Dark Arts Coffee has been roasting since 2014 and I’ve enjoyed its coffee at various places, including The Black Chapel in London, plus in a cluster of places in the northwest, such as Manchester’s Idle Hands and Siop Shop and Chester’s Little Yellow Pig. I Will Kill Again, its interestingly-named coffee shop/roastery, has been on my radar pretty much since it opened in May 2016. My only excuse for not visiting sooner (other than to give Mike Stanbridge something to nag me about) is that Homerton, its East London home, is not somewhere I get to very frequently.
Located in a railway arch, the roaster (off to your right as you enter) is in action from Monday to Friday, while the space is open to the public as a coffee shop from Wednesday to Sunday. There’s a range of (mostly) communal seating, including several picnic-style tables outside.
Dark Arts only roasts single-origins, which it then gives some interesting names. The espresso, available as black or white (with milk) in sizes of 4, 6 and 8oz, rotates between Lost Highway and Dead Brick, while there’s a single filter option on batch brew. If you’re hungry, try the eclectic all-day brunch menu.
Knockbox Coffee is one of those legends of London’s speciality coffee scene that I’d assumed had been around forever. It was therefore a bit of a surprise when I finally called in one quiet Bank Holiday Monday in May to discover that it had only been around since 2014, although in today’s fast-moving industry, that makes it pretty venerable.
Located at the southern end of Lamb’s Conduit Street in Bloomsbury, there’s not much to Knockbox, a simple, square space offering limited seating around three of the four walls, while two picnic tables and a bench provide outside seating. The coffee is from local roasters, Workshop, with its seasonal single-origin espresso forming the bedrock of the simple coffee menu. This is joined by a wide array of teas and smoothies, plus an equally wide selection of cakes and toasties, which are joined (at weekends only, I believe) by a two-item brunch menu.
This time last year I was in Amsterdam for the World of Coffee, after which I spent three days exploring the city’s excellent coffee scene. The subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Scandinavian Embassy, was on several people’s lists, and, in keeping with the principle of leaving the best until last, I popped in for breakfast on my final day. South of the centre, in the De Pijp neighbourhood, it’s at the western end of the Sarphatipark, slightly off the beaten tourist track, but well worth a visit.
As the name suggests, Scandinavian Embassy has championed Scandinavian roasters since it opened in 2014. During my visit, there was a blend from Coffee Collective on espresso, plus single-origins from Drop Coffee Roasters, Koppi and Kafferäven Per Nordby on pour-over through the V60. My choices included two washed coffees, a Colombian and a Kenyan, both from Koppi, plus two naturals, an heirloom varietal from Ethiopia (Per Nordby) and a Geisha varietal from Bolivia (Drop), with the options changing every week or two. All of this is coupled with a limited all-day breakfast and lunch menu, plus a copious supply of cakes, featuring freshly baked cinnamon buns to round off the Scandinavian theme.
Sometimes I plan my accommodation with great care, picking places on their proximity to outstanding coffee. On other occasions, I just get lucky, which was the case when I stayed in Canary Wharf for work. I selected the Novotel (technically on the Isle of Dogs, not Canary Wharf) because it was under 10 minutes’ walk from the office and conveniently placed for the likes of Taylor Street Baristas and Notes, which I already knew about and planned on visiting en route to/from the office.
What I hadn’t realised was that Canary Coffee, a speciality coffee shop serving Climpson and Sons, was an integral part of the hotel. This meant I could start my day with some excellent coffee before leaving for the office (and didn’t have to get up 20 minutes early to make it myself) while also rounding my day off with top-notch coffee, particularly since it’s open until 10pm every evening.
However, Canary Coffee isn’t just for hotel guests. Rather, it’s a fully-fledged coffee shop, accessible from the street. A cosy spot, complete with outside terrace, it morphs into a wine bar in the evening (still serving coffee). There’s a selection of cakes, toasted sandwiches and some excellent pizza.
Taylor Street Baristas, these days more commonly known as Taylor St Coffee or just Taylor St, is a stalwart of London’s speciality coffee scene. Founded in 2006 by Australia siblings, Nick, Andrew and Laura, I first came across Taylor St in Brighton, visiting the now defunct Queen Street location. These days, Taylor St roasts all its own coffee and has nine London branches, six clustered in the City of London, one western outpost in Mayfair, and two in Canary Wharf. Oh, and there’s one in New York City.
Today’s Coffee Spot is Taylor St’s Canary Wharf branch, which, when it opened in 2011, was a pioneer in a speciality coffee desert. An awful lot has changed in eight years, as I discovered when I spent a week working there at the end of last month, multiple players having opened in the last few years. However, Taylor St is still going strong, seemingly as busy as ever, so I thought I’d better start here. There’s the Benchmark blend plus a single-origin on espresso, with three single-origins on batch brew if you’re really in a hurry. This is backed up with small but tasty breakfast and lunch menus, plus plenty of cake.
The Beehive, like yesterday’s Saturday Short, Second Shot, is a social enterprise, albeit of a slightly different character. Part of the Bethnal Green Mission Church, it opened in July 2018, occupying part of the ground floor of the same building as the church, at the northern end of Paradise Gardens on the busy Cambridge Heath Road. There’s some outdoor seating in the garden, while inside you have the choice of the busy upstairs or the clean lines of the basement, where you’ll also find The Beehive’s book exchange.
The coffee offering is fairly simple, with The Baron from Climpson and Sons, plus Climpson’s seasonal decaf on espresso, all served from a fairly standard menu. This is joined by a single-origin on batch brew (currently a Rwandan), chosen from Climpson’s seasonal range and changed every few months when Climpson and Sons release its new coffees. There’s also a small selection of tea, plus concise breakfast (until 11:30), lunch (11:30 to 16:00) and toast (until 16:00) menus, each with three or four choices. This is backed up by a wide selection of cake, much of it homemade. For example, one of the cakes I had was made by the pastor’s wife!
Second Shot is somewhere that’s been on my radar ever since it opened on 21st May 2016 (which means that I missed its third birthday by just four days!). A small multi-roaster café, with limited seating outside and not much more in the small, but uncluttered interior, it’s right in the heart of Bethnal Green, around the corner from the underground station and midway between Cambridge Heath and Bethnal Green stations on the overground line.
When it comes to coffee, Second Shot stands on its own two feet, up there with some of the best in London, offering a different roaster on espresso and filter, along with a small brunch menu and a selection of cake. However, where it differs is that it was set up by founder, Julius Ibrahim, as a social enterprise to employ people affected by homelessness, giving jobs in the short-term and careers in the longer-term.
Chalk Coffee, which opened in August last year, might be a new name to Chester’s growing speciality coffee scene, but it has considerable pedigree, having been set up by Ed, who was one half of Jaunty Goat (the other half being his twin brother, Patrick). Like Jaunty Goat, Chalk is right in the heart of historic Chester, just around the corner, in fact, on Watergate Street, which also puts it just across the street from another Chester veteran, The Barista’s. The shop itself is lovely, stretching a long way back under the rows above, giving it a basement-like feel, especially at the back.
Chalk Coffee’s focus is firmly on the coffee, offering Origin on both espresso, through a Victoria Arduino Black Eagle, and on batch brew. It started by offering the Pathfinder blend, but since the start of this year, Chalk has been experimenting with single-origins as well as blends. The Resolute blend was on during my visit, with a Colombian single-origin next in the rotation, Chalk switching over as and when the current coffee runs out. There’s also a single-origin on batch brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of sandwiches and wraps, plus there’s a selection of cake.
Big Bad Wolf Coffee first opened its doors in September 2018 in Streatham, South West London. I must confess that I don’t know this part of London well, having only ventured as far as Balham and the likes of M1lk and Escape the Daily Grind on previous visits. A stone’s throw from the southeast corner of Tooting Bec and just north of Streatham Station, Big Bad Wolf is on the opposite side of Streatham Green from the Streatham branch of Brickwood. Indeed, I only discovered it after a tip-off from Clark at Estate Office Coffee who sent me on the short stroll down Streatham High Road to pay Big Bad Wolf and its owner, Andrew, a visit.
It’s a fairly simple space, long and thin, with the seating down the right-hand side and the counter on the left. The coffee all comes from Clifton Coffee Roasters, with an El Salvador single-origin and guest on espresso, plus two options on pour-over through V60 or Chemex, along with Canton Tea and Kokoa Collection hot chocolate. This is backed up by comprehensive breakfast and lunch menus from the open kitchen behind the counter, plus sandwiches, crepes and cakes which are available all day.
Estate Office Coffee, next to Streatham Hill Station in South West London, has built an excellent reputation since first opening in October 2016, championed, in particular, by Bean There At amongst others. A great example of a neighbourhood coffee shop done well, Clark (who I met), along with business partner, Joe have kept things simple but effective. My only disappointment is that it’s taken me this long to visit!
Estate Office Coffee serves the standard Allpress blend (the Redchurch Blend, as was, before Allpress renamed it) and decaf through a concise espresso-based menu. These are joined by a guest roaster on batch-brew through the Moccamaster. This was Margate’s Curve Coffee Roasters during my visit, but since the guest roaster changes every four to six weeks, there should be a different roaster on by now. Estate Office Coffee supports local roasters in the most part, occasionally venturing further afield in the UK.
If you’re hungry, there’s a small breakfast menu and a range of sandwiches, soup and some savouries for lunch. These are supplemented throughout the day by a good selection of cake. The milk, by the way, is from Estate Dairy (no relation), while there are plenty of non-dairy alternatives.