Welcome to the annual Coffee Spot Christmas gift guides. If, like me, everything ends up getting done at the last minute (I like to this it’s because I’m busy, rather than unorganised, but I’ll leave that to you to decide), then here’s some inspiration with 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 are also some suggestions for presents for your coffee-loving friends at the top of the slippery slope of coffee-geekdom, who 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…
I first came across Big Shoulders a little over a year ago, when I spotted the Gold Coast branch, directly opposite Tempo Café, one of my favourite Chicago brunch spots. Although it had been around as a roaster since 2009, it was only recently that Big Shoulders had started opening its coffee shops. At the time of writing, Big Shoulders has seven locations, including today’s Coffee Spot, on West Lake Street in the Loop. I managed to visit it during the same trip that I discovered the Gold Coast coffee shop and returned when I was back in Chicago in May this year.
Big Shoulders roasts all the coffee, with a house blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, served from a fairly concise menu, including cortado, flat white and cappuccino/latte options (the last two available in small and large). There’s a choice of filter options, with one single-origin on batch brew (“fast drip” on the menu) and another on pour-over (termed “slow coffee”, which I rather like), prepared using a V60 on the Modbar automated pour-over system. There are also cold brew and nitro options, plus a selection of tea and a range of breakfasts sandwiches and cakes if you’re hungry.
When I first went to Canterbury, in May 2017, Lost Sheep Coffee was already a fixture in the city, having, in 2015, traded in its cart on the High Street for a neat black pod down by the bus station. By the time I returned, an awful lot had changed, starting with the neat black pod, which was no more, having been replaced by a much larger (although still small in the grand scheme of things) pod. In addition, Lost Sheep had started serving in its own coffee from its new roastery in Whitstable.
In fairness to Lost Sheep, had I returned six months after my initial visit, I’d have found both these changes. However, thanks to my extensive travels, it was 2½ years later, at the end of November 2019, that I finally returned to Canterbury, making a beeline for the bus station to check out the “new” pod.
Even in a city like Prague, with its excellent speciality coffee scene, it’s rare to find top quality coffee in the tourist-centric heart of the city. Fortunately, Pauseteria is an exception to this rule, located right in the heart of Prague’s old city, making it a near-essential stop for any coffee lover doing the usual tourist sights. Opening in April 2018, Pauseteria occupies a large, vaulted central room, with a smaller room off to each side.
In keeping with a typical Czech café, there’s full table service (and very attentive it is too), along with an interesting, all-day breakfast/brunch menu, backed up with a wide range of cakes, baked fresh every day. Naturally, there’s a small selection of beer and wine, along with soft drinks and tea. And then, of course, there’s the coffee, drawn from a regularly-rotating group of Czech roasters, with two options on espresso and another on filter, available as either batch brew or through the V60.
Amanda and I liked Pauseteria so much that we visited twice, once for breakfast on a busy Sunday morning, Amanda’s first full day in Prague, and again for coffee and cake on Friday afternoon, our final day in the city.
It’s that time of year again! The Coffee Spot Calendar, now into its seventh year, is on sale! 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. As in the last couple of years, I’ve been ridiculously busy, so please accept my apologies for the late arrival of the calendar. Thanks also to my friends and supporters, Keith, Amanda, Sharon, Dave (and everyone else) who has encouraged me and suggested pictures.
The calendars cost £12.00 (£10.00 for the desktop version and, new this year, £8.00 for the poster 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, then there’s a no-postage option: pick this and I’ll hand your calendar over in person! If you’re ordering from outside the UK, then the postage will be more, I’m afraid (full details after the gallery).
If you get your orders in this week, I should be able to get your calendar to you before Christmas (for UK orders).
Some cities never change. In others, change is almost constant, Canterbury being a good (for me, at least) example. Since my previous visit, 2½ years ago in May 2017, pretty much everything has changed. Of the places I visited, only the Micro Roastery is still going in the same place/format. Water Lane Coffee has gone, Lost Sheep has doubled in size and now roasts its own coffee, while today’s Coffee Spot, Garage Coffee, has left Fruitworks and taken over the Canteen, a few streets away, next to the Cathedral. Spread over three floors of a lovely, 500-year-old building, the contrast with the large, open spaces of Fruitworks couldn’t be starker.
The star of the show, of course, is the coffee, with a very similar offering despite the change of venue. All roasted in-house, there’s a blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, while any of the single-origins and decaf are available through V60, Aeropress and Chemex, with a daily option on batch brew. The Canteen part of the operation is represented by a range of options, all baked/cooked on-site. This includes various flatbreads, salads, sourdough toasties and multiple things on toast. There’s also soup, jacket potatoes and a range of cakes.
Once upon a time, one of my regular coffee haunts when visiting the British Museum was Wild & Wood on New Oxford Street. Sadly, the building was closed for redevelopment in 2015, necessitating a relocation to London Wall, where it’s still going strong. For a long time, the site stood empty, but now the redevelopment is finally complete, and, occupying roughly the same spot as Wild & Wood, is a new coffee shop.
Opening at the start of last month, the new coffee shop is none other than the ninth branch of south London coffee juggernauts, The Gentlemen Baristas. The coffee offering is very similar to the other Gentlemen Baristas locations, with the Deerstalker blend and a single-origin on espresso, pulled on a Faema E71 espresso machine, joined by a single-origin on batch-brew, with plans for a pour-over option via the Kalita Wave. All the coffee is roasted in-house and available in retail bags. If you’re hungry, there’s soup, sandwiches and a selection of cakes and pastries, all served in an interesting, idiosyncratic space.
Although I love Canterbury, its narrow, winding medieval streets can get very crowded, so much so that sometimes I need to break from all the people, which makes today’s Coffee Spot, Coffee Curiosity, even more of a find. Recommended by practically everyone, but in particular Sally Gurteen, Mike Stanbridge and Dan from Lost Sheep Coffee, it’s a five-minute walk west of the city centre, an oasis of calm in the Tannery Square development.
Coffee Curiosity was opened in January 2018 by Chase, a barista I first met in G!RO Cycles almost four years ago to the day of my visit, catching up with him 18 months later during my previous visit to Canterbury, when he worked at Garage Coffee in its days at Fruitworks. Impressively, he recognised me the instant I walked through the door!
Coffee Curiosity is a reverse TARDIS, the interior far smaller than it looks. There’s an espresso blend from Coldblow, a local roaster from Tenterden, plus regular guests on filter, with a Kenyan single-origin from Cambridge’s The Brew Project during my visit. There’s also tea from local suppliers, Debonair Tea Company, a small selection of panini and a range of cakes, all baked by Chase’s father-in-law.
A well-established name in London Coffee circles, HR Higgins has been going in its current form since 1944. A family-run affair, now onto its third generation, I visited the lovely, old-fashioned store on Mayfair’s Duke Street in September, writing up the delightful basement coffee shop. Now it’s the turn of HR Higgins Coffee Man, which features in today’s Meet the Roaster as both roaster and retailer.
Whereas many modern, speciality coffee roasters have a few blends at most, along with a handful of single-origins, HR Higgins is from an era when coffee merchants carried a wide range of beans, reminding me of the likes of Soho’s Algerian Coffee Stores. HR Higgins currently has beans from 23 origins (two of which are decaffeinated), drawn from all the world’s main coffee growing regions, plus eight different blends. These are roasted anywhere from medium to very dark, and, while HR Higgins hasn’t succumbed to the modern trend of light roasts, it has been developing direct trade relationships with various coffee farmers.
If coffee’s not your thing, HR Higgins is also a tea merchant of some repute, with over 40 different loose-leaf teas available, although it received its Royal Warrant as a coffee merchant.
Worcester’s Steam Coffee Shop (not to be confused with The Steam Room, in nearby Birmingham), was a chance discovery from earlier this week. Amanda and I had stopped in Worcester for lunch, intending to visit another coffee shop, when we walked past Steam Coffee, the display of lightbulbs in the window initially catching my eye. A quick perusal of the menu increased our interest and, on discovered that the coffee was from old friends Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters, our decision was made.
Steam Coffee occupies the final shop on the eastern flank of Worcester’s Corn Market, a large, open space opposite St Martin’s Church on the eastern side of Worcester’s compact, medieval centre. Four outside tables on the broad pavement compliment another eight in the cosy interior, which has a simple layout, with the counter at the back. There’s a standard espresso-based menu, the coffee provided by Quarter Horse’s Dark Horse blend, along with a decaf option, while there’s also a wide range of loose-leaf tea from Golden Monkey Tea Co. in nearby Warwick. However, the real draw is the food, with innovative breakfast, sandwich and lunch menus, plus a range of cakes, all made using local ingredients wherever possible.