Brian’s Travel Spot: Hong Kong

The famous Star Ferry, seen here in 2008, crossing Victoria Harbour between Hong Kong island and Kowloon.Welcome to second instalment of my Brian’s Travel Spot series, which started with my flight out to Hong Kong via Dubai. This post covers my time in Hong Kong, an amazing city which I first visited in 2008. That was primarily a business trip, but I tacked on some sight-seeing time at the end. Hong Kong had never been on my destination list, but I fell in love with it and have been wanting to return ever since.

Trying to sum up Hong Kong in a single post, let alone a 200 word introduction is futile: much like any big city, Hong Kong is an amalgam of different areas. This is particularly true when you throw in Kowloon, the New Territories and the outer islands. In nutshell, though, Hong Kong (the island) is a mountain in the sea, densely forested, both by trees and the skyscrapers which sprout up with amazing frequency. Think midtown or downtown New York, but done as the British would do it, in a “let’s muddle through” sort of way. Hot, humid, loud and busy, it exhilarates and exhausts me in equal measure.

This post is covers my four days in Hong Kong and, as with all the others, is split into a number of sections, so don’t forget to check back during the week for regular updates. For now you can read about:

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18 Grams, Causeway Bay

The words "18 GRAMS" in white in a black circle. Some stylised coffee beans are drawn above the 18.18 Grams is a local café/roastery chain based in Hong Kong, with eight branches spread out over Hong Kong Island and on the mainland in Kowloon. Founded in 2010, the Causeway Bay branch, just west of Victoria Park, is one of the first branches to open back in 2011. It’s a tiny spot, with just enough room for a handful of tables inside and a couple more outside down a side alley. However, what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in character. And excellent coffee, of course.

18 grams has a standard espresso-based menu, serving the Black Sheep house-blend. This is supported by interesting options, such as a Shakerato, and a range of single-origin filter coffees. 18 grams is currently roasting eight different single-origins, two of which are available as pour-overs through the V60, either straight up or over ice. There’s also bulk-brew or cold brew if you don’t want to wait.

You’d think that would be enough for such a small place, but no. 18 grams has an impressive range of food as well, all good on-site in the tiny kitchen space which is nestled behind the counter along with the espresso machine and grinders.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Heading East

My new travel kit: from left to right, starting at the top: Espro Travel Press, feldfarb grinder from Knock, UpperCup reusable cup and metal pouring jug.Welcome to the fourth of my occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series. The first Travel Spot recounted my adventures in the summer of 2015 as I flew to New England, travelled across America by train and spent a week in the Pacific Northwest, an amazing, three-week long adventure. The second Travel Spot saw me back in America this February, flying into New York, before travelling down through Philadelphia to Washington DC, then back up to Boston via New York and Providence. The third was this summer’s one-off, recounting my Porto adventures.

As will all my Travel Spots, they provide a record of my travels, something a little different from posting the actual Coffee Spots I visit (which always takes place after the event). This, my fourth Travel Spot, is possibly my greatest adventure yet. Where I’m going will unfold with successive posts, but for now let’s just say it’s going to take me somewhat less than 80 days. My first stop is Hong Kong, where I’ll be spending a few days acclimatising myself to heat, humidity and, above all, time zone, before my second stop, Shanghai.

As before, I’ll post as I go, splitting the trip into a number of posts. This post covers my flight out to Hong Kong and includes:

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Doctor Espresso N3

The beautiful and beautifully restored two group 1950s Gaggia lever espresso machine at Doctor Espresso N3.Regular readers know of my soft spot for Doctor Espresso Caffetteria, which opened in 2013 opposite Fulham’s Putney Bridge station. It boasts London’s oldest working espresso machine, a beautiful 1956 Gaggia Tipo America lever espresso machine, restored by none other than Russell, aka Doctor Espresso. This was joined in 2014 by Doctor Espresso – Mama V’s in Clapham High Street, named after Vanessa, the other half of Doctor Espresso. Now, after a long wait, there’s Doctor Espresso N3, five minutes’ walk from the original on Fulham High Street.

The biggest of the three, it builds on the success of the other two, another gloriously-restored 1950s Gaggia lever espresso machine taking pride-of-place on the hand-built counter, all the work of Doctor Espresso himself. It has the same Italian vibe, helped by the staff largely being Italian, serving the same Italian-roasted espresso with a touch of the old-school about it.

However, N3 is much more, fusing the Italian neighbourhood café with elements of the traditional English café. The greater size means a larger kitchen, which in turn means an expanded range of hot food. So, alongside the panini, calzone and salads (and cake!) of the first two, comes an all-day breakfast/brunch/lunch menu.

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Brooklyn Coffee

An espresso in a classic white cup made by Brooklyn Coffee using Caravan's Daily espresso blend.Brooklyn Coffee, on the busy Commercial Street in the heart of Shoreditch, has been around for just over three years. During that time, plenty of people have sung its praises and, while I’ve called in a few times, I’ve never been in a position to write it up for the Coffee Spot. Until a fortnight ago, that is.

Brooklyn Coffee is, as the one-word A-board outside clearly states, all about the coffee. Admittedly, there’s a limited breakfast menu, a reasonable selection of cakes, cookies and pastries, plus beer straight from the fridge, but it’s the coffee, from local roasters, Caravan, that takes centre stage. Not that Brooklyn Coffee aims to dazzle you with variety: there’s one option (blend or single-origin) on espresso, with decaf on the second grinder, while filter drinkers have a single-origin available on bulk-brew. Finally, Caravan’s Special Bru blend makes an appearance for the iced coffee.

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MacIntyre Coffee

The store front of MacIntyre Coffee on St John's Road, London.MacIntyre Coffee, on St John Street, just south of the Angel tube station, is the permanent home of what was originally a pop-up in Shoreditch, followed by another at Old Street Roundabout. Heritage aside, what makes MacIntyre stand out from the crowd is the equipment: home to one of (I believe) just four Modbar espresso and steam installations in London, it’s also the only UK speciality coffee shop that I know of which uses the Alpha Dominche Steampunk machine for filter coffee and tea.

There’s not a lot to MacIntyre, just a simple rectangular layout, window at the front, counter at the back, seating at bar along the right-hand side, all of which puts the focus firmly on the coffee, which is supplied by Modern Standard. There’s a single-origin on espresso and another through the Steampunk, the grinding done on demand by the ubiquitous EK-43. The options change every week or two, while there’s a wider selection of beans for sale.

The coffee is backed up with a selection of breakfast options baked on-site. There are pastries, cookies and sandwiches, most of which are gone by lunchtime, plus Mörk hot chocolate from Australia and an interesting selection of loose-leaf tea.

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Stumptown, Ace Hotel (NYC)

An espresso, seen directly from above, the brown of the crema matching that of the saucer and contrasting with the white interior of the cup. The word "Stumptown" is written in script on the top rim of the cup.Stumptown, just off the lobby of Ace Hotel in New York City, is one of NYC’s most popular coffee venues, the queues frequently extending into (and around) the lobby. I first visited in 2013, meeting up with Greg of CoffeeGuru App, but it was another three years before I returned on a “quiet” day to do a write-up.

As a coffee shop, there’s not a lot to it, although, like most Stumptown places, it’s sumptuously-appointed. In this case, a single bar runs along the window at the front, the counter running parallel to it at the back, with just enough space between them for customers to queue/wait to collect their coffee. Alternatively, you can sit in the atmospheric lobby of the Ace Hotel itself (if you can find a seat, that is). Stumptown’s Hairbender blend is on espresso, and a single-origin on bulk-brew, with both cold-brew and nitro on draft.

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200 Degrees, Birmingham

The number 200⁰ in a diamond outline over the word "COFFEE"200 Degrees, which started life as a roaster in Nottingham, before opening its first café two years ago, has now expanded into Birmingham, hot on the heels of its second Nottingham outlet [coming soon to the Coffee Spot]. The Birmingham branch, which opened its doors in August, is very much in look and feel like the original in Flying Horse Walk in Nottingham. Both are long and thin, replete with wooden panelling and exposed brick, although the Birmingham branch has much higher ceilings and a simpler layout.

In keeping with the original, 200 Degrees is unashamedly aimed at the mass-market coffee drinker, with a plush, well-appointed interior that would put many coffee chains to shame. The house espresso, Brazilian Love Affair, has a touch of Robusta which might put some off, but it provides a strong, dark coffee that many in the mainstream will be familiar with. This is backed up by the interestingly-named Mellowship Slinky Decaf, while there’s always a single-origin guest espresso, plus another single-origin on filter which provide a path to speciality coffee for those who want to tread it. Finally, there’s cold-brew on tap, a good range of breakfast, lunch and sandwich options, plus cake, all enjoyed in very pleasant, relaxed surroundings.

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George Howell, Boston Public Market

"George Howell Coffee" written in white on a wooden board, next to a silhouette of a coffee bean with George Howell's signature beneath it.George Howell is a something of a legend in American speciality coffee. He made his name as a roaster, but recently George, as his staff refer to him, has started opening coffee shops under the George Howell brand, starting in Newtonville in 2012. This, the subject of today’s Saturday Short, is the first branch in Boston, in the high-profile, newly-opened Boston Public Market, while a second Boston branch in the Godfrey Hotel on Washington Street opened this summer.

Boston Public Market is home to a high-quality espresso/coffee bar, catering primarily to the takeaway market, but with proper cups for espresso and glasses for cortados. It’s an impressive operation, with house-blend, single-farm and decaf on espresso, plus further single-farm coffees for the iced-coffee, bulk-brew (coffee of the week) and individual pour-overs, courtesy of twin Marco Beverage Systems SP9s. You can buy retail bags of coffee, plus various merchandising and coffee-related kit.

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Democratic Coffee Bar

A white cup, with the Democratic Coffee logo, an etching of a wolf from a manuscript in the adjacent libraryThere’s something about (speciality) coffee and books in Copenhagen. First there was the latest addition, Prolog Coffee Bar, a café and magazine shop, plus old hands, Forloren Espresso, replete with magazines. And there’s today’s Coffee Spot, Democratic Coffee, sharing its space with the city’s central library. You can’t get more books than that! You can sit in the coffee bar itself, which is long and thin, but which can be quite noisy, or decamp to the library, where there’s a choice of tables and comfy armchairs in the windows.

Everything in Democratic is made from scratch in the kitchen behind the counter, including the bread and pastries. Everything except the coffee that is, which is roasted off-site on a shared roaster, Democratic roasting two or three times a month. There are two single-origins on espresso, one for black coffee, one for milk, plus two more on filter, one available as a hand-poured V60, the other on bulk-brew.

The coffee changes every two-three months, Democratic buying a 700kg pallet with three/four different green beans. Once they’re gone, Democratic moves onto the next set of beans. Democratic doesn’t have different roast profiles for espresso/filter, regularly swapping which bean is on which method.

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