About Brian Williams

Author of Brian's Coffee Spot, you can read all about me in the "About Me" section of the blog (www.brian-coffee-spot)

Manchester Coffee Festival 2017 Preview

A flat white from Carvetii in my Therma Cup at the Manchester Coffee Festival, 2016.It’s that time of year again. The next two weeks sees the arrival those fixtures of the autumn calendar: Halloween, Bonfire Night and, of course, the Manchester Coffee Festival (Cup North as was). Yes, that’s right, the Manchester Coffee Festival is back, this year on Saturday/Sunday, 4th/5th November, when it will once again grace the halls of the Victoria Warehouse in Stretford.

I’ve watched the Festival evolve over the last four years. Starting out as Cup North in 2014, it was a modest, relaxed affair in a pair of adjoining rooms in Manchester’s Artwork. In 2015 it expanded to the Victoria Warehouse, occupying a rabbit warren of rooms on the first floor, feeling more like a mini London Coffee Festival, although on a much more manageable scale. Then, last year, it returned to the Victoria Warehouse, moving across the yard into a more manageable space, with a simple, figure-of-eight layout.

Whether it’s your first time or you’re wondering what this year’s festival will hold, this preview is for you. With weekend tickets for just £18, or £10 if you only want to do a single day, it really is a bargain. What are you waiting for? Get your tickets now!

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Laynes Espresso Update

The original facade of Laynes Espresso on New Station Street, Leeds, before its expansion.Laynes Espresso, on New Station Street, has long been my go-to spot in Leeds, ever since my first visit in the summer of 2014, particularly if I was arriving/leaving by train at Leeds Station, which is literally around the corner. This is the original Laynes Espresso, one of the pioneers of speciality coffee in Leeds. It used to be a small, cosy spot, a few seats fighting the counter for space upstairs, while an equally cosy basement provided overspill seating or a refuge in the winter.

However, towards the end of 2016, Laynes had the opportunity to take over the adjacent space to the right of the original shop. Laynes knocked through both upstairs and down, creating a new coffee shop which is almost unrecognisable from the old one. Gone is the small, cosy spot, replaced by something three times the size, the upstairs transformed into a bright, spacious coffee shop and kitchen, while in the basement, the transformation has been equally striking.

The coffee is still from Square Mile, with Red Brick on espresso and a single-origin pour-over. However, with the extra space comes an expanded menu and an increased focus on food, including an awesome all-day breakfast/brunch menu.

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Coffee Island, St Martin’s Lane

An information card for a micro-lot from the Cerro de Jesus farm in Nicaragua, supplied by Coffee Island in St Martin's Lane.Coffee Island is, unusually for the Coffee Spot, a chain and an international one at that, which started on a Greek island in 1999 and now has over 300 shops throughout Greece, Cyprus and south-east Europe. However, its branch on St Martin’s Lane is (so far) the only UK one. Opening earlier this year with a considerable media push, I was away at the time and so missed all the fuss. I popped in later in the year and I liked what I saw…

A modest exterior hides a surprisingly-large coffee shop with plenty of seating and a mezzanine level at the back. I’d describe Coffee Island as coffee geeks meet the mainstream, so while there’s a house-blend, decaf and five single-origins, there’s also flavoured coffee, which is not something you normally associate with the speciality end of the market. There’s also a large retail section (beans and equipment), tea and food, the latter in the shape of salads, sandwiches and cake.

There’s an excellent range of options for the coffee including espresso, Greek coffee (Ibrik), bulk-brew or pour-over using the V60, Aeropress or Chemex (for one or two). If you want to compare coffee or methods side-by-side, it’s awesome!

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Eden Café

"Welcome Home" says the sign on the wall of Eden Cafe in Witney, next to a stylised map of New Zealand.Witney, it turns out, has an excellent and well-developed coffee scene for what is a relatively small town in western Oxfordshire. This can partly be explained by the presence of Ue Coffee, which has its long-established roastery just west of the town on the Windrush Industrial Park, and has also opened two coffee shops in the town itself.

However, there’s more to Witney than Ue Coffee, as witnessed by a small slice of New Zealand which you can find tucked away off the High Street on the pedestrianised Wesley Walk. This piece of Kiwi-land goes by the name Eden Café and makes no bones about its antipodean heritage. Serving, appropriately enough, coffee from fellow Kiwi imports, Allpress, with the ubiquitous Redchurch blend gracing the espresso machine, you can be sure of a solid cup of coffee, plus a range of vegetarian cakes and food. There’s a heavy emphasis on vegan offerings, which isn’t something you see that often.

All this is squeezed into what I shall call an “interesting” space, essentially a triangle, with windows running along the front. There’s also plenty of seating outside on the quiet Wesley Walk, partially under the shelter of the eaves of the café.

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Stage Espresso and Brew Bar

The minimalist sign for Stage Espresso and Brewbar, hanging outside on Oxford Row.A new arrival in Leeds’ growing speciality coffee scene is Stage Espresso and Brew Bar (Stage, for short), which opened at the start of 2017, tucked away behind the Town Hall and opposite the Leeds General Infirmary. Although it hadn’t been open long when I visited in August, it had already garnered high praise, being the one place everyone in Leeds consistently mentioned when I asked about new coffee shops to visit.

It’s a lovely spot, on a north-facing corner, with windows along two sides, plus a cosy downstairs seating area at the back that’s probably slightly bigger than the already spacious upstairs. However, perhaps the best feature is Copper, a young Beagle (who is the same age as Stage, give or take a month). You can find him most days, curled up in his basket by the retail shelves at the back.

When it comes to coffee, Stage uses Union Hand-roasted, although there are plans to have occasional guests in as and when there’s something that catches the eye. There’s a house-espresso, plus a guest, along with multiple options on filter. One of these is available as a daily bulk-brew, while the rest are made using the Kalita Wave.

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The 2018 Coffee Spot Calendar

My Therma Cup reusable cup and my Travel Press enjoy the view at the southern rim of the Grand Canyon.It’s that time of year again, when I announce the Coffee Spot Calendar, which will be my fifth calendar to date. As before, the calendars will be professionally-printed on glossy paper, each month featuring a landscape, A4 picture from one of my favourite Coffee Spots of the last 12 months. I will also be continuing the very successful Coffee Spot Lighting Calendar, with help from my friend Sharon Reed, which is now entering its third year.

When it comes to the Lighting Calendar, Sharon has always helped me select the pictures, which got me thinking last year, why not let you, my readers, help select the pictures as well, both for the Lighting and the regular Coffee Spot Calendar? Why not indeed? So I did and after a successful trial last year, I’ve decided to give it another go!

All you have to do is nominate your favourite Coffee Spot pictures. They have to be landscape and from a Coffee Spot published on or after 1st November 2016. It’s as easy as that!

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Ue Coffee Roasters True Artisan Café & Store

An Ethiopian Aramo, made through the Chemex, served in one of Ue Coffee Roasters' excellent cups.Today’s Coffee Spot, Ue Coffee Roasters True Artisan Café & Store, in Witney, has the longest name of any coffee shop I’ve visited. Ue is, to my knowledge, the UK’s only wood-fired roaster, a rare breed which includes Speckled Ax in Portland (Maine). I first came across Ue back in 2014, when I visited Oxford for a feature in Caffeine Magazine. Based in nearby Witney, I came out to see the roastery, but back then there wasn’t much of a coffee scene in the town itself.

Fast forward 3+ years and how things have changed. Witney boasts several places worthy of a visit, including Eden Café and Coffeesmith, which were joined, in December 2016, by Ue’s True Artisan Café & Store. Unsurprisingly, the café serves as a showcase for Ue’s considerable output, with a house-blend and guest on espresso, and multiple single-origins (eight while I was there) on filter, through Aeropress, Chemex or V60. There’s also a range of loose-leaf tea from sister company Jeeves & Jericho, with a selection of sausage rolls and cake if you’re hungry. All of the coffee and tea, plus loads of gear, is available to buy, which covers the “store” part of the name.

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Nem Coffee & Espresso

A lovely shot of the house-blend at Nem Espresso & Coffee in Tokyo, served in a classic white cup.The delightful Nem Coffee & Espresso is definitely the hidden gem of Tokyo’s speciality coffee scene. Located south of the Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park, Nem is tucked away down a narrow, pedestrian alley, so much so that you think you’re walking into a residential neighbourhood to visit someone’s house, which is not as far from the truth as it seems. The coffee shop is on the ground floor of an old house, painstakingly renovated/converted by the owners, a married couple who live upstairs, Nem opening for business in May 2016. The result is a small, but delightful space, with windows front and back, with a very Japanese feel to the architecture, but a very western feel to the coffee shop itself.

Talking of coffee, Nem has a concise menu, drinks split between “black” and “with milk”. There’s a house-blend on espresso (from Switch Coffee) and two single-origins plus a decaf (from Nozy Coffee) on filter through the cafetiere. There’s also tea and hot chocolate, plus a small food menu, with a choice of two cakes. Small is definitely the name of the game at Nem, with all the food being cooked to order in a compact, open kitchen behind the counter.

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Society Café, Bristol

The main entrance to Society Cafe in Bristol, a pair of glass double-doors opening out onto Farr's Lane, with the counter directly ahead.I first came across Society in its home city of Bath, where I managed to visit the two branches in the order that they opened, a rarity for the Coffee Spot, starting with Kingsmead Square before moving onto The Corridor. However, I’ve safely broken that trend by skipping the third Society Café, in Oxford, instead visiting the fourth and most recent branch which opened this summer in Bristol.

You’ll find Society Café down by the harbour, on the corner of Narrow Quay and Farr’s Lane, right next to the youth hostel. It’s a lovely setting, with lots of outdoor seating on the quayside as well as down Farr’s Lane, while there is even more seating inside, spread over two large, spacious areas, one either side of a central counter.

The coffee is always of the highest order, with the house-espresso, which changes monthly, coming from Origin. This is joined by a guest single-origin which changes every couple of weeks. Meanwhile there’s bulk-brew filter and another option on Aeropress, both of which change every week or so. If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s a wide selection of tea, plus a dedicated smoothie-bar, as well as sandwiches and cake if you’re hungry.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to Chicago, Part II

A British Airways Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet on the stand at Chicago's O'Hare airport, waiting to take me back to the UK. I always forget how big they are until I get up close to them.Welcome to the second part of this instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, which chronicles my various flights to/from Chicago this year. My crazy travel schedule, which has seen me flying over all the world in 2017, has also resulted in my taking three trips to Chicago. The first was at the end of June, the second (September), I’ve just returned from, while the third one is at the end of October. Since I’m flying with a different airline each time and, despite always starting out at Manchester, I’m also flying three different routes, I thought that it would be interesting to compare and contrast my experiences.

June saw me fly with United from Manchester to Chicago (via Newark), returning direct to London. Meanwhile, in October I’ll be flying direct to and Manchester with American Airlines. Today, however, is all about my recent trip in September, when I flew from Manchester to London with British Airways, then on to Chicago with American Airlines, before returning on a direct flight, this time with British Airways, to London. Even better, I flew back business class, just the second time I’ve flown long-haul in business, having done it earlier this year when returning from Vietnam.

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