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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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!
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.
Vietnam Coffee Republic is small chain (of two), part of a growing band of speciality coffee shops in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City. Like the nearby The Workshop Coffee and the various branches of Shin Coffee, Vietnam Coffee Republic is both roaster and coffee shop. There’s a large coffee shop just around the corner, while this, the VCR Bar & Showroom, is where all the roasting takes place, plus it’s a coffee shop in its own right.
Sheltering under the towering edifice of the Roseland Corp Hotel, the VCR Bar & Showroom is easily missed. There’s more seating outside, a lovely area set back from the road, than there is inside, a wide, shallow space with the roaster at one end behind the counter.
When it comes to coffee, which is all grown in Vietnam, the VCR Bar & Showroom has the same menu as its big sibling, serving four principle blends containing varying ratios of Robusta and Arabica beans, plus a single-origin. These are available as espresso or filter, with options including V60, Aeropress, cafetiere and syphon, plus traditional Vietnamese filter coffee. If you’re hungry, there’s a salad bar, with a range of tasty salads on offer.
I first came across Café Integral when I was last in New York two years ago. Back then, Café Integral was a small, but delightful coffee bar inside the American Two Shot clothing store. Not long after my visit, in August 2016, Café Integral opened its own coffee shop a couple of blocks away on Elizabeth Street, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot. This was part of an expansion that has also seen Café Integral open in Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles, all in collaboration with Freehand Hotels.
Cafe Integral’s main claim to fame is that it only serves coffee from Nicaragua, all of which is roasted in-house in Williamsburg, the coffee sourced from several farms in the country which have close ties to the Vega family, which owns Café Integral. There’s always an espresso blend (Dulcinea), plus a different single-origin on espresso, bulk-brew and pour-over. There’s also cold brew, nitro cold brew and a house tonic, plus tea for those who are so inclined. The coffee is all seasonal, changing every month or two, with the number of different options depending on the season. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s an extensive, and very tempting, array of cakes and pastries.
Set up by Todd and Courtney, who worked together at the now defunct Avenue Coffee Roasting Co, I first learnt about The Good Coffee Cartel at last year’s Glasgow Coffee Festival 2017, when I ran into Todd, who told me about plans for a new roastery and coffee shop. Naturally, on my return to Glasgow for this year’s festival, I made a beeline for the new space on Glasgow’s south side.
The Good Coffee Cartel is a curious mixture: quirky coffee shop, roastery, ceramics workshop: it’s all these and more. The roastery is very clearly the backbone of the business, the vintage 15kg Probat sitting in the corner at the back. However, it’s also a spacious coffee shop, with a soon to be added back garden, somewhere you can sit all day and enjoy whatever excellent coffee Todd and Courtney have on that day, with different options on espresso and batch-brew, all served in cups that have been handmade on site. Even better is the pricing structure: all the coffee is £2, all the cakes are £2 and if you really want to push the boat out, you can have an espresso, espresso with milk and batch brew for £5.