Cartel Coffee Lab, Downtown Phoenix

The Cartel Coffee Lab logo from the wooden A-board outside the store in downtown Phoenix.The contrast between Cartel Coffee Lab’s downtown location and its flagship roastery/coffee shop in Tempe, which I visited the day before, couldn’t be starker. While the former’s a large, sprawling set of interconnected spaces, downtown is in an alcove off the lobby of 1 North 1st Street. It’s a very pleasant alcove, and, as alcoves go, it’s spacious enough, but it’s an alcove nonetheless. You can sit at the window-bar, out in the (echo-chamber like) lobby, or on the street at another window-bar.

Despite any perceived shortcomings in size, Cartel doesn’t compromise on the coffee, with the same full offering that’s out in Tempe. There are six single-origins, including decaf, all are available through Aeropress, V60, Clever Dripper or Chemex. Meanwhile, one (plus decaf) is available as espresso. There’s also bulk-brew filter and cold brew, a small tea selection, plus cakes and prepared salads in the fridge opposite the counter.

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Lufkin Coffee

Detail from the top of the sign outside Lufkin Coffee.Cardiff’s speciality coffee scene has changed considerably since my last visit, not least with the arrival of Lufkin Coffee Roasters. Highly recommended by none other than Steve of Darkroom Espresso, Lufkin was naturally top of my list when it came to a return visit to the Welsh capital. Tucked away in the residential streets northwest of the city centre, it takes a little bit of finding, but you will be well rewarded. It’s also a great option if you are attending a cricket match at the nearby SWALEC stadium.

Lufkin opened its doors in September 2015, roasting all its coffee on a 1kg Topper, dedicated to serving pour-over. However, that quickly changed, and, with demand exceeding capacity, the Topper gave way to the 10kg Golden Roaster which you see behind the counter today. Lufkin also added espresso-based drinks to the menu.

Roasting once a week, Lufkin only roasts single-origins, mostly for use in-house, one on espresso and two or three roasted for filter, served using the Kalita Wave. The green beans are bought in small batches and once they’re gone, Lufkin moves onto the next one, although if a particular bean proves popular, it’s likely to make a return appearance.

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Root & Branch

The Root & Branch sign, pointing the way to good coffee on Belfast's Jameson Street.Belfast has a varied speciality coffee scene, although one of the main trends I noticed during my visit in March was the tendency for coffee shops to occupy relatively large spaces, with an emphasis as much on food as on the coffee. However, firmly bucking that trend is today’s Coffee Spot, Root & Branch.

A roaster as well as espresso/brew bar just off the busy Ormeau Road, Root & Branch is tiny, with a covered courtyard that’s bigger than the shop and with more seating on the pavement than it has inside, where it’s standing-room only! However, don’t let that put you off, since there’s also a cosy upstairs, where there’s a pair of chairs and a few stools.

Despite the lack of room, Root & Branch has miraculously managed to fit in a 6kg Giesen coffee roaster in the corner, which turns out all the coffee, including the Saints & Scholars seasonal espresso blend. This is joined by a single-origin on the second grinder, while pour-over fans won’t be disappointed, with three more single-origins available through either Kalita Wave or Aeropress, depending on the particular bean. There’s also a small selection of delicious cake to go with your coffee.

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Seesaw 433

The Seesaw logo.Seesaw is a roastery and a chain of seven Shanghai coffee shops, although this one, Seesaw 433, is the original, having opened in 2012. Like most of the places I visited in Shanghai, it helps to know where it is, only more so in this case, since it’s at the back of a design centre, with no obvious signs on the street. If I hadn’t have known it was there, I would have missed it completely.

However, it would have been a shame to walk past since it’s a beautiful spot, with an enclosed courtyard, complete with glass roof. Perhaps because the courtyard is completely enclosed, it’s no smoking, but despite this, it can still get very hot and humid. If you want air-conditioning (or power outlets for your laptop), you’ll need to head inside the coffee shop proper, off to one side of the courtyard.

Seesaw roasts all its own coffee in a dedicated facility. There’s a seasonal house-blend and single-origin on espresso, with six or seven further single-origins on pour-over/cold brew, with all the typical origins represented. You can also buy the beans to take home with you, while if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of western-style cakes.

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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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Saint Frank Coffee

A beautiful espresso with milk, part of a split shot of a single-origin Guatemalan coffee in Saint Frank Coffee, San Francisco.Once again, I find myself following in the footsteps of Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato. Saint Frank Coffee, in San Francisco’s Russian Hill area, was the very last stop of my final day-trip to San Francisco, part of my epic four-corners trip around America at the start of the year. It had been a good day, starting with a visit to Four Barrel in the Mission and ending at Saint Frank, both recommendations from Bex.

Founded in 2013, Saint Frank’s a relative newcomer to the scene. This is its flagship store, with two other outlets, one on the Facebook campus (sadly, employees only) and a new venture, called St Clare Coffee, in the Mission. Saint Frank roasts all its own coffee (sadly off-site), working directly with a small number of coffee farmers around the world.

There are three options on espresso (house-blend, a single-origin and a decaf) through a bespoke, under-the-counter espresso machine. There are three more options on pour-over (all single-origins, one of which is a decaf) using the Marco Beverage Systems SP9. Finally, there are two further single-origins, one on bulk-brew and one available as an iced coffee. If you’re hungry, there’s a small but tasty cake range.

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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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La Colombe, Wicker Park

A pour-over from Myanmar, made at La Colombe in Wicker Park, Chicago, and served in one of La Colombe's much-loved cups, complete with matching saucer.I’ve always liked La Colombe, the Philadelphia-based chain, ever since visiting the amazing Dilworth Plaza branch near Philadelphia’s City Hall. I’ve now visited a number of branches, and, other than the coffee, they all have one thing in common: they occupy amazing physical spaces. This is something that La Colombe shares with the UK’s Boston Tea Party: taking iconic buildings and turning them into amazing coffee shops. Like the Boston Tea Party, La Colombe manages the trick of making each branch simultaneously its own place and yet obviously a La Colombe.

In this respect, the Wicker Park branch, one of four (soon to be five) in Chicago, is no different. Almost directly underneath the elevated Blue Line, which thunders above Milwaukee Avenue, La Colombe is opposite Damen station, occupying a large, rectangular building with a glass front, high ceilings and exposed brick walls. Add in windows at the back and it’s a wonderfully light and airy space.

There’s all the usual La Colombe goodness, with multiple choices on espresso, bulk-brew and pour-over. All the coffee is roasted in-house, in a facility a few blocks from the coffee shop which supplies all La Colombe’s Mid-west outlets. There’s also loose-leaf tea and a range of cakes/pastries.

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Buzz Killer Espresso

The reflection of a light-bulb in my cup of coffee at Buzz Killer Espresso, Chicago.I feel a little bad about taking so long to write up Buzz Killer Espresso, since it was the first place I visited in Chicago when I was there last October as part of my around the world trip. However, given that I’m sort of back in Chicago (I’m actually in Madison all week), it seems the perfect opportunity to rectify this.

Buzz Killer is just off Milwaukee Avenue to the northwest of Chicago’s centre, in the area known as Wicker Park, one of the longer-standing members of a cluster of great coffee shops which includes Ipsento 606, La Colombe and Wormhole Coffee. Buzz Killer roasts all its own coffee, with a house-blend on espresso, plus a blend and a three seasonal single-origins on V60. There’s also decaf, while the bulk-brewer, that staple of the American coffee shop, is mercifully absent.

Buzz Killer occupies an interesting spot, offering a small, sheltered outside seating area and two contrasting floors. Downstairs (which is ironically up a flight of stairs from the street) is full of little tables, tucked away in corners, while upstairs is bright and open, filled with light and with a simple row of tables, plus a large, communal table.

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The Caffinet

A traditional cup-top filter at The Caffinet in Hanoi.At last! A coffee shop in Vietnam not recommended by either Bex (Double Skinny Macchiato) or Simon (Fancy A Cuppa). Instead, today’s Coffee Spot, The Caffinet, was recommended by the wonderful folks at Oriberry Coffee (and, in fairness to Bex/Simon, it opened after their respective visits). On a busy street to the northeast of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, it’s another with a modest exterior that hides a delightful, and spacious, interior.

Spread over two floors, The Caffinet (which translates loosely as The Coffee House) opened in 2016 with the aim of serving Vietnamese-grown coffee and tea with a distinctly western-style. It does this using coffee from La Viet, a coffee shop/roaster in the Dalat coffee-growing region of Vietnam, and, tea from Long Dinh, which comes from Vietnam’s Lam Dong tea-growing province.

Unusually, there’s no hulking espresso machine at The Caffinet. Instead, espresso drinks are provided by the ROK hand espresso machine, which sits quietly on the counter. This is joined by a bewildering array of pour-over and immersion brewing methods. I think that the only one I didn’t see was the Clever Dripper! Finally, since this is Vietnam, there’s the traditional Vietnamese cup-top filter. Naturally, all the beans are for sale.

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