Paquebot was a new name to me on my return to Montréal, 5½ years after my original visit in 2013. Starting on Rue Bélanger, the location of the original branch, it came to my attention via Café Plume, an old favourite in Mont Royal, which Paquebot took on when the owner, David, had wanted to sell in 2017. This became the second branch, Paquebot Mont-Royal, my first stop on my return to Montréal last week.
While I was there, my baristas, Pamela and Frédérique, told me all about a third branch, Paquebot Vieux-Montréal, which had opened earlier that year in Montréal’s old town. They were so persuasive that when I unexpectedly found myself in the area later that day, I had to pop in. In the end, I went three times, twice with friends, both of whom independently declared it their favourite coffee shop of those we visited.
The menu is identical to Mont-Royal, with two single-origins on espresso and a third on batch-brew, all regularly changing. There’s also toasted sandwiches and wraps, plus a selections of cakes and pastries. However, it has a very different look and feel, long and thin, the seating on a mezzanine at the back.
When I first visited Montréal in March 2013, I found a vibrant, growing speciality coffee scene. One of my favourites was Café Plume, in Mont Royal, a district north/east of downtown Montréal. A long 5½ years passed before I could visit Montréal again, but as luck would have it, my current trip sees me staying in an apartment, chosen for its proximity to the office, which is also just 10 minutes’ walk from the site of Café Plume.
I say “site of” because when I came to arrange this trip, I discovered that Café Plume was no more! In its place was Paquebot Mont-Royal, part of a chain of three coffee shops, Mont-Royal becoming the second when Paquebot bought Café Plumb almost exactly a year ago in October 2017. As well as the three coffee shops, Paquebot is also a roaster, having teamed up with local roasters, Zab. Although the separate name/branding has been retained, Paquebot and Zab are now one and the same.
Naturally I had to see what had become of Café Plume, so it was with some trepidation that I set off on the first morning after my arrival in search of Paquebot Mont-Royal and some coffee.
In an industry where small, independent coffee shops seem to be the order of the day, Birmingham has always had (in my opinion, at least) more than its fair share of large shops, serving excellent food to go along with the coffee, with the likes of the original Yorks Bakery Cafe and the Boston Tea Party leading the way. The latest entrant to throw its hat into this particular ring is Wayland’s Yard, which opened in March 2018. Starting life last year in Worcester, the Birmingham branch on Bull Street is the second one, although I suspect there will be more in due course.
What you get for your money is a large, long, open space, the size of say, the Birmingham 200 Degrees. There’s a front section with limited seating, and a grab-and-go chiller cabinet, while at the back is an even large main seating area with plenty of tables. The coffee is from Herefordshire’s Method Roastery, with a bespoke house-blend and single-origin on espresso and two more on pour-over through the V60. Just as important is the food, with a full breakfast/brunch menu that gives the likes of Yorks Café and Coffee Roasters a run for its money.
Once upon a time, good coffee was relatively hard to find near Waterloo Station, but now it’s positively ringed by great options, from Four Corners and Coleman Coffee Roasters on Lower Marsh to For the Good of the People Coffee and Beany Green on the South Bank. However, the latest addition, Urban Baristas, on Waterloo Road itself, has the distinction of being the closest to the station, just across the road from the main Jubilee Line concourse.
Urban Baristas is a small chain which, starting in 2016, now has four locations, the Waterloo branch opening in October last year. It’s a tiny place, reminiscent of Goodge St Espresso, only smaller. Despite the size, there’s espresso from Union Hand-roasted and a rotating cast of guest roasters on batch-brew, plus cake, sandwiches and toast if you’re hungry. There’s also a selection of tea and Kokoa Collection hot chocolate.
Naturally it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own, while Urban Baristas has gone cashless at Waterloo, so you’ll also need a credit or debit card.
If you’ve been following my Midwest road trip, the Coffee Spot has now reached the Twin Cities (Minneapolis & St Paul) in Minnesota, the westernmost extent of my travels. Here I’m indebted to my friend Jen for a whistle-stop tour of the local coffee scene, which included Five Watt, a local coffee shop/roastery chain, with (soon to be) three branches: the original in Kingfield, this, the second branch in East Hennepin, and a third opening next week in St Paul. The East Hennepin branch is in the Miller Textile building, former home of the Miller Bag Company, which dates to about 1880. Five Watt occupies a self-contained space on the ground floor, which it shares with several other businesses.
When it comes to coffee, Five Watt does all the roasting in a facility near the Kingfield branch. The Mic Check blend is on espresso, where it’s joined by a decaf on the lovely three-group Modbar espresso system. Another blend, The Residency, is on bulk-brew, while there’s also pour-over, which is currently the Headliner blend, available through Chemex or French Press. There’s also cold-brew, available in cans and on draught (nitro or plain), plus cocktails, wine and multiple craft beers on tap.
The Gentlemen Baristas, which started life at the end of 2014 on Union Street, just south of the Thames, now boasts four branches, of which this, on nearby Park Street, can legitimately be said to be the baby. In terms of look and feel, however, it very much has the air of a miniature version of the original, albeit with a cut-down coffee menu featuring two options on espresso and another on batch-brew, pour-over having been sacrificed to save space.
This lack of space also means that seating is at a premium, with room for four inside and another four outside on two benches. That said, there’s still the space for a well-stocked set of retail shelves, selling retail bags of coffee/coffee kit on one side, and produce at the other, including pickles, preserves and condiments. Meanwhile if you’re hungry, there’s a range of cakes and sandwiches. Another victim of the lack of space is cups, The Gentlemen Baristas only offering takeaway cups, so bring your own, although there are some espresso cups knocking around.
A couple of weeks ago, I made a trip to southwest London, taking in the likes of Beanberry Coffee, Woof Coffee and The Press Room in Twickenham. At the end of my trip, I found myself in Ealing and, since I was there, I decided that I would carry on going west. Really west. All the way out to (wait for it…) Hanwell! Well, maybe not that far west, but, as London goes, quite far, and not exactly known as a hot-bed of speciality coffee.
What had dragged me onto the No 427 bus and out along the Uxbridge Road was the prospect of breakfast (and coffee) at the interestingly-named Fade-to-Black, which, since February, has been serving espresso using Ozone’s Empire Blend to the fine folks of Hanwell, with tentative plans to add a single-origin batch-brew. This is backed up with a decent breakfast/lunch menu, complete with sandwiches and a good range of cake.
Fade to Black has a simple, welcoming interior with windows on two sides and a range of seating, including window-bars, should you want to get some people-watching done. There’s also a spacious basement which, while normally off-limits, is used for functions and events such as yoga.
It seems unfair to call The Press Room a chain, since there are precisely two branches, the Surbiton original and today’s Coffee Spot, in Twickenham. Both are close to railway stations and they’re also at opposite ends of the 281 bus route. I visited the Surbiton branch in June 2013, almost exactly a year after it opened in 2012, while the Twickenham branch opened in the summer of 2015. It’s taken me slightly longer to visit this one, a mere three years, but it was worth the wait!
The Press Room occupies a bright corner on London Road in Twickenham. It’s much bigger than the original, with a simple spacious interior. The basic offering remains unchanged, with a solid coffee offering, including pour-over, plenty of tea and a selection of cakes, with sandwiches and salads if you want something savoury. Originally, The Press Room used Staffordshire’s Has Bean, but switched to Cornwall’s Origin when Twickenham opened.
The Resolute Blend is the mainstay on espresso, where it’s joined by Origin’s seasonal decaf. There are usually two offerings on pour-over through the V60 which change every few months. During my visit, these were a pair of Nicaraguan single-origins, one washed, the other naturally-processed.
I came across Woof Coffee in October 2016, receiving an e-mail invitation to a party to celebrate its official opening. Sadly I couldn’t make it (the party was the day I arrived back from my first, and so far only, around the world trip) but I duly stuck a star on it in Google Maps and made a note to visit. Fast forward 22 months and I took a small excursion to southwest London that saw me call in on Beanberry Coffee in Kingston and The Press Room in Twickenham. And conveniently half way between the two (sort of) in Teddington, there’s Woof Coffee.
Woof has a simple, espresso-based coffee menu with the ubiquitous Redchurch blend from Allpress acting as the house blend, with a different guest roaster every month. Woof buys in a number of single-origins/blends, which are available as retail bags, with a different option as the guest espresso every day. If coffee’s not your thing, then Woof has plenty of tea, working with a local tea merchant who sources a range of loose-leaf tea exclusive to Woof. Finally, there’s food, with a simple all-day breakfast/lunch menu backed up by five sandwiches, all of which can be toasted.
Liverpool’s Bold Street is no stranger to great coffee, with the eponymous Bold Street Coffee leading the way for many years. More recently, it’s been joined by a host of others, including, on nearby Wood Street, Mother Espresso, and now, on Bold Street itself, Ropes & Twines, which describes itself as a “Coffee and Wine Room”. Perhaps taking the lead from the likes of Filter + Fox, Ropes & Twines offers coffee and wine in a high-class setting, including a rather awesome set of cellar rooms, along with sandwiches, cakes and charcuterie (the only other coffee shop I can think of offering coffee, wine and charcuterie is London’s Fernandez & Wells).
When it comes to the coffee, there are two single-origins, one on espresso, one on pour-over, both roasted for Ropes & Twines by Maude Coffee in Leeds. In keeping with the elegance of the setting, Ropes & Twines has dispensed with the usual bulk of the espresso machine, instead going with what I believe is the UK’s first Mavam espresso system outside of London. This modular system hides the boilers and pumps out of the way, just leaving the group heads and steam wands rising above the counter.