Coffee Island, St Martin’s Lane

An information card for a micro-lot from the Cerro de Jesus farm in Nicaragua, supplied by Coffee Island in St Martin's Lane.Coffee Island is, unusually for the Coffee Spot, a chain and an international one at that, which started on a Greek island in 1999 and now has over 300 shops throughout Greece, Cyprus and south-east Europe. However, its branch on St Martin’s Lane is (so far) the only UK one. Opening earlier this year with a considerable media push, I was away at the time and so missed all the fuss. I popped in later in the year and I liked what I saw…

A modest exterior hides a surprisingly-large coffee shop with plenty of seating and a mezzanine level at the back. I’d describe Coffee Island as coffee geeks meet the mainstream, so while there’s a house-blend, decaf and five single-origins, there’s also flavoured coffee, which is not something you normally associate with the speciality end of the market. There’s also a large retail section (beans and equipment), tea and food, the latter in the shape of salads, sandwiches and cake.

There’s an excellent range of options for the coffee including espresso, Greek coffee (Ibrik), bulk-brew or pour-over using the V60, Aeropress or Chemex (for one or two). If you want to compare coffee or methods side-by-side, it’s awesome!

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Stage Espresso and Brew Bar

The minimalist sign for Stage Espresso and Brewbar, hanging outside on Oxford Row.A new arrival in Leeds’ growing speciality coffee scene is Stage Espresso and Brew Bar (Stage, for short), which opened at the start of 2017, tucked away behind the Town Hall and opposite the Leeds General Infirmary. Although it hadn’t been open long when I visited in August, it had already garnered high praise, being the one place everyone in Leeds consistently mentioned when I asked about new coffee shops to visit.

It’s a lovely spot, on a north-facing corner, with windows along two sides, plus a cosy downstairs seating area at the back that’s probably slightly bigger than the already spacious upstairs. However, perhaps the best feature is Copper, a young Beagle (who is the same age as Stage, give or take a month). You can find him most days, curled up in his basket by the retail shelves at the back.

When it comes to coffee, Stage uses Union Hand-roasted, although there are plans to have occasional guests in as and when there’s something that catches the eye. There’s a house-espresso, plus a guest, along with multiple options on filter. One of these is available as a daily bulk-brew, while the rest are made using the Kalita Wave.

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Society Café, Bristol

The main entrance to Society Cafe in Bristol, a pair of glass double-doors opening out onto Farr's Lane, with the counter directly ahead.I first came across Society in its home city of Bath, where I managed to visit the two branches in the order that they opened, a rarity for the Coffee Spot, starting with Kingsmead Square before moving onto The Corridor. However, I’ve safely broken that trend by skipping the third Society Café, in Oxford, instead visiting the fourth and most recent branch which opened this summer in Bristol.

You’ll find Society Café down by the harbour, on the corner of Narrow Quay and Farr’s Lane, right next to the youth hostel. It’s a lovely setting, with lots of outdoor seating on the quayside as well as down Farr’s Lane, while there is even more seating inside, spread over two large, spacious areas, one either side of a central counter.

The coffee is always of the highest order, with the house-espresso, which changes monthly, coming from Origin. This is joined by a guest single-origin which changes every couple of weeks. Meanwhile there’s bulk-brew filter and another option on Aeropress, both of which change every week or so. If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s a wide selection of tea, plus a dedicated smoothie-bar, as well as sandwiches and cake if you’re hungry.

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Vermillion Café

A lovely espresso at Vermillion Cafe in Kyoto, made using its bespoke house-blend and served in a classic cup.Vermillion is a chain of precisely two in Kyoto, with an espresso bar next to the Inari train station and, five minutes’ walk away, by a large pond at the foot of Mount Inariyama, is the Vermillion Café, subject of today’s Coffee Spot. I didn’t spend long enough in Kyoto, Japan’s old Imperial capital, nor did I get to many coffee shops, but with my visit to Vermillion, I definitely saved the best until last!

Vermillion Café has a small outside seating area at the front (northern) end, which catches the evening sun, while inside, it’s long and relatively wide, with a couple of large tables. However, the best part is at the back, where the south-facing wooden terrace overlooks the pond. Here you’ll find the best views and perhaps my favourite spot for coffee in the whole of Japan.

Vermillion serves coffee roasted by the local Weekenders Coffee, with a bespoke house-blend on espresso and a choice of a blend or single-origin on pour-over through the V60, all of which can be had hot or over ice. There’s also a limited range of tea, beer and soft drinks, plus, if you’re hungry, a small selection of sandwiches and cake.

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District, Ormeau Road

A single-origin Colombian espresso from Ballies in Belfast, served as the house-espresso in District, looking resplendent in its classic blue cup.Just up the road from Root & Branch, and a little further down from General Merchants, District is another addition to Belfast’s growing speciality coffee scene, adding to the small cluster of great places along Ormeau Road, each one offering something different. In the case of District, it’s excellent contemporary café food to go with locally-roasted coffee, all served in a bright spot set back a little from the road with plenty of seating both inside and out.

District is a new name to Belfast, opening at the end of 2016. The first of (so far) two, with the second opening on Stranmills Road a couple of months later, District uses local roaster, Bailies, with single-origins served on espresso and pour-over through the V60. The former is effectively the house espresso, while the latter changes regularly, occasional giving way to a guest roaster for variety. There’s also tea from local tea merchants, Suki Tea.

The other main draw is the excellent food, with lots of vegetarian and some vegan choices (something I occasionally found lacking in Belfast) on both the breakfast menu (served until 3 pm) and lunch menu (from noon). There are also sandwiches and an abundance of cake.

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Porter

A chalk outline of an old fashioned porter, case in hand, from the sign of Porter, in Madison.When it comes to railways, I have a romantic streak a mile wide. However, railway coffee and station coffee shops, with the notable exception of the likes of Coffee Affair, can sometimes be disappointing. Step forward Porter, a relatively new addition to Madison’s speciality coffee scene, located in the city’s old railway station. The (passenger) trains may have long gone, but Porter has recreated the atmosphere quite nicely, especially outside, where you can sit on the old platform.

Serving Counter Culture from North Carolina, Porter has the Hologram espresso blend, plus different single-origins on guest espresso, pour-over, bulk-brew (drip) and on tap (cold brew). The coffee menu comes in two parts, a more mass-market-based left-hand side with lattes and drip coffee offered in sizes of 8/12/16oz, and a more speciality-orientated right-hand side with cortados and flat whites.

Porter also offers a range of made-to-order and pre-made sandwiches, plus other breakfast and lunch options. There’s the usual selection of beans and coffee equipment for sale, but, unusually, they’re joined by items you’re more like to find in a delicatessen or grocers: tinned tomatoes, sardines, cured meats, cheese and a select range of spirits were just some of the things I noticed.

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Infuse Coffee & Tea Bar, River North Point

A lovely Verve espresso in a classic white cup, pulled at Infuse Coffee & Tea Bar in River North Point, Chicago.Good coffee in offices is something of a rarity, the odd exception such as Store Street Espresso in Sheldon Square notwithstanding. Therefore imagine my surprise on turning up at my office for the week and discovering, in the lobby, not a run-off-the-mill coffee bar, but a genuine multi-roaster in the shape of the Infuse Coffee & Tea Bar. Best of all? The building’s open to the public, so anyone can walk in for some great coffee.

Infuse has a blend and decaf on espresso, plus two options on bulk-brew, all from different roasters from all over the country. Cold brew and iced tea are on tap, plus there’s normal tea, matcha and chai lattes and a range of food from local suppliers. Even better, if you are planning on staying for a bit, Infuse will serve your coffee in a proper cup, while the lobby has seating plus free Wifi.

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Brew Coffee Co

A lovely flat white from Brew Coffee Co, made with a Honduran single-origin, roasted by Clifton Coffee Co, and served in a glass.Brew Coffee Co is an ever-popular breakfast/brunch/lunch spot on Bristol’s Whiteladies Road, the southern-most outpost of a cluster that starts at the top with Tradewind Espresso and includes the Boston Tea Party, Bakesmiths and new arrival,  Coffee + Beer. That said, Brew has been there longer than most, seeing the likes of Joe’s Coffee come and go.

In my head, Brew is a brunch place that does excellent food, while serving good coffee from the local Clifton Coffee Roasters on espresso and guests on batch-brew. However, even that does it a disservice since the coffee is also excellent, lifting Brew into the category of a coffee destination in its own right, while the cakes are awesome too.

This is the fourth or fifth time that I’ve visited Brew and I’ve never been disappointed. On my previous trips I’ve never had the opportunity to write it up properly, which is a shame. I’ve either been in a hurry, or visited with friends, plus Brew is usually horrendously busy, which has ruled out taking photographs. However, on my most recent visit I ensured I had plenty of time and even popped back later in the afternoon for photos when things were quieter.

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200 Degrees, Leicester

The famous 200 Degrees neon fireplace, seen here in the back room of 200 Degrees Leicester200 Degrees, the Nottingham-based roaster, only opened its first café three years ago. Then, last year, came second Nottingham outlet, down by the station, plus, in the shape of the Birmingham 200 Degrees, its first coffee shop outside Nottingham. However, 200 Degrees was only getting started. In a flurry of activity, starting in December 2016, the Leeds branch opened, followed by Cardiff in April. And then there’s the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, the Leicester 200 Degrees, which opened a month before Cardiff.

If you’re familiar with 200 Degrees, then the Leicester branch will hold few surprises. Like those that have gone before it, 200 Degrees has taken an iconic building (in this case, a jewellers in an Art Deco building) and turned it into a lovely coffee shop. All the staples are there: a plush, well-appointed interior, plenty of wood and exposed brick, plus some amazing light-fittings.

The coffee also holds no surprises, with Brazilian Love Affair, the house espresso, 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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LMDC Espresso Bar

A lovely flat white with some impressive latte art in a classic blue cup from LMDC Espresso Bar in Harrogate.The LMDC Espresso Bar occupies the perfect spot for a coffee shop on Harrogate’s pedestrianised John Street. Nestled alongside numerous other bars, cafes and restaurants, LMDC doesn’t immediately stand out from the crowd, but it’s worth hunting down. There’s a pair of two-person tables outside on the pavement, one either side of the door, the whole area fenced off from the passing crowd. Stepping inside takes you into a small but lovely space, full of wooden furniture, with a stone-flagged floor and a low, wooden-beam ceiling, all of which adds to a cosy, welcoming atmosphere.

Talking of which, a warm welcome is assured from the owner, Leslie, and from Head Barista, Elliott. When it comes to coffee, LMDC Espresso serves Square Mile on espresso, using the ubiquitous Red Brick blend, while there’s a single-origin on offer through either V60 or Chemex, the options changing every couple of weeks. If you’re hungry, you can almost hear the counter groaning under the weight of the homemade cakes, while there are good breakfast and lunch options if you want something more savoury. These use locally-sourced ingredients wherever possible, prepared in the kitchen at the back, tucked away beyond the end of the counter.

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