In keeping with the best Edinburgh coffee shop traditions, you’ll find Cairngorm Coffee in a basement, occupying a pair of joined spaces under a row of houses on the steeply-sloping Frederick Street. This is one of two branches, the other, on Melville Place, having opened in April 2015. This, however, is the original Cairngorm Coffee, having first opened its doors in March 2014, which means that it celebrates its fifth birthday this month.
Cairngorm Coffee started life as a multi-roaster, showing-casing coffee from across Europe. However, in April 2018, Cairngorm started roasting its own coffee. For now, the roastery is based in the family-owned café in Kingussie, just off the A9 in the heart of the Cairngorm mountains, but there are plans to move it to Edinburgh.
The coffee operation at Frederick Street is fairly simple, with a single-origin on espresso and another on batch-brew, although you’ll find a wider range at Melville Place. The coffee options change on a monthly basis and are served from a concise drinks menu, where they’re joined by an equally concise tea selection. If you’re hungry, there’s a short breakfast/lunch menu, heavily biased towards sandwiches and toast, plus a selection of cakes and pastries.
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…
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.
Verve Coffee Roasters started life in Santa Cruz, California, before spreading north to San Francisco, south to Los Angeles and then across the Pacific to Japan, with two branches in Tokyo and another in Kamakura. I first came across Verve as a roaster in Café Plume (now Paquebot Mont-Royal) in Montréal, before visiting Verve’s flagship branch on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. The original Tokyo branch is in Shinjuku, a loud, busy place which I briefly visited in July. The second branch, subject of today’s Coffee Spot, opened in April this year. A much more relaxed basement affair under the Rag & Bone Store in Omotesando, I visited twice, first in July, and again on my return in October.
Although a basement, it’s a fairly bright spot. There’s space for a counter down one side, with seating opposite, plus a small seating area at the back. There’s the usual Verve offering, with a blend and daily single-origin on espresso, plus multiple single-origins on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. All the coffee, which is roasted in Santa Cruz and air-freighted over, is available to buy in retail bags. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of waffles, all made to order.
Café Myriade, as well as being one of Montréal’s first speciality coffee shops, was one of my first coffee experiences in Montréal. When I visited in 2013, there was just one Myriade, which opened in 2008. Now there are three: the original, this one (Dominion Square) and a third in Saint Denis (formerly Le Couteau – The Knife). Dominion Square is by far the smallest of the three, tucked away in the basement of the Club Monaco clothing store.
It’s also fair to say that as a result it’s one of the most elegant speciality coffee shops I’ve been in, with the distinct European café feel: marble-topped tables, tiled floor and gorgeous scrollwork behind the counter. At the same time, there’s the core Myriade offering: espresso and batch-brew from Vancouver’s 49th Parallel, a small selection of pastries and a Kees van der Westen espresso machine (in this case, a gorgeous Spirit).
If you haven’t worked it out already, I’m in America, the Midwest to be precise, taking a long road trip that began in Chicago, with me working my way up the west coast of Lake Michigan, stopping at Kickapoo Coffee in Milwaukee. Today’s Coffee Spot is from Door County, the peninsular that sticks out into the lake north/east of Green Bay. I went there to enjoy the countryside and the lake views, but much like Flagstaff earlier in the year, I found great coffee as well, this time in the shape of Discourse Coffee, which subtitles itself “a liquid workshop”.
Run by the friendly and enthusiastic Ryan since July 2017, Discourse will take you on a journey through coffee. As well as offering a standard(ish) espresso-based menu from the single-group Slayer on the counter, there’s batch-brew and pour-over using the innovative Phoenix 70 dripper from Saint Anthony Industries. However, the fun’s only just starting, since Discourse offers a regularly-changing cast of latte-based drinks with some very interesting flavour combinations. All this is served in a lovely, cosy, basement-like space that you really have to seek out, so the only people who are there are those who really want to be.
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.
My first taste of Nozy’s coffee was at the lovely Nem Coffee & Espresso during my first visit to Tokyo in April 2017. I also walked past The Roastery, on Tokyo’s famous Cat Street, while taking a circuitous route back from the office, but I didn’t have time to stop. However, The Roastery was high on my must-visit list on my return, so a week ago today, I headed out early to beat the crowds, making a bee-line for The Roastery.
With the odd exception (Blue Bottle Coffee in Aoyama for example) the speciality coffee shops I’ve visited in Japan have been small. The Roastery bucks that trend, occupying a large space set back from the street, with a large outside seating area and a similarly-sized interior which doubles as a roastery, producing all Nozy’s coffee.
The coffee offering is just as big and impressive. There are no blends, just two single-origins for the limited espresso menu and another eight on pour-over, while you can buy all the beans to take home in retail bags of various sizes. There’s a small range of sweet and savoury snacks, plus perhaps the biggest draw of all in summer: soft-serve ice cream.
Japan has a wide, varied coffee culture stretching back to, I believe, the inter-war years. Although Japan has moved with the times, accepting and adapting modern trends in coffee, such as lighter roasting, the old traditions live on. On my first visit in 2017, I wrote about Café de L’Ambre, a traditional Japanese kissaten. I also visited Chatei Hatou (once I’d found it!) but didn’t have a chance to write it up. Since it’s just around the corner from my hotel, it was another place I made a beeline for on my return to Tokyo this week.
The traditional Japanese kissaten is more akin to a bar than a modern coffee shop. Both Chatei Hatou and Café de L’Ambre are long, low, windowless buildings where patrons are still allowed to smoke (although on both my visits Chatei Hatou wasn’t too smoky, perhaps due to the air-conditioning). Only serving pour-over coffee, the best seats are at the counter, where you can watch the coffee being made on a near-continuous basis. Alternatively, there are a number of tables, more cosy two-person ones and some larger, ten-person ones, in the relatively spacious interior. Finally, there’s an impressive range of cakes to tempt you.
Lundenwic is one of those places that I’ve been meaning to visit ever since it opened. Back in 2015… In my defence, I’ve been a couple of times, but each time it’s been so busy that it’s been impossible to photograph, so I quietly left, telling myself I’d be back another day. That day eventually came one rainy Saturday evening in May when all the sensible people had gone home…
Located in the heart of the London’s theatre-land, right on Aldwych, at the foot Drury Lane, Lundenwic brings speciality coffee to a very mainstream setting. The shop itself is narrow and weirdly-shaped, with not one, but two (sort of) basements, exactly the sort of place I revel in. I must admonish my previous self for not going back sooner.
When it comes to coffee, Lundenwic keeps things simple but classy. Assembly’s seasonal espresso (currently a washed Colombian) is joined by Square Mile’s seasonal decaf (currently a blend of 80% Colombian and 20% Kenyan), while Assembly and Square Mile take it in turns on the batch-brew filter, the coffee changing roughly every week. A similar approach is taken with the food, a concise all-day brunch menu joined by soup at lunchtime.