Every now and then, as I travel around the country, I come across a real gem; a wonderful, amazing coffee shop that makes me grateful that I am lucky enough to spend my time writing the Coffee Spot. On the far side of Norwich (which is about a 15 minute walk from the near side of Norwich, such is the compact nature of the medieval city centre) is such a place: Kofra Speciality Coffee Brewers.
Kofra is a delightful spot. It’s not huge, but there’s more to it than first meets the eye, with one of the cosiest backrooms I’ve seen in a long while. The key to Kofra is its commitment to great coffee, to the extent that there’s no food, not even cake (the only exception to this is doughnuts at the weekend), the focus purely on the coffee.
Kofra is the UK distributor for Antwerp’s Caffènation, which it sells under the Kofra brand. Kofra has Caffènation’s LGB seasonal espresso blend in the main hopper, with a single-origin, which changes every week, in the second hopper. There’s also decaf. However, where Kofra really scores is in its filter coffee, with both bulk-brew and hand-poured options (Aeropress/Clever Dripper).
The coming weekends see two of last year’s favourites making their second appearances. At the start of November (7th/8th), Cup North returns to Manchester, while next Saturday (October 17th) we have the return of the Glasgow Coffee Festival. Sadly I wasn’t able to make it last year due to various diary commitments, plus Glasgow annoyingly being at the other end of the country from where I live (how dare it!). This year, however, it’s been circled on my calendar for a long, long time.
Held in the Briggait, a soaring hall that was built as Glasgow’s fish market over 100 years ago, it’s just around the corner from festival organisers, Glasgow’s very own Dear Green Coffee roasters. Tickets are just £11.25 (including booking fee), which gives you access to nine hours (10:00 – 19:00) of coffee-based events, including the UK’s first-ever roasting championships.
Brew & Brownie, on York’s Museum Street, is just over the river from the original Perky Peacock. It had just celebrated its first birthday when I visited York last summer. Unfortunately, I was there on a Monday, and Monday is the one day that it’s closed, so I missed out. This year, I made sure I went back on Sunday, partly because the coffee comes from Cumbria’s Carvetii, one of my favourite roasters, and partly because several people had independently raved about the American-style pancakes, and regular readers know what I think about pancakes!
As well as pancakes, Brew & Brownie offers comprehensive breakfast and lunch menus, plus sandwiches. Breakfast is served until 11.30, at which point lunch takes over until the end of the day. I arrived at 11.50, but fortunately, the aforementioned pancakes are available as a brunch option throughout the day. There’s also an extensive range of cakes, which, unsurprisingly, features a wide variety of brownies. Throughout, though, the emphasis is on locally-sourced, high-quality, seasonal produce.
As well as Carvetii’s house-blend espresso, Brew & Brownie offers an Aeropress option, with loose-leaf tea from Merseyside’s Brew Tea Co, plus hot chocolate and a range of soft drinks.
I first visited Full Court Press, or FCP Coffee as it is also known, the day before it opened, back in May 2013, then again two days later, when it still smelled faintly of paint. Since then I’ve been in a few times during my regular visits to Bristol.
In many ways, Full Court Press is much as I first found it, with owner and head barista, Mat, still regularly changing up the coffee, bringing in exciting beans from roasters from all over the country and beyond. For example, during my latest visit, one of the filter coffees was a Sumatran Blue Batak from Italian speciality roaster, Gardelli, the first time I’ve had its coffee. And very fine it was.
One change is behind the counter, where Will, of Didn’t You Do Well fame, has found a permanent role following Didn’t You Do Well’s sad closure. It was great to have a chance to catch up and to see him looking so well and so happy.
However, the biggest change had taken place beneath my feet…
Saint Espresso is an offshoot of Leyas in Camden Town, although it doesn’t advertise the link, so it’s easy to visit the two and not realise the connection. This is particularly true since the two are like chalk and cheese in almost all respects, except that they both serve excellent quality coffee from a regularly-rotating cast of roasters.
Saint Espresso is at the eastern end of Pentonville Road, just around the corner from Angel Tube station. The busy Pentonville Road does not, at first sight, seem the ideal location for a coffee shop, but Saint Espresso has perhaps the best spot, on the northern side of the road, well set back from the traffic on a broad expanse of pavement. This means that even the outside tables are well away from both pedestrian and road traffic, making it a comparatively sheltered spot.
South-facing and with a tall frontage that’s entirely glass, Saint Espresso’s a sun-trap. Even on a gloomy day, it’s flooded with light. Much smaller than Leyas, there is commensurately less food; just a decent selection of cakes and sandwiches for lunch. Where it excels, of course, is in the superb coffee (one espresso and one filter option).
Wild & Wood is something of a pioneer in London’s speciality coffee scene. When it opened in 2008, the number speciality coffee shops in London could still be counted just using your fingers and toes. It’s also one of the first Coffee Spots I ever wrote about, Wild & Wood having been a regular haunt of mine in the years before I started the Coffee Spot. I also revisited it in April last year.
For seven years, Wild & Wood went about its business in its own uncompromising way from a small shop on New Oxford Street. Then, earlier this year, the building was cleared for redevelopment and Wild & Wood was left homeless, much to the consternation of its many fans and regular customers.
However, this particular story has a happy ending as, at the end of August, Wild & Wood reappeared on London Wall. Those who fear that the move will have ruined Wild & Wood needn’t worry: owners Bozena and Kit have pretty much transplanted Wild & Wood, keeping the same atmosphere and attitude that made it so popular.
For almost as long as I’ve been writing the Coffee Spot, my friend Sharon has been nagging me to visit Swindon. Initially, there was the well-regarded Cafelicious, but that closed down (the owners going on to open Cotswold Artisan Coffee in nearby Cirencester) before I could get there. Oh well, I thought.
Then, in 2014, two coffee shops opened within a few weeks of each other: Monday’s Coffee Spot, Baila, and the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Darkroom Espresso. Darkroom almost didn’t survive long enough for me to visit: set up by Anglo-Australian couple, Andy and Jacky, our wonderful Government decided to deport Jacky (the Aussie), almost destroying a much-loved small business in the process.
The good news, however, is that Andy and Jacky were able to sell Darkroom before they left to Arthur and Will, co-owners of Oxford’s Brew, who took over this summer. These days you can find Arthur behind the counter, along with good friend of the Coffee Spot, Steve, the only man to get me to visit a Harris & Hoole…
Darkroom gets all its coffee from the nearby Round Hill Roastery, with single-origins on espresso and bulk-brew. There’s also tea from Cardiff’s Waterloo Tea.
In many ways, the Boston Tea Party on Bristol’s Park Street, where the Boston Tea Party chain began, is also where the Coffee Spot started, albeit a good few years later. It’s the first place that I wrote about, the first Coffee Spot being published three years and two days ago on 28th September 2012. As the Coffee Spot heads into its fourth year, it seems only fitting that I should revisit where it all began.
So, what’s changed in that time? Well, quite a bit, actually. The coffee is still the same, the Tea Party favouring Extract Coffee Roasters’ seasonal espresso blend, and while the food menu has gone through some iterations, it’s still the same core of excellent cakes and all-day breakfasts.
No, what’s actually changed is the place itself. Well, not so much changed, just expanded. Since I was last there three years ago, the seating has pretty much doubled, with the Tea Party adding a second garden and a second upstairs room.
Baila Coffee & Vinyl is on Swindon’s southern side, “up the hill” as the locals put it, in the part of old Swindon that actually looks and feels like a pleasant small town, rather than the post-war concrete shopping area that is the modern centre. Near the top of Victoria Road, Baila’s a coffee shop that buys/sells vinyl records rather than a record shop which serves coffee (The Keen Bean Coffee Club, for example).
As befits somewhere that’s all about vinyl (black), coffee (black too) and coffee with milk (white), the décor is predominantly black and white, with added touches of black and occasional splashes of white for variety. The floor is at least (dark) wood, as are the tables and chairs.
The coffee is from nearby Extract Coffee Roasters, with Extract’s standard espresso blend in the main hoper, plus decaf. Single origins make an appearance as filter coffee, Baila unusually utilising the Clever Dripper. There are also smoothies and loose-leaf tea.
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, Baila reopens from seven in the evening until eleven as a bar, serving craft beers, gin, wine and spirits. The bar also makes an appearance from four until ten on Sunday afternoon/evening.
Today’s Saturday Supplement is something of a hobby horse of mine: the search for great decaf coffee. Generally speaking, I believe that the state of decaf in the speciality coffee industry is pretty healthy. For example, I was in Cardiff on Monday, where I had two excellent decaf flat whites, one in Artigiano Espresso (roasted by Origin) and the other in The Plan (roasted by James Gourmet Coffee).
So, it’s not that there isn’t great decaf out there, being roasted by some top-quality roasters. Instead, the issue’s one of perception, with the decaf drinker often being made to feel like a second-class citizen. It’s a rare day when I don’t see a tweet along the lines of “death before decaf”. Frankly, I find it insulting to all decaf drinkers out there, not to mention the great roasters who are going to considerable lengths to produce amazing-tasting (caffeinated) coffee, extracting the maximum flavour from the beans, only to have their products reduced to a mechanism for delivering caffeine. Why? I just don’t get it.
To counter this, I launched the Coffee Spot Decaf Challenge at this year’s London Coffee Festival, the aim being to highlight the great decaf coffee out there.