Tab x Tab

A flat white served in a handmade pottery cup, made with a single-origin Brazilian roasted by Bocca and served in Tab x Tab in London, pulled on a Mavam espresso machine, made in Seattle.Tab x Tab is the latest (and much needed) addition to west London’s speciality coffee scene, opening at the end of July on Westbourne Grove, not far from Paddington Station. The brainchild of husband and wife team Mathew and Charmaine, it brings top quality coffee to an area of London that has, up until now, been sorely lacking it. It’s also got a Mavam espresso machine, which, I believe, is just the second one in the UK.

The shop’s set back from the busy street, so you can walk past it if you’re not paying attention. Long and thin, with the long side running along Westbourne Grove, it’s a bright, open space with plenty of outside seating, features it shares with Treves & Hyde, the home of the UK’s other Mavam.

When it comes to coffee, Tab x Tab has teamed up with local roaster, Ozone and Amsterdam roaster, Bocca, which I’d not come across before. There’s a seasonal house-blend on espresso, plus a single-origin guest, joined by another single-origin on bulk-brew. Currently a selection of pastries and light bites are available, but as the kitchen behind the counter gets up to speed, expect a full brunch menu to appear.

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Exmouth Market Grind

The right-hand side of Exmouth Market Grind, looking out onto Exmouth Market, it's doors flung open in the warm, May weather.Exmouth Market Grind, which opened earlier this year, is another recent addition to the Grind empire, which started with Shoreditch Grind. Since then, Grind has grown and evolved, morphing from its roots as an espresso bar by day, and cocktail bar by night, to include roasting its own coffee and adding substantial breakfast and all-day menus at the likes of London Grind.

Exmouth Market Grind falls into this latter category, as much a restaurant as it is a coffee shop. In this, it’s in good company, sitting diagonally across from that Exmouth Market institution, Caravan. The breakfast menu contains all the usual favourites, such as smashed avocado, various eggs on toast, pancakes, French Toast and more the traditional full English breakfast (plus a vegetarian version). The all-day menu takes over after noon, with small plates, a variety of interesting mains and a selection of salads. And, of course, there’s coffee, with a seasonal house-blend plus a single-origin on espresso.

This is the brightest, most open of all the Grinds that I’ve been to, and also the quietest. If there’s one thing I’ve struggled with when it comes to Grind over the years, they can sometimes be too loud for me.

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The Coffee Academics, Wan Chai

One of the many interesting statements on the seats of the stools at the communal tables at the Wan Chai branch of The Coffee Academics in Hong Kong.The Coffee Academics is a roaster with a chain of coffee shops which, starting in Hong Kong, where there are multiple branches, has now spread to Shanghai and Singapore. It places itself firmly at the top end in terms of quality, with marketing to match. For example, I’ve never seen a coffee shop with such a fancy menu. Fortunately, the coffee (and the coffee shop) more than live up to the hype.

There’s a house-blend on espresso, with a range of standard drinks, most of which can also be had over ice. The real treat is the filter section where there’s a house-blend and four single-origins, all matched to a pair of preparation methods (Chemex and ice-drip for pour-over, Aeropress and Clever Dripper for immersion).

There’s an equally impressive range of food, which occupies most of the 16 page menu. This includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus various dessert options. In keeping with most of Hong Kong’s speciality coffee culture, the food is very western, with staples such as Eggs Benedict on offer. Consistent with the high-end setting, The Coffee Academics is table service only, so find a seat, peruse the menu and wait for someone to take your order.

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200 Degrees, Leicester

The famous 200 Degrees neon fireplace, seen here in the back room of 200 Degrees Leicester200 Degrees, the Nottingham-based roaster, only opened its first café three years ago. Then, last year, came second Nottingham outlet, down by the station, plus, in the shape of the Birmingham 200 Degrees, its first coffee shop outside Nottingham. However, 200 Degrees was only getting started. In a flurry of activity, starting in December 2016, the Leeds branch opened, followed by Cardiff in April. And then there’s the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, the Leicester 200 Degrees, which opened a month before Cardiff.

If you’re familiar with 200 Degrees, then the Leicester branch will hold few surprises. Like those that have gone before it, 200 Degrees has taken an iconic building (in this case, a jewellers in an Art Deco building) and turned it into a lovely coffee shop. All the staples are there: a plush, well-appointed interior, plenty of wood and exposed brick, plus some amazing light-fittings.

The coffee also holds no surprises, with Brazilian Love Affair, the house espresso, joined by the interestingly-named Mellowship Slinky Decaf and a single-origin guest espresso, plus another single-origin on filter, all roasted in-house. There’s cold-brew on tap, plus the usual food options, including breakfast and lunch sandwiches, salads and bucket-loads of cake.

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Established Coffee

Detail from the sign outside Established Coffee in Belfast, showing the letters ESTD.You can’t really talk about speciality coffee in Belfast without talking about Established Coffee, which opened in December 2013. Located at the northern edge of Belfast’s historic Cathedral Quarter, Established occupies a surprisingly modern building on the corner of Hill and Talbot Streets. It’s a large, bright, uncluttered space that, during my visit, was constantly busy.

Established serves coffee from Dublin’s 3FE and various guests on both espresso and filter. There’s usual a choice of three coffees, plus a decaf. One of these is always unique to Established, another is from a rotating cast of guests, while the third is only available as a batch-brew filter. Unusually, the other two are available as both filter and espresso.

As well as coffee, Established has an extensive food offering, all cooked in the kitchen behind the counter. This is based around an all-day breakfast menu of poached eggs on toast, with various sides, supplemented by a selection of seasonal plates. If that doesn’t appeal, there’s always the option of toast or granola, plus a soup of the day. Everything’s available until the kitchen closes at three o’clock. If that isn’t enough, there’s always an interesting selection of cake to be had.

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Kaf Coffee

A Kalita Wave pour-over brewing at The Kaf in Glasgow.Along with Primal Roast, Kaf Coffee was top of people’s recommendations to visit when I was in Glasgow in May for the Glasgow Coffee Festival. A very recent addition to Glasgow’s growing speciality coffee scene, it only opened in March, which tells you something about the impact it’s made given how many people recommended it to me.

Kaf Coffee nicely fills in a gap as Glasgow’s speciality coffee scene extends to the west. It’s just off the Dumbarton Road, not far from the likes of Siempre Bicycle Café, and provides a useful stop if you’re determined to wander the length of Dumbarton Road to visit the western outpost that is Meadow Road Coffee.

Kaf Coffee is a true multi-roaster café with a commendably-concise coffee menu and several options on espresso and pour-over. It’s always a pleasure to find somewhere serving James Gourmet Coffee, which is a mainstay on espresso, with a couple of single-origins from various roasters via the Kalita Wave filter. For somewhere so small (you’d be lucky to get 10 people inside), Kaf Coffee has impressive breakfast and lunch menus, all made in the kitchen at the back. If that wasn’t enough, there’s a decent selection of cake too.

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St Martin’s

A lovely flat white made with the Friday Street Blend at St Martin's in Leicester.Given its size, Leicester is not blessed with many speciality coffee shops, but those that it has are large by industry standards. Chief amongst these is the venerable St Martin’s, tucked away in the delightful St Martin’s Square, after which it was named. Talking of which, it goes by many names. Having started life as St Martin’s Tea & Coffee Merchants, it’s also known as St Martin’s Coffee Roasters and, three evenings a week (Thursday to Saturday), Crafty, which is when it turns itself into a burger restaurant.

St Marin’s was started by husband & wife team, Andy & Ellie, and recently underwent a major refurbishment when the roasting operation moved out to a dedicated facility about 10 minutes’ walk away. Spread over two spacious floors, there’s plenty of seating both upstairs and down, with a mix of tables big and small, plus the occasional window-bar, sofa and comfy chair. Add to that a large outdoor seating area and you’re spoiled for choice.

St Martin’s has a blend on espresso and a regularly-rotating single-origin batch-brew, all roasted in-house. There’s a wide selection of tea, plus decent breakfast and lunch menus, everything being prepared in the kitchen next to the counter.

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LMDC Espresso Bar

A lovely flat white with some impressive latte art in a classic blue cup from LMDC Espresso Bar in Harrogate.The LMDC Espresso Bar occupies the perfect spot for a coffee shop on Harrogate’s pedestrianised John Street. Nestled alongside numerous other bars, cafes and restaurants, LMDC doesn’t immediately stand out from the crowd, but it’s worth hunting down. There’s a pair of two-person tables outside on the pavement, one either side of the door, the whole area fenced off from the passing crowd. Stepping inside takes you into a small but lovely space, full of wooden furniture, with a stone-flagged floor and a low, wooden-beam ceiling, all of which adds to a cosy, welcoming atmosphere.

Talking of which, a warm welcome is assured from the owner, Leslie, and from Head Barista, Elliott. When it comes to coffee, LMDC Espresso serves Square Mile on espresso, using the ubiquitous Red Brick blend, while there’s a single-origin on offer through either V60 or Chemex, the options changing every couple of weeks. If you’re hungry, you can almost hear the counter groaning under the weight of the homemade cakes, while there are good breakfast and lunch options if you want something more savoury. These use locally-sourced ingredients wherever possible, prepared in the kitchen at the back, tucked away beyond the end of the counter.

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5th Element Coffee

An espresso, plus a glass of sparkling water, beautifully presented at 5th Element Coffee in Madison.I popped over to Madison for a week of visiting friends, not necessarily expecting to find great coffee. However, serendipity had other ideas. Rather than hang out in my friend’s house while she was at work, I decided to come into the office with her and then find a coffee shop for the day. And it just so happens that two blocks from the office is the totally awesome 5th Element Coffee.

5th Element was established in 2015 by Alejandro Mendez, the 2011 World Barista Champion, along with Todd Allbaugh, who I was fortunate enough to meet. Serving only single-origin coffee, 5th Element’s main claim to fame is its close ties with coffee farmers in El Salvador, where Alejandro sources and roasts the coffee at 4 Monkeys Coffee Roasters. The coffee is then flown over to Madison every couple of weeks.

5th Element occupies a corner unit on the north side of University Avenue, west of downtown Madison. A large, open, uncluttered space, there’s plenty of seating at numerous communal tables at the back, plus a small outdoor seating area set back from the road to the right. If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of panini, waffles and cakes.

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Mia Coffee

The sign for the new Mia Coffee roastery and cafe in Hoi An, two doors down from the original!Mia Coffee is in Hội An’s French Quarter, east of the old town, another recommendation from the tag team of Bex (Double Skinny Macchiato) and Simon (Fancy A Cuppa). Set back a decent way from the road, Mia Coffee occupies a low, single-storey building with a small, recessed terrace. Inside, the single space is open to the A-framed roof. Like The Espresso Station, it doesn’t have air-conditioning, relying on fans to keep things cool. It also bucks the usual Vietnamese trend of staying open until late at night, closing at five o’clock.

Like most of the independent coffee shops I’ve come across in Vietnam, Mia Coffee is a roaster as well as a coffee shop, championing links with Vietnamese coffee growers and only serving Vietnamese coffee. Unlike some, the range on offer is limited, with a single Arabica blend for espresso and traditional cup-top Vietnamese filter, plus  another for use at home, both available in retail bags.

A word of warning: Mia Coffee’s done so well that it’s outgrown its current premises and is moving. If all goes well, come October, Mia Coffee will be across the road in a new, purpose-built café/roastery that was under construction during my visit.

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