In October 2016, I was in Hong Kong at the start of my around the world trip. As a result of an intriguing e-mail I’d received from John, of Decent Espresso, I found myself in a multi-floored factory building in an out-of-the-way part of the New Territories. It was there that I first laid eyes on the Decent Espresso machine, a high-end home espresso machine that John and his team had under development.
What I saw was just a prototype, still on the lab bench, but I could see its potential, particularly as John explained his design philosophy. The goal was certainly ambitious: to produce performance equivalent to that of a professional espresso machine, but at a price which would be in the reach of the home enthusiast.
Perhaps most exciting of all was the use of a dedicated Android tablet, running bespoke software from Decent Espresso, to control the machine. Using the tablet, you would be able to control every aspect of the process, from pressure to water temperature, from flow-rates to shot times.
However, that was a prototype, and there was plenty of work still to be done. Would the final product live up to the promise?
Rocket is a small chain of upmarket all-day brunch spots in Bangkok, serving some excellent coffee from the local Phil Coffee Co. This branch, Rocket S.12, is in the Silom district, east of the river, an interesting area of modern skyscrapers, interspersed with older, colonial-style buildings, where major, traffic-filled arteries, are interwoven with quiet, narrow lanes, all cut through by the concrete pillars of the elevated railway, making it a relatively easy destination to get to. I am, by the way, indebted to Lan Din Coffee for the heads-up about Rocket.
Rocket occupies a square space with a very modern/Nordic feel to it, all light woods and with a tiled floor. It shares the building with the restaurant next door (there is an open, connecting doorway at the back) but the two are separate businesses. There’s a very western-themed all-day brunch menu, backed up by a house-blend and decaf on espresso, plus five single-origins on pour-over, using a mixture of home-grown Thai coffee and various familiar origins from around the world. It’s also one of the few coffee shops that I came across in Thailand that takes credit cards, useful if it’s your last day and you’re short on cash!
Last week I received an intriguing e-mail from Aniko Somogyi from the Anikona coffee farm in Hawaii. Aniko hosts a show called My Favorite Coffee Story on VoiceAmerica, an internet-based talk radio station. I must confess that I’d not come across My Favorite Coffee Story before (or VoiceAmerica for that matter), but I was intrigued. Each week, Aniko interviews someone from the world of coffee and they spend an hour talking coffee. The shows are pre-recorded and broadcast, unedited, every Tuesday at 4pm Pacific Time (midnight in the UK), with all the previous episodes available on-demand on the VoiceAmerica website or as a podcast (just search for My Favorite Coffee Story on your podcast software/service).
The purpose of the e-mail was to ask whether I’d like to appear on the show. Me? Talking about coffee? For an hour? Hell yeah! As anyone who saw my talk at the British Library last weekend will attest, I can talk about coffee for a long, long time. So, naturally I said yes, and last Wednesday I sat down (virtually) with Aniko and we talked coffee for an hour. Then, last night, the show was broadcast…
Lundenwic is one of those places that I’ve been meaning to visit ever since it opened. Back in 2015… In my defence, I’ve been a couple of times, but each time it’s been so busy that it’s been impossible to photograph, so I quietly left, telling myself I’d be back another day. That day eventually came one rainy Saturday evening in May when all the sensible people had gone home…
Located in the heart of the London’s theatre-land, right on Aldwych, at the foot Drury Lane, Lundenwic brings speciality coffee to a very mainstream setting. The shop itself is narrow and weirdly-shaped, with not one, but two (sort of) basements, exactly the sort of place I revel in. I must admonish my previous self for not going back sooner.
When it comes to coffee, Lundenwic keeps things simple but classy. Assembly’s seasonal espresso (currently a washed Colombian) is joined by Square Mile’s seasonal decaf (currently a blend of 80% Colombian and 20% Kenyan), while Assembly and Square Mile take it in turns on the batch-brew filter, the coffee changing roughly every week. A similar approach is taken with the food, a concise all-day brunch menu joined by soup at lunchtime.
One of the disadvantages of having to miss the last day of London Coffee Festival to fly off to Thailand for two weeks is that it seriously messes up my posting schedule. So, with apologies for the delay, here’s my round-up of 2018’s London Coffee Festival. As in previous years, this will be the first in a series of posts on this year’s festival, and is a general round-up, including what differed from last year, what I made of the festival, finishing up with the highs and lows. Each of the subsequent posts, to be published over the coming weeks, will cover different aspects of the festival.
This year was my sixth London Coffee Festival. In previous years, I’ve either attended all four days of the festival, or, as I did last year, the Friday (the industry day), and the two consumer days (Saturday and Sunday). Obviously, with having to fly to Bangkok on the Sunday, I couldn’t do that this year, so went on the two industry days (Thursday and Friday) and the first of the two consumer days (Saturday). This, as you will find out, had both its upsides and its downsides.
What turned out to be one of my favourite spots during my recent trip to Chiang Mai was also one of the hardest to find, although it was well worth the effort. Cottontree Coffee Roasters epitomises much that is good about Chiang Mai’s (and, indeed, Thailand’s) growing speciality coffee scene. It’s relatively new, having been set up in 2015, catering to a local crowd, offering both Thai-grown and imported coffee, but with the light roasts beloved of the third wave. The name “Cottontree” by the way, is a play on the names of the owners, a lovely young couple, Fai (Cotton) and Ton (Tree).
The coffee shop, which doubles as the roastery, is perhaps the most beautiful of those I saw in Chiang Mai, which is saying something given how many beautiful coffee shops I found. With its high ceilings, and clean, uncluttered lines, it’s worth seeking out on aesthetic grounds alone. Cottontree roasts both Thai single-estate coffees and seasonal imports (currently Ethiopian and Kenyan single-origins). There are two options on espresso (one for espressos/ Americanos, the other for milk-based drinks) and two more on pour-over via V60, Chemex or Syphon. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of freshly-baked cakes and pastries.
Cherry Espresso Bar opened towards the end of 2016, although it’s been going since 2013, operating inside Stein’s Deli on Magazine Street. This branch, in the Uptown district, west of the Lower Garden District, is a bit of a trek, but well worth the effort. Occupying the ground floor of a lovely, sunny, south-facing building near the river, it’s very much a neighbourhood spot, but with multiple options on espresso and pour-over, plus full breakfast and lunch menus, served until three o’clock.
In many ways, I picked a poor time to visit. I arrived shortly before Cherry Espresso opened another branch in the Lower Garden District, midway between Uptown and the French Quarter, at the same time closing its original location. Cherry Espresso has also started roasting (as Cherry Coffee Roasters), with plans to move to its own coffee on espresso, but retaining a guest roaster on the second grinder.
For now, however, Portland’s Roseline provides the house espresso, while there is a rotating weekly guest single-origin on the second grinder, which was from Wisconsin’s Ruby Coffee Roasters during my visit. There are also two single-origins from Roseline available through the Chemex while Cherry’s own coffee is on the bulk-brewer.
Krema Coffee started life in Farnham, where the original store opened its doors three years ago. Despite its relatively closeness to Guildford, for a variety of (not very good) reasons, I’ve still not visited, so I was quite pleased when Krema decided to come to me, opening its second store in Guildford. Naturally, the actual opening, at the end of March, took place while I was out of the country, but as soon as I was able, I paid Krema a visit.
Occupying a long, low-ceilinged spot at the castle end of Tunsgate in the centre of Guildford, Krema goes a surprisingly long way back, with a basement-like space at the back. When it comes to the coffee, Krema uses Horsham Coffee Roaster, sadly absent from Guildford town centre since the closure of Bar des Arts (although still available from The Flying Coffee Bean at the station). The Workhorse seasonal blend is the mainstay on the espresso machine, where it’s joined by a single-origin guest (also from Horsham). Meanwhile, there are a couple of options on pour-over through the V60, although in reality you can try any of the beans that Krema has in stock. If you’re hungry, there are light breakfast and lunch menus, backed up with copious quantities of cake.
It’s that time of year again! No sooner has one festival finished, than another looms on the horizon. In this case, it’s the fourth Glasgow Coffee Festival, now firmly set in its new timeslot of May. For its first two years (2014 and 2015) it was a one-day even which took place in the chilly months of October/November. However, it skipped a year in 2016 to move warmer times in May, as well as expanding to occupy the whole weekend, putting it on a par with the likes of the Manchester Coffee Festival, which it closely resembles in scale and atmosphere (compared to, say, the London Coffee Festival). This year it takes place over the weekend of 19th/20th May.
Although called the Glasgow Coffee Festival (it’s held in Glasgow, after all), it’s more a celebration of Scotland’s excellent specialty coffee scene, with lots of contributors from further afield as well. Perhaps the biggest news this year is that the festival has done away with disposable cups, a subject close to my heart. Don’t worry, if you don’t bring your own cup, KeepCup will be on hand to lend festival-goers a cup for the weekend, in exchange for a £5 deposit.
When it comes to speciality coffee in Bangkok, one of the pioneers, and one of the few I’d heard about before I reached the city, was Gallery Drip Coffee, recommended by the ever-reliable Simon from Fancy a Cuppa? and featured in his excellent book, Crossing Paths, Crossing Borders. Located inside the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre, Gallery Drip Coffee only serves pour-over coffee (the clue is in the name), a style directly inspired by Japanese coffee culture.
It occupies a weirdly-shaped space inside the atrium of the Centre, with a long counter facing the door, which is where most of the action takes place. There are multiple single-origins on offer, seven while I was there, three of which were from Thailand and the rest from around the world, all roasted in-house. These are made using the V60, while there is also a house-blend of Thai coffee which is made using the Melitta filter and served with steamed milk to provide a latte substitute for those who like their coffee milky. Finally, if you want something sweet to go with your coffee, there’s a wide selection of cheesecakes and their ilk in a cooler cabinet at the end of the counter.