I first came across Antwerp’s Caffènation as a roaster when I visited Loustic in Paris in 2014 and again the following year at Kofra in Norwich. Ever since I’ve been a big fan of Caffènation’s coffee so when I had the opportunity to visit Caffènation in Amsterdam, I jumped at the chance. Note that despite the name, this is independent from the roastery/coffee shops in Antwerp, set up (with Caffènation’s blessing) by an ex-employee in 2014.
On the western side of Amsterdam, south of Rembrandtpark and west of Vondelpark, Caffènation sits on a corner, the shop spread over several levels upstairs, with a wonderful basement below. If that doesn’t appeal, you can sit outside on one of several folding chairs on the broad pavement.
Other than the building, the focus is all on the coffee, which comes from the Antwerp roastery. There’s a seasonal blend on espresso, used for milk-based drinks, with a weekly single-origin used for black drinks. Alternatively, Caffènation always has a Kenyan single-origin on batch-brew, which is joined by another weekly single-origin.
Fitzrovia, in London’s West End, has, despite recent closures such as the much-loved Curators Coffee Gallery, a booming speciality coffee scene which comes in all shapes and sizes, including such oddities as Attendant (in an old public lavatory). However, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot is easily the smallest of them all, a title vacant since 2016 when Goodge St Espresso closed.
Alex Coffee is as small as they come, just a door and a window opening onto a simple interior, counter at the back and enough room for two small stools. Indeed, there’s more seating outside at the four-person table in front of the window. The coffee, from the Lake District’s Red Bank, is similarly simple: a concise espresso-based menu, plus batch brew and a cafetiere for two. If you don’t like it hot, there are almost as many iced options, plus hot chocolate and a selection of tea.
The Pilgrm is a small, boutique hotel in an old townhouse on London Street, almost directly opposite the front of Paddington station. In itself, it makes for quite an attractive hotel, but the icing on the cake is that in August last year, Workshop took over the coffee operation, installing itself behind the counter in the simple, well-appointed lobby, which is effectively a small (and beautiful) coffee shop. The coffee offering is equally simple, well-appointed and beautiful, with a concise espresso menu (with decaf getting equal billing with a single-origin option) backed up with another single-origin on batch-brew, both changing roughly once a week.
If coffee’s not your thing, there’s a small selection of tea and Pump Street hot chocolate, while if you’re hungry, Workshop has a small selection of cake, but nothing else. That said, The Pilgrm has a first-floor public lounge and terrace which serves a full brunch menu until 3pm each day, with snacks served thereafter. You can take your coffee up upstairs if you like, although it’s not very clear if you just wander in off the street. Alternatively, just take a seat upstairs and order your coffee there, which is just what I did at the weekend.
Back to Black is a chain of precisely two Amsterdam coffee shops which, since 2015, has been roasting its own coffee from a small roastery/bakery which, sadly, is not open to the public. This branch is on Weteringstraat, south of the centre, near the Rijksmuseum and Heineken Experience, making it a good stop if you are out for a bit of sightseeing, and has a lovely, canalside location. The other branch, in contrast, is on Van Hallstraat, about a 30-minute walk west of the main station.
Back to Black is primarily a coffee shop, serving a range of cakes and savoury snacks, all baked in-house. The coffee, similarly, is all roasted in-house, with Back to Black only roasting single-origins. There’s a choice of two espressos, one that has a more conventional taste profile and the other which is a bit different. There’s also a choice of filter coffee, where you can have anything that’s on the shelves in retail bags through V60, Aeropress or Cafetiere, or, if you want to share Chemex or Syphon. The espresso changes on a regular basis, Back to Black moving to something new once the current one runs out, while the filter options are seasonal.
Coffee Source is well-established in Prague’s booming speciality coffee scene, the roaster having been going for over 10 years. However, the coffee shop of the same name, on the busy Francouzská, just on the southern edge of Vinohrady, is a relatively new addition, having only opened this month. A delightful spot, it’s long and thin, with a classic, clean design, all pale woods and right-angles, quite a contrast to the Prague coffee shops I’ve been visiting on this trip. It also boasts the city’s first Modbar (and just the second in Czechia), two gleaming group heads and a pour-over module rising from the counter.
Coffee Source has a single-origin on espresso, served from a concise menu, with options on batch brew, Aeropress and V60 (through the Modbar pour-over module). If you are hungry, there’s a decent selection of cakes and pastries to choose from. As much as this is a coffee shop in its own right, it’s also a retailer, showcasing the entire output of the roastery. Currently the various blends and single-origins are available in retail bags, but in due course, a coffee dispensing system will be installed, allowing customers to bring their own containers, buying beans by weight.
Prague’s Donut Shop, which styles itself as serving fresh, handmade doughnuts with style (I’m sorry, I can’t bring myself to type “donut”) along with speciality coffee, was recommended by the baristas at my very first stop in Prague, Pražírna Kavárna. Located in the Vinohrady district southeast of Prague’s Old Town, it’s been baking all its doughnuts on site in the kitchen at the back since 2016, pairing them with some excellent coffee. And that’s pretty much it.
There’s not much to the Donut Shop, just a counter and two three-person bars inside in the long, narrow interior. In fact, there’s more seating outside, with four tables spread out on the broad pavement, under the shade of a very large tree.
The Donut Shop has a single roaster on espresso and batch brew, the roaster changing every two or three months, although the individual beans on offer change more frequently. During my visit, it was the turn of Berlin’s The Barn, with a pair of single-origins, a Colombian on espresso and a Brazilian on batch brew.
I’m not sure how I first discovered Pražírna Kavárna, but there it was, a star on Google Maps, a five-minute walk from my hotel (chosen for its proximity to the office, not for coffee reasons) so I took it as providence, heading there on my first morning in Prague. Not knowing what to expect, I was reassured by the sign hanging above the door, which shows a stylised black and white line drawing of a coffee roaster looking, bizarrely, a lot like a steam locomotive pulling a train!
Pražírna Kavárna has a small, unassuming street level façade which hides a wonderful interior, accessible down two short flights of steps. There’s a series of gorgeous, brick-vaulted basement rooms, with, right at the back, a lovely, enclosed courtyard garden. When it comes to coffee, Pražírna Kavárna only serves single-origins, original roasted on-site (you can still see the roaster) but now it’s all done in a dedicated facility. There’s a simple espresso-based menu with filter on batch-brew, Aeropress, V60 and Kalita Wave. Opening late into the evenings, there’s also draft lager, wine plus spirits and cocktails. This is backed up by a small all-day lunch/snack menu and a selection of homemade cakes.
Visiting Canary Wharf for work at the end of May, I already knew about the likes of Taylor Street Baristas and Notes. I also knew that the speciality coffee scene had evolved considerably since my last visit in 2015. However, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, 640 East, caught me by surprise, even though it’s been going since 2017. Located in Montgomery Square, right by the eastern entrance to Canary Wharf tube station, 640East was also directly outside my office, so I became a regular visitor, calling in most days for my morning (and sometimes afternoon) coffee.
Consisting of two reused containers facing each other across a large courtyard, the majority of 640East’s seating is outdoors, although one container has a small, indoor seating area. Serving a blend from Caravan on espresso, 640East does a roaring trade from the local offices, while in the evening wine, cocktails and beer take over (although all are available day and night). This is all backed up by a range of cakes and pastries, with a few savouries in the morning.
Note that 640East is takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own. It’s also cashless, so you’ll need a credit/debit card.
Mouse Tail Coffee, which started life as a coffee cart in Peckham in 2012, has been on my radar for a while. These days, in addition to the cart (now at Canada Water), there are four bricks-and-mortar stores under the name Mouse Tail Coffee Stories located in and around East and South East London, plus a coffee van at Canary Wharf.
The Whitechapel Mouse Tail Coffee Stories has been going for 4½ years, one of the area’s early speciality coffee pioneers. A small spot in a row of mostly sweet shops, it’s behind Whitechapel Road Market, sheltering it from the traffic on the busy A11. There’s not much seating, but it’s cosy enough to linger for an hour or two.
The concise espresso-based menu uses Mouse Tail’s seasonal house-blend and decaf from its roasting arm, Mission Coffee Works. There’s a good supply of cake, plus breakfast items in the morning and, during the week, salads and the like for lunch. Given its small size, it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.
Obscure Coffee by name, and, some might say, obscure by nature, although in reality, Obscure Coffee is only a few minutes’ walk from the heart of Chester, near the bottom of Lower Bridge Street, close to the city walls and the River Dee. It’s not even obscure by name, since, as owner Nick recounted, he’d wanted to call it Obscura Coffee, “obscura” being Spanish for “dark”. However, someone misheard him, thought he said “obscure” and the name stuck.
It’s a pretty small spot, with space inside for a window bar and table, while there’s a really cosy back room with more tables and a pair of armchairs. All the coffee comes from Climpson and Sons, with Climpson’s signature Estate on espresso, joined by regularly-changing options on batch brew through the Moccamaster and pour-over through the V60. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes and pastries, but that’s it.