The Espresso Station is a delightful little spot in Hội An, just to the north of the old city and, conveniently, just down the street from my hotel. Despite this convenience, I might have struggled to find it, since it’s tucked away down a narrow alley off the main street, Trần Hưng Đạo. However, forearmed is forewarned and, having read all about it after my friend Bex (of Double Skinny Macchiato fame) adventures in Vietnam last year, I knew what I was looking for.
The Espresso Station occupies a low, single-storey building with its own courtyard, which is where most of the seating is. It’s both roastery and café, with the roaster, a shiny 5kg job, tucked away at the back of the main building. Serving espresso, pour-over and traditional Vietnamese cà phê phin (cup-top filter), there’s also a range of tea, juices, plus a limited all-day breakfast menu and pastries.
There’s a blend for espresso and cà phê phin, using Arabica beans grown in Vietnam’s Dalat region, with a Vietnamese single-origin or another from Panama on pour-over. The espresso beans are available for sale, along with traditional cup-top filter (a steal at 25,000 Vietnamese Dong, or less than £1).
The Workshop Coffee, right in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon as was) was the one place that everyone said to visit. Tucked away on the top floor of an old building overlooking the main street of Đồng Khởi, it’s a glorious place, open to the roof, which soars high above and with windows on three of the four sides. Although the building’s old, inside it’s very modern, with a post-industrial look and feel, full of exposed brick, concrete floors, iron window-frames and with multiple lights hanging from the ceiling.
In this respect, it could be any coffee shop in any number of cities around the world, a warehouse loft in Brooklyn or Shoreditch for example, making it part of the global phenomenon of speciality coffee. This is followed through with the philosophy of its coffee, with direct trade at its heart, roasting high-quality single-origins in small batches on-site.
At the same time, it’s a very Vietnamese establishment, with an overwhelmingly local clientele and staff. The coffee too, is predominantly Vietnamese, the Workshop championing local Arabica growers, roasting them either as single-origins for filter, or blending them for espresso with other high quality beans from around the world.
So far in covering Tokyo’s Coffee Spots, I’ve written about Maruyama Coffee, a modern take on a traditional Japanese, service-oriented coffee shop and Kaido Books & Coffee, which any aficionado of western, third-wave coffee shops would instantly recognise. For today’s Coffee Spot, however, I wanted to write about Café de L’Ambre, a traditional Japanese kissaten.
This is a very different beast, more akin to a bar than a coffee shop. In the case of L’Ambre, all the coffee is roasted on-site on a pair of small roasters at the front of the store, while coffee is made and consumed at the back, in a long, low, smoky room with a counter/bar on the left and a handful of tables on the right.
If you can, sit at the counter, the further along the better, where you can watch your coffee being prepared for you using a linen filter. This is really old-school: no scales, timers or temperature-controlled kettles. It’s coffee as a performance and although the end result might not please everybody, it’s an experience I would recommend trying. Be warned, though, L’Ambre allows smoking and it’s pot-luck whether you end up sat next to someone lighting up a cigarette.
Allpress Espresso isn’t just a major roaster in the speciality coffee scene, with roasteries in New Zealand (where it all started in 1986) Australia, Japan and the UK. It also runs its own roastery/cafés, starting (in the UK) with the original roastery/coffee shop on Redchurch Street which opened in September 2010. Redchurch Street’s still going, but only as an espresso bar, the roastery moving out to its new site in Dalston in May 2015. Naturally, there had to be a café attached, which is the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, while the roastery was subject of its own Meet the Roaster feature back in January.
The new roastery/café is huge, with plenty of room for expansion. The main café, which includes a full kitchen, is downstairs on the left, with an even larger upstairs area at the front that opens at the weekend for brunch. There’s also some lovely outside seating options in a large garden in front of the roastery, which is set back from the road. If you’ve come for coffee, there are different options on espresso, pour-over and bulk-brew, while for food, there are full breakfast and lunch menus, as well as mixed plates, sandwiches and cakes.
Long before I ever visited Florida/Miami (or, indeed, had plans to), one name in speciality coffee stood out: the subject of today’s Meet the Roaster, Panther Coffee. When I found myself on a business trip to Miami, with next-to-no-time to explore, it was the one place that I decided I had to visit. As luck would have it, our team dinner, on my last night in Miami, was at the Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, just two blocks north of Panther on NW 2nd Avenue. I took this as a sigh, and, getting out of the meeting slightly early, I jumped in a cab and made a beeline for the Wynwood District.
Panther was established five years ago and while it now has three branches, this one (Wynwood) is the original. As well as being a rather nice coffee shop (which will feature as Coffee Spot in its own right in due course), Panther roasts all its coffee here, on a vintage, 1927 Perfekt roaster. However, change is afoot since the roaster is nearing capacity and Panther has plans to move to a new roasting facility, where it will install a 22kg version of the same machine. So, come down while you can if you want to watch the coffee being roasted in-store.
Not long after I visited the original Hot Numbers on Cambridge’s Gwydir Street, back in September 2014, a new roastery/café was announced. Sadly it took me almost two years to get back to Cambridge to check it out, finally returning in June last year and again in September. This post is about the café-side of Hot Numbers, with the roastery appearing in its own Meet the Roaster feature in due course.
It’s all very different from Gwydir Street. Whereas that’s a large, open space, Trumpington Street is long and thin, with the counter at the front on the right and seating down either side. Looking at it, it’s a miracle that Hot Numbers managed to squeeze a roaster in, but it did, tucked in on the right-hand side at the back.
All the usual Hot Numbers coffee goodness is here, with two single-origins and a decaf available on espresso and two more on pour-over, plus a fifth on bulk-brew. There’s also lots of technology on show: a Sanremo Opera espresso machine, Mahlkönig Peak grinders & Marco Beverage Systems SP9s. These are backed up with a selection of loose-leaf tea, craft beer, wine, a small but decent food selection and some excellent cake choices.
The first thing to say about Sightglass (which practically everyone recommended that I visit) is that it’s huge! It might not be as big as say, Caravan, King’s Cross, but it’s getting there. This is Sightglass HQ, which is where it all started back in 2009. It houses the roastery, coffee bar and the company’s training room and offices. What’s amazing, from a UK perspective, is that other than the roastery and offices, which occupy less than half the space, all Sightglass does is serve coffee, backed up with a few pastries. There’s no food service here, something which I’d find unimaginable in a similar-sized (or indeed much smaller) operation in the UK.
This does mean that the focus is firmly on the coffee, however, which is all roasted on-site. There are two counters: the main one, downstairs, serves the Owl’s Howl espresso blend, with three single-origin filters, one on batch-brew and two on V60, all three changing daily. The smaller counter, which is upstairs at the back of the mezzanine, opens at 11 o’clock and serves two single-origin espressos, plus the Blueboon filter blend on V60. The two single-origins, a Kenyan & a Honduran, change on a seasonal basis.
The subject of today’s Meet the Roaster, Allpress Espresso, is at the opposite end of the scale from Weanie Beans, the roaster we met last week. Allpress can be said to be truly international, with roasteries in New Zealand (where it all started in 1986) Australia, Japan and the UK. It’s also pushing the (self-imposed) boundaries of what I started the Coffee Spot to write about. For me, speciality coffee is all about small-scale, independent operations. On the other hand, Allpress, despite its size, still very much has those qualities at its heart.
Allpress has been in the UK since September 2010, when the original roastery/coffee shop opened on Redchurch Street. Redchurch is still going, but only as an espresso bar, the roastery moving out to its new site in Dalston in May 2015 after four years of continued growth. The new roastery has plenty of room for expansion and includes a full café on site, with an upstairs that opens at the weekend for brunch. During the week, you’ll just have to “squeeze in” downstairs.
The café is the subject of a Coffee Spot in its own right: today we are just looking at the roasting side of the operation.
Weanie Beans, the subject of the first Meet the Roaster of 2017, is one of the lesser known names in speciality coffee roasting, although the company, and its founder, Adeline, go back all the way to 2007 and market stall in west London. Along the way, Adeline used to have the patch at King’s Cross now occupied by Craft Coffee, who took it on from Noble Espresso, who took it on from Weanie Beans…
These days you can find Weanie Beans roasting coffee in its new north London home and, while the market stalls are gone, there is a new café, Heirloom, in the Buckinghamshire village of Edlesborough. Although best known for its espresso blends, such as Citizen Kane, and its seasonal espresso blend, Weanie Beans is branching out. It roasts bespoke espresso blends for cafés such as &Feast (Barnes and Sheen) and is increasingly roasting single-origins for filter. Recently it’s launched a new espresso blend, Scout, which is proving a big hit in Heirloom.
As well as finding Weanie Beans at a growing number of London coffee shops, you can buy all the coffee from the Weanie Beans web shop. There is also an increasingly popular monthly subscription service.
Along with Press Coffee, my chance discovery on my first visit to Phoenix, the other big name in Phoenix coffee is Cartel Coffee Lab. Another roaster/coffee shop chain, Cartel has six branches, including (like Press Coffee) one at the airport. In a departure from the Coffee Spot norm, my introduction to Cartel was a visit to its first ever branch, which is also the roastery, in downtown Tempe.
A large, sprawling spot, Cartel consists of multiple, connected spaces, which betrays its roots, since Cartel started in just one small part of its current home, slowly expanding to incorporate the additional spaces over the years. Further expansion is in the pipeline: the roastery (currently along the left-hand side in the front part of the store) will soon be shifted into the adjacent building at the back of the store.
Cartel, which never roasts blends, has six single-origins, including a decaf. All are available as filter through Aeropress, V60, Clever Dripper and Chemex, while one (plus the decaf) is available as espresso. There’s also a daily option on bulk-brew, cold brew and, if you’re hungry, a small selection of cake. If you don’t fancy coffee, there is a small tea selection too.