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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Yorks Coffee Roasters

Detail from the front of the packaging of one of the bags of Yorks Coffee Roasters coffee.The subject of today’s Meet the Roaster has a long history. I visited the original Yorks Bakery Café on Newhall Street during my first trip to Birmingham exactly four years ago today, when I met a knowledgeable, engaging young barista called Richard. Since then Yorks has expanded, both in size and ambition. First came the new Yorks Espresso Bar at the Colmore Row end of the Great Western Arcade. Then, at the end of 2015, Newhall Street closed, the site undergoing a major redevelopment, with Yorks moving the Bakery Café to new premises on Stephenson Street, next to Birmingham New Street Station. Now there’s a third Yorks, with a new branch at the Ikon Gallery.

However, that’s not the half of it. Soon after moving into Stephenson Street, Yorks acquired the adjacent unit, effectively tripling its size. While it was still a building site, I was given a behind-the-scenes tour by a very excited Richard, who pointed out a small, awkward area at the back, cut-off from the rest of the space by stairs giving access to the basement. That, he told me, was where the new Probat was going. Yorks, it seemed, was going to become a coffee roaster…

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The Espresso Station

The Espresso Station logo, taken from a sign halfway down the alley which houses it in Hoi An.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).

July 2017: In a fit of extremely bad timing on my behalf, less than a month after my visit, The Espresso Station closed for a full refit. Judging by the pictures on its Facebook page, you can expect the same excellent coffee, but in a lovely new setting.

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The Workshop Coffee

My espresso surveys the room in The Workshop Coffee, Ho Chi Minh CityThe 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.

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Café de L’Ambre

Details from the front of Tokyo's Cafe de L'AmbreSo 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.

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Allpress Dalston

A Kalita Wave filter of Allpress La Esperanza from Guatemala, served at Allpress Dalston.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.

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Panther Coffee

The label on Panther Coffee's West Coast Espresso Blend.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.

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Hot Numbers, Trumpington Street

The front of the Retail Coffee Menu (September 2016) from Hot Numbers cafe/roastery on Trumpington Street, Cambridge.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.

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Sightglass Coffee Bar & Roastery

Details of the Sightglass logo.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.

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