt such a wonderful place, including the mad (in a good way) staff.

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Bea’s of Bloomsbury Farringdon

Bea's of bloomsbury, from the sign hanging outside the Farringdon branch.Today’s Saturday Supplement (yes, I know it’s a Wednesday; shush!) is a two-for-the-price of one deal: a visit to the third Bea’s of Bloomsbury outpost at Farringdon, and an update of sorts on the original Bea’s of Bloomsbury on Theobalds Road.

Having written about the original Bea’s and then the second outpost in St Paul’s within the first four months of the Coffee Spot’s life, I’ve taken my time to get to the third, and latest, of the Bea’s of Bloomsbury Empire of Cake. In fairness to myself, the Farringdon branch (or Mini-Bea’s as I like to call it) wasn’t actually open when I wrote about the first two. Even so…

Tucked away opposite Farringdon station in a curiously-shaped little building that’s almost all windows, there’s not a lot to Bea’s. Certainly it’s not the sort of place you go for a sit-down afternoon tea (unlike the other two). Although a pair of benches graces the pedestrianised street outside (with an excellent view of the Cross-rail excavations), this really is a takeaway coffee-and-cake kind of place, with a major emphasis on the cake (although there are sandwiches as well). Mind you, I expect nothing less when the company’s motto is “life is short, eat more cake”!

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Workshop Coffee, Fitzrovia

The Workshop logo, a diamond inside a circle.The latest addition to the suddenly-expanding Workshop Coffee chain (now four and counting) is in fashionable Fitzrovia on Mortimer Street. Just around the corner from Broadcasting House, it joins a growing band of speciality coffee shops that include old stalwart, Kaffeine plus (relative) newcomers, Attendant, Mother’s Milk and the recently-opened Curators Coffee Gallery. The one advantage it has over its near-neighbours, other than the novelty value of being new, is that it stays open until seven o’clock, making it the ideal spot to retire to before attending recordings of BBC Radio shows in the Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House.

Unsurprisingly, given that this is Workshop, the coffee is all from the Workshop roastery in Clerkenwell, with the Cult of Done house-blend and a single-origin on espresso plus a choice of two single-origins on filter (one bulk-brew and one through the Aeropress). There’s also decaf, loose-leaf tea and a small range of sandwiches and cake.

The new Workshop’s not a huge place, with the front half given over to the counter and the seating in a separate area at the back, the two connected by a short corridor. You might be able to squeeze 15 people in all told.

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