Sugar BLUE Café

The Sugar BLUE logo: "Sugar BLUE" with "COFFEE & FOOD" underneath, written in a blue circle.Good coffee can be a little hard to find in France, especially if you don’t like traditional, dark-roasted espresso (if, like me, you do, there are plenty of places that will serve you a very drinkable cup of coffee, but woe betide you if you want a pour-over or single-origin espresso). Therefore it’s always nice when you come across a place such as Nantes’ Sugar Blue Café.

Situated right in the centre of the new town, just north of the splendid Place Royale, it had been open all of two weeks when I called by. The brainchild of joint-owners, Marlyse and Emmanuelle, it’s an attempt to bring the coffee culture of London (and increasingly, Paris) to Nantes and I wish them every success.

With coffee roasted by Caffè Cataldi of Brittany, Sugar Blue offers two single-origin espressos and a third single-origin as a filter. Equally as impressive is the food offering (its slogan is “All you need is good coffee and fresh food). Everything is homemade and there are good breakfast and lunch menus, with a great selection of cake. To round things off, it’s a lovely spot, the perfect place for a quick (or leisurely) coffee and some food.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Sugar Blue Cafe in the heart of Nantes...
  • I was sold from the moment I saw the A-board.
  • The front of Sugar Blue...
  • ... and the view from just inside the door.
  • The communal table on the left...
  • ... the coffee table and its bench opposite...
  • ... and the round table next to it.
  • There are two chairs at the front end of the counter...
  • ... and these tables opposite the counter.
  • The view, looking from the back.
  • The counters, food to the left, coffee at the back.
  • That's quite a lot of food!
  • The coffee end of Sugar Blue.
  • Sugar Blue is full of lovely little touches.
  • All I really need :-)
  • Help yourself to a carafe of water and a glass. And some cutlery.
  • Coat hooks are an overlooked feature in a lot of coffee shops.
  • Nice pictures.
  • Obligatory light fitting shot...
  • ... sorry, couldn't resist another one!
  • There appears to be some cookies in that jar...
  • ... along with a (depleted) basket of pastries.
  • If you can't read the label, it's 'Gâteau fondant au chocolat' (chocolate cake to you & me)
  • Worth a closer look.
  • The caramel cake.
  • So, down to business... Let's take a look at the coffee menu.
  • The current selection...
  • Something from the (extremely) shiny espresso machine I think.
  • My espresso...
  • ... and in close-up.
  • Tasting notes for the coffee.
  • My Yirgacheffe Wote.
  • I'll leave you with all the cake they forced me to eat...
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Sugar Blue occupies a long, thin spot on the pedestrianised rue de l’arche sèche. I knew from the moment I saw it’s A-board that it was for me. Its glass front is split into four equal parts, one of which is the door (on the right). The other three form a sliding window which can be full closed or one-third/two-thirds open, the latter an excellent option for letting in some air on hot summer afternoons.

There’s a bench outside, mostly for the cigarette smokers, but the bulk of the seating is inside. There’s a long, communal table on your left as you come in, with benches on either side. Opposite is a low coffee table with its own bench, followed by a round 4-person table. Beyond this comes the counter on left and more seating, in the shape of four high-tables, on the right. These are up against a very comfortable padded bench on the right-hand wall and each has a chair of its own. Finally, two high, blue metal chairs sit at the front end of the counter, backs to the door.

The counter is an ‘L’-shape, running along the left-hand wall and continuing along the back wall of Sugar Blue. The food, cake and till are arranged on the counter to the left, with a big chalkboard menu behind it, while the counter at the back is given over to the coffee-side of things, with a two group La Marzocco, grinders for the two espresso beans and a third for the filter.

Thanks to its glass front, Sugar Blue’s interior is pretty bright, aided by the décor. Two of the three walls are painted white, while the third, on right, is painted Sugar Blue blue. This goes well with the wooden floor and the light wood of the counter, giving it a natural feel. The atmosphere was rounded off while I was there with some pop classics playing quietly in background.

All the coffee is from Caffè Cataldi. Emmanuelle, who had previously worked in the likes of Paris’ Café Lomi [coming soon to the Coffee Spot], was the first to admit that they were still finding their feet with the choice of beans. I tried the second of the espresso beans, a Finca la Coptita Bio from Mexico, which was very well made, but a bit too bright and acidic for my tastes.

I followed this up with a Yirgacheffe Wote, which was prepared using a cafetiere (interestingly, cafetiere in French, at least in Sugar Blue, is “French Press”…). If I’m honest, this probably would have been better served by a V60 or Aeropress, but it was still a good cup of coffee, which improved as cooled.

I was there mid-afternoon, so didn’t get to try any of the impressive selection of homemade food, which included sandwiches, quiche, tarts and wraps. However, I was made to try an extensive selection of the cakes (honestly, Emmanuelle insisted; how could I refuse?). I had samples of the chocolate cake, lemon tart and caramel cake. They were all good, but the lemon tart was excellent, really sweet and sharp. However, the caramel cake was even better, with a rich sponge infused with a sticky layer of caramel. Sadly I had to leave before I could go back and eat the rest of the cake…

4 RUE DE L’ARCHE SÈCHE • NANTES • 44000 • FRANCE +33 9 83 24 19 24
Monday 08:00 – 18:00 Seating Tables, Bar, Bench Outside
Tuesday 08:00 – 18:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Cake
Wednesday 08:00 – 18:00 Service Order at counter
Thursday 08:00 – 18:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa (€5 minimum)
Friday 08:00 – 18:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Saturday 09:00 – 18:00 Power Limited
Sunday CLOSED Mobile N/A
Chain No Visits 28th August 2014

I’m indebted to Wilfred Gilbert (via Coffee Content) on Twitter for pointing me in the direction of Sugar Blue in the first place.

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Coutume Update

A very fine espresso in a hard to photograph black cup from Coutume, complete with carafe of water.The last time I visited Coutume, the (relatively) old, established player in Paris’ third-wave coffee scene, I arrived just before closing on a day when the espresso machine had just been repaired, having been broken all day. It was also my last stop before heading back home on the Eurostar.

This time, in a nice piece of symmetry, I decided to make it the first stop of my visit. So, having arrived from Nantes, I turned up just before closing on a day when the espresso machine had just been repaired, having been broken all day … Some things never change!

I was there at the invitation of Connor, one of Coutume’s baristas, who had been following my progress around France. He made me a lovely cup of an Ethiopian Nekisse through the V60, a rich, complex brew which matured as it cooled. While I drank it, I sat (out of the way) at the bar at the front and chatted with Connor about all the things that had changed since my last visit.

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Artisan Roast, Glasgow

A drawing on the wall of Artisan Roast's Gibson Street branch showing the location of the Toper Roaster, Fatima, which was removed in April 2013.Artisan Roast is a chain of three coffee shops, two in its home town of Edinburgh (Broughton Street and Bruntsfield Place) and this one, on Gibson Street in Glasgow’s West End. Compared to the other branches, it’s massive, although that’s not too much of an achievement, since both of Edinburgh’s Artisan Roasts are fairly compact. Nevertheless, the sense of space afforded by Gibson Street was refreshing.

Despite its size, it manages to have the same sense of intimacy, largely due to a clever partitioning of the store into multiple, smaller spaces, which includes a mezzanine. Generous windows, running from almost the floor to the (very high) ceiling, make the front of the store a very bright space, helped by a large mirror over the bench opposite the counter. This is in stark contrast to the back, where the lighting is (deliberately) subdued, adding to its sense of intimacy.

Until April 2013, Gibson Street roasted all its own coffee in a Toper called Fatima which sat at the far end of the counter. Then Artisan Roast centralised its roasting in Edinburgh, freeing up space for Gibson Street to do more food. It now has the best food offering of the three.

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Piccadilly Grind

The Piccadilly Grind sign painted on the back wall above the bench.Piccadilly Grind is, as far as I know, unique, being the only coffee shop inside a London tube station. There might be others in the outer zones, but this is certainly the only one in a Zone 1 station. It’s an unexpected setting, but certainly a welcome one, meaning you can get great coffee on the go from seven in the morning until ten at night (nine until eight at weekends). Hopefully we will see more of this sort of thing in the future!

Tucked into literally a hole in the wall on the main concourse, it blends in well with its surroundings. Despite its relatively small size, Piccadilly Grind is anything but a small coffee shop in its outlook. It’s even got seating, power and free (sort of) Wifi. The only thing that it doesn’t do at the moment is pour-over. Other than that, there’s a comprehensive espresso menu (house-blend and decaf, both roasted by Brighton’s Small Batch) and impressively wide ranges of soft drinks, pastries/cakes and (at lunchtime) sandwiches. There’s also tea from Tea Pigs.

You can either order your coffee to go or sit down on the bench and, in the quieter moments, chat with the baristas.

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Tea House Theatre

The Tea House Theatre on the edge of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, resplendent in the sunshine.The Tea House Theatre is, as the name suggests, an old theatre (actually, it’s not, it’s an old pub) which serves tea (actually, it does; one out of two’s not bad). It’s somewhere I’ve been going, on-and-off, for the last year, and have always meant to write up for the Coffee Spot. I’ve just never had the excuse. Until now, that is.

During a recent visit by the esteemed Bristol Café Watcher to the fair city of London, I remembered one of Café Watcher’s rare faults: a penchant for drinking tea. I therefore decided upon the Tea House Theatre as the final destination of a day spent wandering around London in the sunshine. When it comes to tea, it doesn’t get better than this, with numerous (I ran out of fingers and toes while counting) loose-leaf tea offerings.

However, probably the most relevant thing about the Tea House Theatre, given that this is the Coffee Spot, is that it DOESN’T SERVE COFFEE! That’s right: after dallying with the “other stuff” in Cardiff, I’ve finally gone the whole hog and written about a place that only does tea. And superb cake. And food. But not coffee.

It’s lovely by the way.

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Drink, Shop & Dash

My piccolo at Drink, Shop & Dash. Lovely latte art by Sebastian.Drink, Shop & Dash is the smaller sibling and speciality coffee outlet of next door neighbour, Drink, Shop & Do. Located on the Caledonian Road, just around the corner from King’s Cross Station, it joins a growing band of speciality coffee in the area, led by the (now venerable) Caravan.

There’s not a lot to Drink, Shop & Dash, the “dash” element of the name betraying its small size. However, despite the name, it’s more than just a takeaway joint, with enough space for a couple of two-person window-bars, one each side of the door. Opposite the large windows is a generous counter, with plenty of space for those who have opted for takeaway to wait for their coffee.

The output is also worthy of a much larger establishment, with coffee from south London’s Volcano powering a decent espresso-based menu (Volcano’s seasonal espresso blend or decaf), plus single-origins on bulk-brew filter and pour-over. There’s also loose-leaf tea and, while it’s still summer, iced coffee and tea to go with frozen yoghurt.

If it’s food you’re after, you’re also well catered for, with toast and muesli in the morning, sandwiches and soup at lunchtime. There’s also a small selection of cake.

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Opposite Chapel Allerton

The Opposite logo in white chalk on a black background, with the word 'Coffee' written underneath.Out in Chapel Allerton, in the leafy suburbs north of Leeds city centre, is the third of the eclectic local chain known as Opposite. The original Opposite (opposite Leeds University, hence the name) is nearly 10 years old, while the second, under the soaring stained-glass arcades of the Victoria Quarter shopping centre, opened five years ago. They were joined last year by the Chapel Allerton branch, which opened under the name “Cup & Saucer”. However, about a week after my visit, it was due to be re-branded as “Opposite Chapel Allerton”.

Several people in the Leeds coffee scene told me that it was their favourite spot, and I can see why. Just off the busy Harrogate Road, in a parade of local shops and restaurants (which includes a large Caffe Nero), it’s a lovely little spot, exuding charm all the way from the big windows at the front to the massive chalk drawing on the back wall.

Sandwiched between window and wall is some excellent food, a great range of cake and some wonderful coffee from London’s Square Mile, plus regular guests. There’s a fairly standard espresso menu plus single-origin pour-over through V60 or Aeropress. It’s well worth a detour!

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The Wren

An outline image of a Wren, inside a white chalk circle, the symbol of the coffee shop, The Wren.Set in the soaring nave of Christopher Wren’s St Nicholas Cole Abbey, The Wren’s quite possibly the most delightful coffee shop setting I’ve had the pleasure to step into. The only relevant question is what took me so long, since it’s been on my list from the day it opened!

Situated between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Thames, the church is accessed via a flight of steps, leading up from the busy dual carriageway that is Queen Victoria Street. You can sit outside if you like, either at a small, shady cluster of tables, tucked away around a corner at the bottom of the steps, or on the large, sun-drenched terraced at the top. For me, however, the real pleasure is in the gloriously spacious interior.

The coffee is from London’s Workshop, with the seasonal Cult of Done blend on espresso and rotating single origin beans on the V60 filter. Loose-leaf tea is from Merseyside’s Brew Tea Co and there’s a range of soft drinks. At lunchtime, there’s a choice of quiche, salad, soup and sandwiches, while for breakfast there are pastries, toast and granola. The food offering is rounded off with a small but interesting cake range.

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Some lovely latte-art in a classic, light green cup at Birmingham's FacultyFaculty was set up towards the start of 2014 by the previous owners of Saint Caffe (now Saint Kitchen), one of the pioneers of Birmingham’s current coffee scene. It joins a geographically tight-knit group in the city centre, including 6/8 Kafé, Yorks Bakery Cafe, Brewsmiths Coffee & Tea and the Boston Tea Party, all of which are within a few minutes’ walk of each other.

Faculty forms the southern apex of this triangle of coffee-heaven (Saint Kitchen and the Tea Party being at the other apexes), literally a few steps away from the northern entrance to Birmingham’s New Street Station. It’s so close that you probably could rush out, get a takeaway coffee and be back in time to make your connection if you’re changing trains.

Faculty is at the southern end of the beautiful Piccadilly Arcade. If you’re coming from the station, walk past the front of the Caffé Nero on Stephenson Street, turn right into the arcade (which joins Stephenson Street with New Street to the north) and, a few doors up on your left, you’ll find Faculty!

It’s only a small place, all wood and glass, with an interesting range of cakes and excellent Square Mile coffee.

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Beany Green, Paddington, Update

One of Beany Green's A-boards, promising Aussie Coffee, Home-made Banana Bread and FREE hugs!This is another Saturday Update where the answer to the question “what’s changed?” is “not a lot”. Regular readers will know that Beany Green’s Paddington branch became my local while I was working in Sheldon Square. However, at the start of June, my contract expired and so my weekly visits abruptly ceased.

After an all-to-brief hiatus, I was offered another contract mid-way through July and so found myself back at Sheldon Square, this time for two or three days a week (which is a shock to the system, I can tell you!). The upside of this (other than getting paid, so I can continue to finance the Coffee Spot) is that I was able to renew my acquaintance with the lovely Beany Green.

During my six weeks absence, not a lot had changed at Beany Green. However, now that I’m back two or three days a week, I have the opportunity to sample more of the range of coffee on offer. Previously, I’d largely confined myself to a flat white to take back to the office, but since my return, I’ve made a concerted effort to get through more of the coffee menu. I’ve also started working through the cakes…

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