About Life Coffee Brewers

Detail taken from the menu board outside About Life Coffee Brewers in ShibuyaAbout Life Coffee Brewers is part of the small Onibus Coffee group which has its own roastery in Nakameguro, although it also serves coffee from two other Tokyo roasters, Switch Coffee Tokyo and Amameria Espresso. No more than a coffee stand at the top (western) end of Dōgenzaka in Shibuya, it’s something of an institution and a favourite of many visitors to the city. Serving mostly takeaway customers (so don’t forget to bring your own cup), you can stand at the counter or sit on one of two benches down the side. There’s also a semi-secret sheltered standing-room only area inside, which is handy if it’s raining.

For such a small spot, About Life has a large output. There’s a concise with/without milk espresso menu, with the Onibus house-blend used for milk drinks and blends from the other two roasters available as espresso/Americano. However, what’s really impressive is the selection of six single origins, two from each roaster. These can be had as an espresso (no milk) or as a pour-over through the V60. All the coffee, espresso and pour-over, can be had hot, or with ice. The selection of single origins is seasonal, changing every two to three months.

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Chatei Hatou

My filter coffee, served in a gorgeous cup at Chatei Hatou, a traditional Japanese kissaten in Toyko.Japan has a wide, varied coffee culture stretching back to, I believe, the inter-war years. Although Japan has moved with the times, accepting and adapting modern trends in coffee, such as lighter roasting, the old traditions live on. On my first visit in 2017, I wrote about Café de L’Ambre, a traditional Japanese kissaten. I also visited Chatei Hatou (once I’d found it!) but didn’t have a chance to write it up. Since it’s just around the corner from my hotel, it was another place I made a beeline for on my return to Tokyo this week.

The traditional Japanese kissaten is more akin to a bar than a modern coffee shop. Both Chatei Hatou and Café de L’Ambre are long, low, windowless buildings where patrons are still allowed to smoke (although on both my visits Chatei Hatou wasn’t too smoky, perhaps due to the air-conditioning). Only serving pour-over coffee, the best seats are at the counter, where you can watch the coffee being made on a near-continuous basis. Alternatively, there are a number of tables, more cosy two-person ones and some larger, ten-person ones, in the relatively spacious interior. Finally, there’s an impressive range of cakes to tempt you.

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Onibus Coffee, Nakameguro

A chalk drawing from the wall upstairs in Onibus Coffee.Onibus Coffee is a small chain of four coffee shops, including this, the roastery, in the residential district of Nakameguro. That said, it won’t be the roastery for much longer, since there are moves afoot to relocate the Diedrich roaster from the cramped space in the rear of the store to a dedicated site. Until then, enjoy the spectacle of watching the roaster in action while you sip your coffee.

There’s outdoor seating along the side of the small, two-storey building, or you can sit upstairs, where, instead of the roaster, you can watch the trains rattling by, Onibus backing onto the elevated train tracks of the nearby station. You can’t quite touch the passing trains, but it’s close. It’s a busy line, so you’re never far from the clickety-clack of the next train (every minute or two). Personally, I enjoy the sound of the trains going by, but others might find it off-putting.

Onibus serves a simple espresso menu using one of its blends, while there’s a choice of several single-origins on pour-over through the V60. There’s also a small selection of cake, along with retail bags of the coffee and a small range of home coffee equipment.

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Alchemy Café

Details of the Nicaraguan La Venus Filter Coffee, complete with tasting notes, available from the Alchemy Cafe.After finally managed to visit Durham’s Flat White after many years of trying, I found myself in the City of London last week, walking past another stalwart of Britain’s speciality coffee scene, Alchemy. A roastery (based in Wimbledon) with a single coffee shop in the narrow lanes south and west of St Paul’s Cathedral, Alchemy just pre-dates the Coffee Spot. It’s another of those places that I’ve been aware of for as long as I’ve been doing the Coffee Spot, having wandered past on several occasions, thinking that I must go in. Sadly, the timing has never been right. So when I wandered past last Thursday, in I went.

The Alchemy Café occupies a bright, square space on the corner of Ludgate Broadway and Carter Lane. It’s an area that is now well-served by speciality coffee shops, but Alchemy’s one of the stalwarts, having first opened its doors in 2013. As nice as the space is, the real draw is the coffee, with two options on espresso, plus a single-origin on pour-over and another on batch-brew. There’s also cold brew, various teas plus a selection of cake and savouries, while Alchemy’s complete range of beans is available in retail bags.

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Verve Coffee Roasters, Pacific Avenue

A packet of Verve coffee, a Guatemala Pulcal Typica, taken from a public cupping at the store on Pacific Avenue in Santa CruzI visited Verve’s flagship store on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz at the start of last year, part of my road trip from Phoenix to San Francisco via Los Angeles and the Pacific coast. Santa Cruz, home of Verve Coffee Roasters, which still roasts in the town, was my final stop before the trip ended at San Francisco later that day and, to not visit at least one Verve branch would, have been very remiss of me.

Back then Verve had four branches in Santa Cruz, three in Los Angeles and one in Japan. Since then it’s opened its first San Francisco store (which I missed by a few weeks) and two more in Japan, where I’m headed in two days’ time. Hence my desire to get this published before I go.

The Pacific Avenue branch is lovely, a large, open, high-ceilinged space with twin Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machines, serving a house-blend, guest and decaf, while three Modbar pour-over systems serve multiple options through the Kalita Wave. Finally, if you’re in a hurry, there’s another option on bulk-brew. All the beans (and more) are available in retail bags, while if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cake.

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Gấu Coffee Roasters

The front of Gau Coffee Roasters in the Old City, Hanoi.I didn’t spend long in Hanoi, at the end of my Vietnam trip, so didn’t have much time to explore. I also didn’t have a long list of coffee shops to visit when I arrived. That I found Gấu Coffee Roasters was entirely down to The Caffinet, which in turn I only found following a recommendation from Oriberry Coffee. Sometimes all you need is a list of one…

On a busy road in the northeast of Hanoi’s old city, you really need to know where Gấu Coffee Roasters is, although if you look in the window, you’ll probably be drawn in, particularly if you see the roaster all the way at the back of the long, thin store. All the coffee’s roasted here, with a range of origins, plus home-grown Vietnamese Arabica. There’s a blend on espresso, with multiple single-origins on pour-over through a variety of methods, plus traditional Vietnamese coffee.

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Surrey Hills Coffee, Jeffries Passage

Details from the A-board outside the new home of Surrey Hills Coffee on Jeffries Passage in Guildford.For a long time, my home town of Guildford had been crying out for an independent, speciality coffee shop. Then, two years ago, along came Surrey Hills Coffee, a local roaster which opened its own coffee shop on Chapel Street, taking over the lease from TurnFit Deli. These days, Surrey Hills has some good company, with Canopy Coffee opening last year and Krema Coffee coming along this year.

However, the shop on Chapel Street was never ideal, effectively being someone else’s space, with a small, cramped layout. The owners, Monika and Chris, who roast all the coffee in a roastery in Forest Green in (you guessed it) the Surrey Hills, had been looking for a new, bigger home. Now they’ve found it, Surrey Hills moving just a few streets away to Jeffries Passage at the top of the High Street.

The new shop is bright and spacious, with an upstairs as well, although that’s currently work-in-progress. Right now, Surrey Hills is up and running, with a basic coffee-and-cake offering (espresso, batch-brew filter and pour-over), along with the full retail range of coffee, although as things settle down, the plan is to serve breakfasts and light lunches too. Watch this space!

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Monks Coffee Roasters

Monks Coffee Roasters on Bilderdijkstraat in Amsterdah, with benches either side of the door and the counter clearly visible.Monks Coffee Roasters is part of Amsterdam’s multi-cultural coffee scene. The owner, Patrick, is a lovely Irishman who opened Monks in 2016 after 26 years in Melbourne, bringing with him a very Australian coffee and brunch concept, Monks serving a combined breakfast and lunch menu until 2:30 in the afternoon, backed up by copious quantities of cake.

When it comes to coffee, the name Monks Coffee Roasters is more aspirational than current reality, with the coffee toll-roasted by Bocca, another renowned name in Amsterdam speciality coffee. However, Patrick has a roaster on order and will soon be producing his own beans, supplemented by various guest roasters, including a guest espresso and multiple options on filter, with Monks offering V60, Kalita Wave, Aeropress, Chemex and French Press. You can have any bean via any method, but the staff have a default method for each bean.

Monks has a modest store-front, but this hides a large interior which goes a long way back, offering multiple seating options from window-bars at the front to a large, communal table at the back. There’s even a shaded garden/yard at the back, but sadly objections from the neighbours mean you can’t have your coffee out there.

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White Label Coffee

My espresso, a single-origin Rwanda, roasted and served at White Label Coffee.Amsterdam has an enviable collection of well-renowned coffee shop/roasters, but none came more highly recommended to me than White Label Coffee, out in West Amsterdam. So when I found myself in the neighbourhood, on my first day in the city after World of Coffee, naturally I had to go.

White Label has been going for four years from the same spot on Jan Evertsenstraat, although roasting now takes places in a dedicated facility a few doors away. There is a 6kg Giesen roaster at the back of the store, but this is only used on Mondays to roast the filter coffee. For the rest of the time, White Label Coffee is just a regular coffee shop, with perhaps the weirdest shape I’ve ever seen…

When it comes to coffee, White Label Coffee roasts numerous single-origins, all of which are for sale in the shop. When it comes to serving coffee, any of the filter roasts are available as a V60, with one selected each day for batch brew. Meanwhile, White Label Coffee offers two choices on espresso, putting on four kg at a time and changing it when it’s gone, which often means more than once a day!

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Shin Coffee, Hồ Huấn Nghiệp

A drawing of a Syphon, taken from the wall of Shin Coffee Roastery in Ho Chi Minh City.Shin Coffee is a small, local roaster/coffee shop chain in the Vietnamese capital, Ho Chi Minh City, which I discovered on my visit there this time last year, it having been recommended to me by Vietnam Coffee Republic. This is one of two branches a few blocks apart in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City, where you’ll also find the likes of The Workshop Coffee. Unlike the branch on Nguyễn Thiệp, which is purely a coffee shop, this is the original, dating from 2015, and doubles as the roastery, with a pair of roasters behind a glass wall at the back.

Shin Coffee seems to specialise in long, thin spaces and this is no different. Although not quite as elegant as Nguyễn Thiệp, it’s pretty close and has a very similar look, feel and design, as well as offering the same coffee choices and menu. Shin only roasts Arabica beans, with a range of Vietnamese blends and a few single-origins from both Vietnam and around the world. There’s a traditional espresso-based menu (using a blend of Ethiopian and Vietnamese coffee), along with decaf, plus there’s filter through V60, Syphon, Aeropress and Cafetiere, as well as traditional Vietnamese filter coffee.

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