The Corner

The somewhat discretely-located sign outside of Beijing's The Corner.Finding out about new coffee shops, particularly when bereft of my usual tools of twitter and Google Maps, can be tricky. Under these circumstances, I tend to fall back on Method #1: word of mouth, which is how I found out about today’s Coffee Spot, The Corner. Having tracked down Soloist Coffee Co., the barista there put me onto Metal Hands, while the barista in Metal Hands told me about The Corner. So it goes in Beijing, and China in general.

Pleasing located on a corner, The Corner is an interesting spot, all concrete floors and industrial, metal interiors, spread out over three floors, connected by a staircase at the back. It’s also the first coffee shop I know of that’s located within a car repair workshop!

The offering is based around a simple, espresso-based menu, although there are no flat whites or piccolos, rather it is lattes and cappuccinos. This is backed up with a large selection of single-origin coffees which are available on pour-over, which seems to conform to the standard in Beijing, where a (often darker-roasted) blend is offered on espresso, with single-origins on pour-over. There’s also a limited selection of very tempting cakes if you’re hungry.

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Soloist Coffee Co., Yangmeizhu

My filter coffee in an espresso cup in the sun at Beijing's Soloist Coffee Co. on Yangmeizhu Alley.Soloist Coffee Co. was my first experience of speciality coffee (or any sort of coffee, for that matter) in Beijing, unless you count the coffee I was making for myself in my hotel room. I’d tracked it down on the internet, picking it largely for its location, near Tiananmen Square where it would provide a useful break from the hard work of being a tourist.

Located on the narrow, straight and surprisingly low-rise Yangmeizhu Byway, the whole area around Soloist is worth a visit for its own sake, representing a slice of old Beijing, albeit one which is being rapidly gentrified by the likes of Soloist. The coffee shop itself occupies a two-storey building on the north side of the alley, catching the sun, which, during the winter at least, bathes the interior in a warm light. There’s plenty of seating both downstairs and in the delightful upstairs room, plus there’s a large balcony at the front overlooking the street.

The coffee’s all roasted in-house at Soloist’s other site, with an espresso blend and several single-origins available on pour-over through the V60. There’s also a western-influenced all-day brunch menu, although all-day is stretching it since Soloist doesn’t open until noon!

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Little Bean Roastery

Detail from a very on-point A-board outside the Little Bean Roastery in Pudong, Shanghai.Finding today’s Coffee Spot, Little Bean, was a combination of good luck, guesswork and determination. I first came across Little Bean’s coffee at AUNN Café & Co. on my last trip to Shanghai in October 2016. Back then I was told that the roastery/coffee shop was in Pudong, so when I found myself back in Shanghai, staying/working in Pudong, I was determined to track Little Bean down.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, Little Bean occupies a unit in an outdoor mall on Jinyan Road, across the river from Century Square. Downstairs is a spacious coffee shop, complete with a dinky Probat roaster behind the counter, while upstairs there’s a training school and on-site bakery.

Turning to the coffee, Little Bean has a pair of single-origins on espresso (it also has two espresso machines, but I never worked out if the machines/origins were paired in any way) and another five on pour-over through the V60, plus you can buy the beans. As well as freshly-roasted coffee, you can have freshly-baked bread, with a wide variety to choose from, including croissants and various pastries. Finally, there’s a very tempting array of cakes/desserts to choose from if you want something sweet.

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Rumors Coffee Roastery, Hunan Road

The Rumors Coffee Roastery logo from the front wall of the original Rumors in ShanghaiMost of the speciality coffee shops I visited in Shanghai in 2016 were very western in style/influence. In that respect, Rumors Coffee Roastery, in the old French Quarter, stood out from the crowd, drawing its inspiration from Japan, where it is reminiscent of the likes of Tokyo’s Café de L’Ambre.

Rumors roasts all its own coffee, serving a wide range of single-origin beans. If you’re looking for an espresso or flat white, however, you’ve come to the wrong place since Rumors only serves pour-over using Kalita-style ceramic filters. Pick your bean and the barista will make it there and then behind the counter.

Talking of which, Rumors has counter seating, another typical feature of a traditional Japanese coffee shop. It’s a fairly small place, so the seats are limited. Like many of the small places I visited in Shanghai, Rumors has no air conditioning, so it can get very hot and humid inside, despite the best efforts of the ceiling fan. If it’s too hot, you can sit outside, although it’s unlikely to be any less humid!

You can, of course, buy any of the beans to take home with you and, if you’re hungry, there’s a range of cakes.

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Craft Coffee, King’s Cross

Some beautiful latte art by Craft Coffee at King's Cross in my Therma Cup.The spot around the back of King’s Cross station has a long and distinguished history when it comes to coffee stands, having housed both Weanie Beans and Bean & Gone (both before the Coffee Spot’s time) and, most recently, Noble Espresso. However, in November 2016, Shaun, the man behind Noble, made the hard decided to give up the coffee stand to concentrate on his booming milk business, Estate Dairies.

What could have been a huge loss to all concerned, not least his band of loyal customers, was averted by some forward-thinking by Shaun who invited Craft Coffee, veterans of the outdoor coffee scene with a long-standing weekend pitch at Maltby Market, to take over. Emily and Jamie, Craft’s owners, said yes, so now you’ll find them here during the week, turning out fine espresso-based drinks using an exclusive single-origin from Notes, plus tea, hot chocolate and a selection of pastries.

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TAP, Russell Square

A beautifully-presented filter coffee at TAP, Russell Square, served on a wooden tray with the coffee in a metal jug and a tulip cup on the side.TAP, or Tapped And Packed, as it used to be known in the early days, was one of the pioneers of London’s speciality coffee scene. From its original shop on Rathbone Place, it rapidly expanded to become a mini-chain of three, adding branches on Tottenham Court Road and Wardour Street, both of which I visited in the Coffee Spot’s first year, although I’ve still never been to the original! TAP was also a pioneer coffee shop/roaster, installing a roaster at the back of No 193 (the Wardour Street branch), which supplies all the shops.

However, after that initial rapid expansion, everything went quiet for five years, TAP happily going about its business, roasting and serving excellent coffee from the three stores. Until the end of the summer, that is, when, on the eastern edge of Russell Square, the fourth TAP appeared, extending the mini-chain beyond its Fitzrovia heartland and into Bloomsbury.

If you’ve been to the other three TAPs, then the new branch will hold no surprises. There’s a beautifully-concise espresso-based menu, plus three single-origins on pour-over through the V60. There’s also a selection of sandwiches and salads, plus a range of excellent cakes, all available until 4.30 each afternoon.

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House of Morocco

House of Morocco (HoM for short) with its slogan "HoM is where the heart is" is a new addition to London's coffee scene, occupying the site of what was Pattern Coffee.On Caledonian Road, around the corner from King’s Cross Station, stands a new name in a familiar spot. In the premises once occupied by Pattern Coffee, House of Morocco has been open for six weeks, offering excellent espresso-based coffee from Terrone & Co, Moroccan-themed lunches and a wide range of Moroccan merchandise, including pottery and textiles.

House of Morocco started life as a homeware store before taking over what was Patten Coffee, although it would be wrong to cast it as Pattern’s successor. The layout is similar, a long, thin bright space with high-ceilings and windows front and back. The counter is still on the right and the seating mostly down the left, but that’s about it as far as similarities with Pattern goes, House of Morocco very much being its own place.

Providing an interesting fusion of western, third-wave coffee shop and Moroccan culture, it’s a relaxing, friendly spot which can get busy, particularly during the lunchtime when I met up with fellow blogger, Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato. The seating, like the décor, can best be described as eclectic, with much of the Moroccan merchandise doubling up as decoration in a manner reminiscent of Oriberry Coffee in Hanoi.

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200 Degrees, Cardiff

A decaf flat white at the Cardiff branch of 200 Degrees. The latte art pattern in the milk is still visible when half the coffee has been drunk.Nottingham-based café/roaster, 200 Degrees, opened its first café just three years ago. Then, last year, came a second Nottingham outlet, plus 200 Degrees Birmingham, the first outside Nottingham. However, 200 Degrees was only getting started. In the space of just five months, starting in December 2016, 200 Degrees opened in Leeds, then Leicester, followed in April by the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Cardiff.

If you’re familiar with 200 Degrees, then the Cardiff branch holds few surprises. Occupying the Queen Street site of the short-lived Artigiano Espresso, 200 Degrees has followed its tried-and-trusted template to produce another lovely coffee shop. All the staples are here: a plush, well-appointed interior, plenty of wood and exposed brick, the usual neon fireplace, plus some amazing light-fittings. In addition, there’s a semi-sheltered seating area outside on the pavement. For those familiar with the old Artigiano, the mezzanine level has gone though.

The coffee holds no surprises either, with the house espresso blend, Brazilian Love Affair, joined by the interestingly-named Mellowship Slinky Decaf and a single-origin guest espresso, plus another single-origin on filter, all roasted in-house. There’s cold-brew on tap, plus the usual food options, including breakfast and lunch sandwiches, salads and bucket-loads of cake.

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Ezra To Go

The Ezra & Gill logo etched in wood from the wall of Ezra To Go on Tib Street.Ezra & Gil was one of several coffee shops which opened in Manchester’s Northern Quarter in 2015, although it was always a little different, occupying a large spot, its focus as much on food, plus a small area selling various provisions up by the counter. Now there’s a second, albeit smaller, member of the Ezra & Gil family, Ezra To Go on the eastern edge of the Northern Quarter, just down Tib Street from North Tea Power and across the road from Siop Shop.

Don’t let the name fool you though. Ezra To Go has plenty of seating, particularly in the adjacent space, a lifestyle shop called Ezra’s Utilities, so you are welcome to stay. However, the concept is that everything is either pre-prepared or, if it’s off the main menu, quick, which includes the coffee (no pour-over here or filter).

The menu’s necessarily cut down from Ezra & Gil, but nevertheless puts many coffee shops to shame. There’s porridge, plus various things on toast, including eggs and avocado. If you can’t wait that long, there are plenty of pre-prepared sandwiches, which can be toasted, plus soup of the day, salad and quiche, and, of course, a selection of cake.

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Another Heart To Feed

The A-board outside Another Heart To Find in Salford, Manchester. The slogan reads "A day without coffee is like... Just kidding, we have no idea".I rarely venture north of the River Irwell in Manchester. In fact, other than my occasional pilgrimages to the Grindsmith Pod, I think the last time was when I attended the original Cup North in 2014. So I am indebted to the Best Coffee App for drawing me to Chapel Street and the gem that is Another Heart To Feed, a Melbourne-inspired coffee shop and kitchen which opened in March this year, serving food from an all-day brunch menu and some excellent coffee from London’s Union.

There’s the usual espresso-based menu, with Union’s Bright Note as the house-blend, plus a single-origin on pour-over through the V60 and another available as bulk-brew filter. The options change every week or two for the bulk-brew and every two/three weeks for the V60. There’s also loose-leaf Bohea Teas, Kokoa Collection hot chocolate and cakes from local bakers, The Brownie Owl.

Drawing on its Melbourne heritage (the owners spent four years there), Another Heart To Feed offers full table service, a carafe of water and menu magically appearing on your table as you are invited to take a seat. Unusually, Another Heart To Feed closes at three during the week and at four at weekends.

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