Lowdown Coffee

My pour-over of a Washed Kenyan from Morgon Coffee Roasters served at Lowdown Coffee in Edinburgh.With all the travelling I’ve been doing recently, it’s been increasingly hard for me to get around the UK like I once did. Even so, I was rather embarrassed to discover that it’s been three years since I last visited Edinburgh. Unsurprisingly, rather a lot has changed since my last visit, including plenty of new faces and a few changes at some well-known old faces.

Where to start? Well, let’s try Lowdown Coffee on George Street, right in the heart of Edinburgh, which opened in February 2016, just across the way from old favourite and Edinburgh stalwart, Wellington Coffee. Like Wellington, Lowdown Coffee follows the tried-and-tested Edinburgh tradition of locating your coffee shop in a basement, which gets a thumbs up from me.

However, that’s where the similarities end. Lowdown Coffee is on a mission to do things differently. For starters, there’s table service, a refreshing change from queuing at the counter. The coffee, which changes weekly, is drawn from some of the best roasters across Europe, with one option on espresso and two on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. How about the daily food menu? Or the water, with different formulations for different beans? And that’s just for starters…

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Barista Speciality Coffee & Roasters

A lovely piccolo, made with a single-origin Ethiopian, roasted in-house and served at Barista Speciality Coffee & Roasters in Beijing.The Wudaoying Hutong in Beijing, northeast of the centre near the 2nd Ring Road, is a hot bed of speciality coffee. Home to last week’s Coffee Spot, Metal Hands Coffee Co, as well a second branch, Metal Hands White Space, which is a few doors down to the west, if you head a few doors east, you’ll come to today’s Coffee Spot, Barista Speciality Coffee & Roasters. And if you thought that Metal Hands and White Space were small, then Barista Speciality Coffee is even smaller, by some considerable margin!

Despite this, it still manages to offer a house-blend and single-origin on espresso, plus four single-origin pour-overs, all roasted in-house. There’s also cold brew, plus a choice of croissant, bagel or fruit cheesecake. All of this is served in a long, thin space with just enough room for the counter on the left and a small corridor on the right!

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Scarlett Green

Your Banana Needs You. One of the two deckchairs outside Scarlett Green in Soho.Regular readers will know that I’ve been following the rise of London-based/Aussie-inspired mini-chain Daisy Green ever since it opened a branch next to my office in Sheldon Square, Paddington. Since then, Daisy Green has grown rapid, first through its Beany Green coffee shops, and then through restaurants, such as Timmy Green in Victoria and Darcie & May Green, the narrow boats tied up outside Paddington Station.

Scarlett Green is the latest addition to the family, which now numbers nine coffee shops and restaurants. It follows in the footsteps of Timmy Green, offering full table service for food (breakfast, lunch and dinner), plus wine and cocktails, while still remaining true to its coffee roots, serving a house-blend from long-time partners, The Roasting Party.

Scarlett Green is the biggest yet, occupying the ground floor and basement of a tall, narrow building on Noel Street, in the heart of Soho. Open from 07:00 to midnight, it’s there for your morning coffee and a late-night cocktail, plus everything in between. The décor, as ever, is by the talented Shuby Art, another long-time partner and collaborator. As well as the usual bananas, you can also find a large, pink teddy bear enjoying Bondi Beach.

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The Coffee Dispensary

A lovely flat white, made with Extract's Strongman/woman seasonal espresso, and served in a classic black cup at The Coffee Dispensary in Cheltenham.Cheltenham’s come a long way, coffee-wise, since I first visited in 2013. On Monday, I wrote about The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, which has, along with Studio Coffee Roasters, been leading the way since 2014, although today’s Coffee Spot, The Coffee Dispensary, is not far behind, having opened just over three years ago in October 2015. Like The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, it’s right in the centre of town, on Regent Street, by the Regent Arcade.

There’s an impressive selection of coffee. Bristol’s Extract Coffee Roasters is the mainstay, supplying the house espresso (which changes every few months), while the weekly-changing guests provide multiple single-origins on both espresso and filter. The Coffee Dispensary wants nothing less than the best coffee from the best roasters: during my visit this included Bath’s Colonna Coffee and Round Hill Roastery plus Birmingham’s Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters. Filter coffee is usually available through V60, but the staff will also do Chemex, Aeropress or Kalita Wave, plus there’s batch-brew. All the coffee is available to buy in retail bags.

Alternatively, there are ten teas, six hot chocolates and five chai lattes. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of sandwiches, plus cakes for those with a sweet tooth.

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Metal Hands Coffee Co

The Metal Hands Coffee Co logo from the wall outside Metal Hands in Beijing.Metal Hands Coffee Co is a small Beijing roaster/coffee shop chain which started in July 2016 with this, the original. When I visited, exactly a year ago in December 2017, following a tip-off that morning from the barista at Soloist Coffee, it had already expanded to four coffee shops, all in a small area in the Andingmen Residential District, centred on Wudaoying Hutong, a narrow old-fashioned alley which is home to Metal Hands.

There’s not much to Metal Hands, just a simple store front, with the counter on the right, and seating on the left, plus a small seating area in an annex at the back. However, that doesn’t stop Metal Hands offering a standard espresso-based menu using a house-blend and four single-origins, available either as cold brew or through the V60. The espresso by the way, is pulled on an old-school lever machine after which the shop/chain is named.

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The Scandinavian Coffee Pod

My filter coffee in its carafe, a lovely ceramic bowl on the side, looking very arty under the light of a yellow table lamp at The Scandinavian Coffee Pod in Cheltenham.It’s been a very long time since I was in Cheltenham, with a visit well overdue, so when I got the chance to call in, I seized it with both hands. A lot has changed (and is still changing) in Cheltenham’s coffee scene, with today’s Coffee Spot, The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, leading the way. The Pod started life in September 2014, when it was, literally, just a cube, complete with espresso machine and roaster, around the corner from the current location.

The Scandinavian Coffee Pod moved into the Studios, a long, low single-storey building on Cheltenham’s Royal Well Place, 2½ years ago in 2016, the pod coming too. The original cube is now embedded into the front wall, which makes for an interesting architectural feature. Although bigger than it was, there’s still not that much space, the resulting coffee shop being best described as cosy, with a handful of tables and a pair of armchairs. That doesn’t stop The Scandinavian Coffee Pod from offering a house espresso from neighbours Studio Coffee Roasters, plus a choice of two pour-overs via the V60 (one from Studio, the other a guest). There are also small but tempting breakfast/lunch menus, plus plenty of cake.

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Bean & Wheat

The front of Bean & Wheat, a Coffee & Beer Shop on Old Street, London.Bean & Wheat is one of several London-based ventures by chef/restaurateur Adam Handling, who made his name by trying to eliminate waste in his establishments. Bean & Wheat started life in 2017 in Spitalfields Market, when it was a coffee shop and delicatessen, but moved to its current location on Old Street (literally backing onto The Frog Hoxton, one of Adam Handling’s restaurants) earlier this year, at the end of July. Originally the concept was coffee (bean) and bread (wheat), but it’s recently expanded its offering to include craft beer (also wheat, sort of).

The intersection of speciality coffee and craft beer is slowly growing, but with the exception of Bristol’s Coffee + Beer, I can’t think of another speciality coffee shop doing what Bean & Wheat is doing. Plus Bean & Wheat has gone one better, allowing you to drink the aforementioned beer on-site (Coffee + Beer only has an off-licence).

As well as the coffee and alcohol, Bean & Wheat also sells bread, plus there are breakfast and lunch menus, plus a selection of cakes. The coffee, by the way, is from Union Hand-roasted, with the old favourite, Bobolink, plus a guest as well as decaf on espresso.

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Lemana Coffee & Kitchen Update

The Lemana Coffee & Kitchen logo from the sign on the wall at the end of Madeira Mews in Lymington.I first visited Lemana Café in Lymington in November 2013. Since then, it’s been a semi-regular feature of my annual trips to the area and I’ve watched it grow with interest. There was a rebrand in 2015, when it became Lemana Coffee & Kitchen, switching over to serve Has Bean coffee, but still retaining its roots as a lovely, friendly, family-run café with great food. Over the years I’ve also kept touch with various family members on social media, so it was something of a surprise when, in May this year, I learnt that Lemana had changed hands.

The good news is that Lemana Coffee & Kitchen had been taken over as a going concern, but would the new owner, Cathryn, want to change things? It was therefore with some trepidation that, last Friday, I ventured over to Lymington on my annual visit to see what had become of Lemana…

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Siop Shop

A lovely flat white in a simple, yellow mug at Siop Shop in Manchester.Tib Street, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter (itself replete with multiple speciality coffee shops) is a busy place. At one end, there’s the venerable North Tea Power, while if you progress northeast, you’ll soon reach newcomers, Just Between Friends Coffee, closely followed by the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Siop Shop, across the road from the recently-closed Ezra To Go.

Siop Shop is a relative newcomer itself, having been open for precisely one week when I was last in Manchester (for the 2017 Manchester Coffee Festival). As a result, it didn’t quite make my radar, but on my return this year, it was high on my list. For those that don’t know, Siop (pronounced “shop”) is Welsh for shop. Iwan, who owns Siop Shop along with his partner, Lucy, is Welsh, Siop Shop providing a small slice of Wales in Manchester, complete with bilingual signs. You can even say hello and order in Welsh if you like!

Siop Shop made its name through its awesome doughnuts, but there’s also full breakfast and lunch menus, plus cake and sandwiches. Local roaster, Dark Woods, provides a bespoke house-blend (Coffi Coffee) on espresso, while there’s a daily guest on espresso and another on V60.

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Surrey Hills Coffee, London Square

The interior of the new Surrey Hills Coffee shop at London Square.For the longest time, London Square has just been a large office complex that I walked past on Guildford’s London Road, opposite London Road Station and Guildford High School. Not anymore. While I was flying around the world and swanning off to Manchester and Rome, Surrey Hills Coffee was busy opening a new branch, to go with this year’s relocation to Jeffries Passage.

Not that you’d know from walking past on the street. The new Surrey Hills Coffee is in a container-style cabin in the car park, its back to the main entrance, facing the offices. It’s cosy looking, instantly reminding me of the Grindsmith Pod in Manchester, only with fewer windows. There are a couple of tables outside, which will come into their own during the warmer weather, while inside a pair of three-person bars provide the seating. When it comes to coffee, the Holmbury Hill blend is on espresso, plus a range of cakes, snacks and, at lunchtime, soup and sandwiches/toasties. Even better, although the customers are primarily take-away, there are proper cups!

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