Brian’s Travel Spot: Shanghai

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The futurist Oriental Pearl TV tower on the Pudong side of Huangpu River, as seen from the Bund at night.Welcome to third instalment of my Brian’s Travel Spot series about my around the world trip, which started with my flight out to Hong Kong and continued with my adventures in Hong Kong itself. This post covers my time in Shanghai, which is the second leg of my trip. I’d never been to China before this trip, so when I got an opportunity to go there on business, I took it with both hands.

I arrived on Sunday, then spent the most of the next five days in a meeting room on the first floor of the Hyatt, an interesting mix of modern western hotel, with Chinese architectural influences and a contrast with my own hotel, the Astor, just down the street. I then spent the weekend exploring the city before flying off on the third leg of my trip, across the international date line to Chicago.

As with all the Travel Spots, this post is split into a number of sections, starting with the relatively short flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai and my first impressions of Shanghai itself, which was all I managed to write while I was there. I’ll probably rearrange the first impressions section, then add additional sections covering the rest of the trip throughout the week.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Hong Kong

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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 on a business trip. However, I added on some sight-seeing time at the end and, despite Hong Kong never having been on my destination list, I fell in love with it.

I’ve been wanting to return ever since, so when work wanted me to attend a meeting in Shanghai, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I could fly to Hong Kong, acclimatise and (perhaps more importantly) get used to the different time zones, then fly on to Shanghai for my meeting. In the end, I spent four days on Hong Kong island, which was nowhere near long enough, but it did give me a chance to reacquaint myself with the island, explore its excellent speciality coffee scene and, best of all, get over my jet lag!

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Where to Next With COVID-19, Part III

A giant red question mark.As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, coffee shops in the UK have adapted. At first, this meant pretty much universal closure, followed by a slow, cautious reopening as takeaway-only operations, exemplified in Guildford by Canopy Coffee and Krema Coffee. Now, with the UK Government relaxing its social distancing rules, this has paved the way for hospitality industries in England, including coffee shops, to reopen for sit-in customers on July 4th.

In Part II of this short series on where we go next, I looked at the Government’s guidance and pondered what it might mean for coffee shops. However, I was prompted to start this series by this tweet from Wrecking Ball Coffee in San Francisco which argued, in essence, that just because coffee shops could reopen, it didn’t mean that they should. It’s this question that I’m returning to in this, the third and final part of the series.

The same disclaimers apply here as in Parts I and II. First, I don’t work in coffee shops, I write about them, so this series focuses on the consumer viewpoint. Second, this is about on what might happen in England since, due to devolution, the rules differ elsewhere in the UK.

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Where to Next With COVID-19, Part II

A giant red question mark.As was widely expected, the UK Government made its much-trailed announcement this week that has paved the way for hospitality industries in England, coffee shops included, to reopen for sit-in custom on July 4th, now just over a week away. In Part I of this series, I looked at what this may mean for speciality coffee shops, asking many questions along the way, but providing few answers. Now that the Government’s guidance has been published, this post (Part II) looks at what a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic might look like.

The same disclaimers apply here as in Part I: First, I don’t work in coffee shops, I write about them, so these posts are focused on the consumer viewpoint. Second, this is very much focused on what might happen in England (due to the devolved nature of the UK, while the announcement was made by the UK Government, it only applies to England). If you are interested, you can download the UK Government’s guidance for the hospitality industry or read it online. I’m basing my thoughts on the version that was issued on June 23rd. For further practical advice from a UK industry perspective, try United Baristas.

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Krema Coffee Guildford (COVID-19 Update)

Details from the A-board outside Krema Coffee Guildford, now reopened for takeaway only.Not long after Canopy Coffee, Guildford’s multi-roaster speciality coffee shop, reopened on Saturday, 16th May, I was walking home past Krema Coffee, another of Guildford’s speciality coffee shops. Looking in the window, I saw an encouraging sign: Krema was reopening on the following Monday, 1st June. Naturally, I made sure I popped along and have been back a couple of times since.

Unlike Canopy, which has re-invented itself as a takeaway coffee shop, converting a side door into a serving hatch, Krema looks more like the coffee shop of old, although for now it is only offering a takeaway menu, with cake, having temporarily closed its kitchen. It’s still serving from the counter inside though, making use of its greater space to create an excellent one-way system, guiding customers from the door to the counter and back out again, all while keeping everyone at a safe distance from each other.

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Where to Next With COVID-19, Part I

A giant red question mark.I hope that I’m not jumping the gun, but it’s almost certain that the UK Government will announce an easing of social distancing rules this week, enabling hospitality industries, including coffee shops, to reopen in two weeks’ time on July 4th. What will this mean for the speciality coffee industry? Just because coffee shops can reopen, does that mean that they should? In theory at least, they could have remained open, offering a takeaway service, throughout the last three months, but most chose not to.

The inspiration for this series of posts came from the USA, via a tweet from Wrecking Ball Coffee in San Francisco. You can see the original tweet in the gallery, but the gist of it is as follows: while Wrecking Ball can legally put out chairs and tables for its customers, it’s decided not to and is encouraging others to follow suit. Which got me thinking: should UK coffee shops reopen when they are allowed to? Do I want them to reopen? This series of posts (of which this is Part I) is an attempt to frame, and then maybe answer these questions, or at least provide some pointers as to which direction to go in.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Huế to Hanoi

The things you find in Hue... A giant statue of a cockerel on the banks of the Perfume River.Welcome to the fourth instalment of my Vietnamese Travel Spot, covering my trip to Vietnam from exactly three years ago. I wrote some of it up at the time, but never completed the posts about my train journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, a 36-hour epic which I did in three stages.

The first stage, Ho Chi Minh City to Danang, was 18½ hour overnight journey on a no-frills sleeper leaving Ho Chi Minh City in mid-afternoon and arriving in Danang the following morning. The second stage saw me spend a couple of days in Hội An before travelling by train from Danang to Huế, the most scenic part of the route.

This, the final stage, covers my time in Huế, plus the last leg of my journey, from Huế to Hanoi. This involved another sleeper, which left Huế late in the evening and arrived in Hanoi just before midday the following morning. I then had three days to explore the Vietnamese capital before flying back late on the evening of the third day, first to Ho Chi Minh City, then back to Heathrow and home. This, incidentally, was the first time that I flew in business class!

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Nozy Coffee

A classic white diner mug with the Nozy Coffee logo on the sideNozy Coffee is a well-established name in Tokyo’s speciality coffee scene which I discovered at the lovely Nem Coffee & Espresso during my first visit in April 2017 before visiting its coffee shop/roastery (The Roastery by Nozy, which is under different ownership) on my return during 2018’s heatwave, when I sought refuge in its cool, basement-like interior. The Roastery is a very recent development, while Nozy itself has been going much longer, as I discovered when I visited its original coffee shop (which also used to be the roastery) in Setagaya City, southwest of Shibuya.

A tiny spot compared to The Roastery, Nozy Coffee occupies the ground floor and open basement of a narrow, three-storey building with a residence above. Although small, and with very limited seating, it has an impressive array of coffee, with a choice of eight single-origins, one of which is decaf. These are all available as filter coffee through the cafetiere, while two (which change daily) are available on espresso, where the extremely concise menu offers espresso, Americano or cafe latte. These last two come in three sizes (small, medium and large) and can be had hot or iced. A selection of coffee kit and retail bags are also for sale.

December 2019: Nozy Coffee has closed for good and will be sadly missed. Thanks to Maja for the updated information.

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Coffee, Part V: Taste

Welcome to this, the fifth and (for now) final instalment of my Coffee at Home sub-series looking at coffee. I started the series with the concept of direct trade, explaining why knowing where your coffee comes from is important. I followed that by considering blends, the art of combining different coffees in order to create a specific taste profile. In the third instalment, I introduced the idea that pretty much everything has an impact on how your coffee tastes, all the way from the farm to the roaster, before looking at what are, for me, the two biggest factors: processing and roasting. Which brings us neatly to this fifth instalment, how preparing and serving your coffee affects how it tastes.

At a very basic level, how you prepare your coffee obviously effects its taste. An espresso tastes very different from a pour-over, even using the same bean. However, the effects can be more subtle than that, which is what I want to explore in this post. It also goes beyond the basics such as preparation method. Almost everything changes how you perceive flavour, from the temperature of the coffee right down to the shape of the cup.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Danang, Hội An and Huế

Multi-coloured lanterns hanging in a street in the Old Town in Hoi An and lit up at night.Welcome to the third instalment of my Vietnamese Travel Spot, which covers the trip I made to Vietnam exactly three years ago. I wrote some of it up at the time, but never completed writing about my train journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, a 36-hour epic which I did in three stages, Ho Chi Minh City to Danang, Danang to Huế and Huế to Hanoi.

I’ve already written about the first stage, Ho Chi Minh City to Danang, 18½ hours on a no-frills sleeper which left Ho Chi Minh City in mid-afternoon and arrived in Danang the following morning. Meanwhile, the final leg, from Huế to Hanoi, involved another sleeper, and is covered in the final instalment of this series, just leaving with middle section, which is the subject of this post.

I broke my journey like this so that I could visit two contrasting cities, Hội An and Huế. I began with Hội An, a short way south of Danang (and which is bypassed by the train), then took the train from Danang to Huế, without a doubt the most scenic stretch of the whole route, before carrying on to Hanoi after a day in Huế.

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Making Coffee at Home: Water

My humble Brita Water filter which I use for my coffee making.My Making Coffee at Home series is designed to help you make better coffee at home. I’ve written about various coffee brewing methods, discussed the importance of equipment such as grinders and scales, and even talked about the coffee itself. However, there’s one important topic that I haven’t mentioned until now, and that’s water.

Given that a cup of coffee contains around 98% water, it seems obvious that it’s important, but it’s often overlooked. Although water quality is pretty good in the developed world (that is, it’s drinkable and won’t make you ill), its chemical composition varies widely. Water contains all sorts of dissolved minerals which affect both its taste and its ability to extract the flavours in coffee.

You might think that distilled water (that is, pure H2O, with no dissolved materials) would be the answer, but it’s not. Distilled water is actually rather poor at extracting coffee: it turns out that minerals such as calcium and magnesium (both common in water), are rather useful in enhancing extraction, while carbonates also play a role. So in today’s Making Coffee at Home, I’m going to look at what makes good water for coffee, and, more importantly, how to get it.

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Peak Water

My new Peak Water filter jug, fresh out of the box.Peak Water, for those who don’t know, is a home water filter designed specifically for coffee. I’ve written a wider article about water and why it’s important for coffee as part of my Making Coffee at Home series, but for now I’ll just note that I’ve been filtering my water at home (using a regular water filter jug) for many years (long before I started the Coffee Spot) and really notice the difference when I don’t.

What makes Peak Water special is that it has been designed to produce water that’s optimised for brewing coffee. The team behind Peak Water has some form on this subject, with leading members Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood and Christopher Hendon having written the well-regarded book, Water for Coffee, which was published in 2015. So, when Peak Water was launched on Kickstarter in April 2018, I was one of its first backers.

Now, just over two years later, my Peak Water filter has arrived! Excitedly, I unpacked it, put it together and started using it. But what exactly is it? What makes it different from a normal water filter and what’s it like to use? And perhaps most importantly of all, does it make my coffee taste better?

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