My first experience of speciality coffee in Hong Kong was at the Causeway Bay branch of roaster/coffee shop chain, 18 Grams. Two days later, I found myself in Times Square (opposite Café Corridor) and decided to pop into the 18 Grams there. Although “pop in” might be over-stating things since it took me almost an hour to find it!
18 Grams’ Times Square branch is inside the City Super super market, which itself is in the basement of Times Square. Occupying a simple, triangular stand, with seating along two sides of the counter, 18 Grams only serves coffee, plus the usual retail selection of beans and coffee-related kit. There’s a more limited offering than at Causeway Bay, but that’s to be expected, with just espresso (a house-blend), several single-origins on V60 and cold-brew. What surprised me was the relaxed atmosphere, making it the ideal place to linger over your coffee.
That I found the Café Corridor was down to a tip-off from Andrea Burton. Even then, I walked along the street four times before I found it! In Causeway Bay, in the heart of Hong Kong, it’s opposite the gleaming towers and soaring halls of Times Square, hidden in plain sight in the manner of Newcastle’s much-missed Flat Caps Coffee on Ridley Place. The only indication that it’s there is the sign above the entrance, which, fittingly, is a long corridor leading you to the café in a basement-like structure at the rear of the building, complete with outdoor seating in an enclosed courtyard at the back.
Café Corridor has been going since 2001, a forerunner of Hong Kong’s growing speciality coffee scene and, like many such coffee shops, it has a western-inspired menu/coffee. It’s part of small chain of five co-owned independent coffee shops, which includes N1 Coffee & Co. Roasting is provided by its parent (which I’ll call Barista Academy), although each coffee shop has its own beans. In the case of Café Corridor, this includes a house-blend and five seasonal single-origins which can be had as an espresso or filter through V60/Syphon/Aeropress. Iced versions are also available.
Laynes Espresso, on New Station Street, has long been my go-to spot in Leeds, ever since my first visit in the summer of 2014, particularly if I was arriving/leaving by train at Leeds Station, which is literally around the corner. This is the original Laynes Espresso, one of the pioneers of speciality coffee in Leeds. It used to be a small, cosy spot, a few seats fighting the counter for space upstairs, while an equally cosy basement provided overspill seating or a refuge in the winter.
However, towards the end of 2016, Laynes had the opportunity to take over the adjacent space to the right of the original shop. Laynes knocked through both upstairs and down, creating a new coffee shop which is almost unrecognisable from the old one. Gone is the small, cosy spot, replaced by something three times the size, the upstairs transformed into a bright, spacious coffee shop and kitchen, while in the basement, the transformation has been equally striking.
The coffee is still from Square Mile, with Red Brick on espresso and a single-origin pour-over. However, with the extra space comes an expanded menu and an increased focus on food, including an awesome all-day breakfast/brunch menu.
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.
There’ve been a few openings in Glasgow since my last visit (for the previous Glasgow Coffee Festival, back in 2015), so when I returned for this year’s festival, I had lots of places to catch up on. Top of the list was Primal Roast, which opened in late 2015, and was the one place everyone said to visit. In the western part of the Glasgow’s compact city centre, it made the perfect kicking-off point for my one-day tour as I stopped by for breakfast.
Occupying a spacious basement on the north side of St Vincent Street, there’s a bright, sunny front section, with limited seating, and a large, cosy rear with multiple tables and sofas where you can curl up all day if you like.
The family-run Primal Roast is as much about food as it is coffee, with both reaching a similarly high standard. Local roasters, Dear Green Coffee, provide a bespoke house-blend on espresso, while there’s a continually-rotating cast of guests on filter through either V60 or Aeropress. If you’re hungry, there are full breakfast (until 11 on weekdays and all-day Saturday) and lunch menus, with extensive vegan options for both. There’s also a range of interesting cakes.
Sarutahiko Coffee is a small, but growing, coffee shop/roaster chain in Tokyo. This branch shares space with a bookshop and travel agent in HIS, a multi-level shop on a quiet street near my office, one of several excellent coffee options within a five minutes’ walk. It’s also another recommendation from the Commodities Connoisseur (although he visited the flagship Ebisu branch).
Sarutahiko roasts all its own coffee, a considerable selection of which is on sale at the Omotesandō branch. There is a variety of espresso-based drinks, either hot or over ice, while there’s a large range of single-origins (six) and blends (five) available as pour-over using the V60. Although there’s plenty of seating, the Omotesandō branch is rather unusual in that it only serves coffee in takeaway cups, so be sure to bring your own.
Sarutahiko has several neat features. For example, although it’s counter service, you are given a playing card when you order, with an identical playing card being put down on the counter with your coffee, so you know which one is yours. On the retail side, each coffee has a card with tasting and origin notes, with the card’s colour indicating the darkness of the roast. Genius!
25A Old Market is the younger sibling of No 12 Easton, and, like No 12, it has the virtue of using its address as its name. In this case, it’s on Bristol’s Old Market Street, east of the city centre and north of Temple Meads station, but within easy walking distance of both. As well as being a coffee shop of some note, the other thing it shares with No 12 is that it’s a deli and general provisions store.
Occupying a bright, uncluttered spot on the north side of Old Market Street, a relatively small street front belies the sizable interior. There’s limited seating upstairs with a communal table and two small bars, while downstairs, in a basement half open to the front window, is more seating in the shape of a couple of tables and a very comfortable-looking sofa.
The local Extract Coffee Roasters provide the house-espresso and a seasonal filter blend (available through the Clever Dripper) while regular guests make appearances on both espresso and filter. There’s also a wide range of (Extract) beans to buy. While it doesn’t have No 12’s extensive food menu, there are also decent breakfast, lunch and cake options if you’re hungry.
Nkora is a relatively recent addition to London’s speciality coffee scene, joining the ever-growing crowd in and around the coffee hub of Shoreditch. A cosy spot, it’s bigger than it looks. Although the upstairs is small, with just a window-bar and a few tables, there is also a small back yard and, even better, a basement! This opened a couple of months ago and has two pairs of armchairs, plus a large, communal table.
With a small breakfast/lunch menu and an interesting selection of cake, Nkora’s focus is firmly on the coffee. The main roaster is Union Hand-roasted, which supplies the house-espresso, a single-origin Xejuyu from Guatemala. This is joined on filter by two or three single-origins, usually from Union and a guest roaster. These are available through either the V60 or Aeropress.
That I visited Nkora is largely down to Alexandra (aka AKBoogie on social media) who suggested it and joined me for coffee. Alexandra is perhaps best known (by me, at least!) for her ambitious 365 London Cafés project. You can follow her adventures on twitter and Instagram as she visits a (London) café every day over the period of a year. I told you it was ambitious!
Grindsmith’s always has interesting spaces. The Pod is just that, a pod/container with a coffee shop inside. Deansgate is at front of an amazing old warehouse, effectively the house-café for the Central Working/Rise co-working space. Meanwhile Media City is a bright, light-filled spot with a cosy mezzanine above the counter/kitchen.
The latest Grindsmith is a joint-venture with Chop’d, the London-based salad-bar chain, now rapidly expanding with this, its first branch outside London. The two share the space upstairs on Cross Street: if it’s food you want, the Chop’d counter is to the left, while if it’s coffee, the smaller Grindsmith counter is tucked away to the right, by the stairs down to the basement, where you’ll find additional seating.
November 2017: Grindsmith has ended its joint-venture with Chop’d. The coffee bar is still there, but the coffee is now from London’s Notes.
Back in the summer of 2016, Joe of Newcastle’s Flat Caps Coffee, decided to launch a Kickstarter to fund a second coffee shop alongside the legendary basement on Ridley Place. Five months (and one successful Kickstarter) later and Flat Caps has not one, but two new coffee shops. Funny how these things work out… Flat Caps Carliol Square is the first of these, while the second, Flat Caps Campus North, is next door.
Eagle-eyed readers will spot something familiar about Flat Caps Carliol Square. Not long after the Kickstarter was successfully funded, the opportunity to take over Bunker Coffee & Kitchen presented itself. However, this isn’t just a re-badging of an existing operation: other than the physical space itself, Flat Caps has pretty much changed everything, creating a new coffee shop just as thoroughly as if a new build had been fitted out…
Those who know Flat Caps Ridley Place will at least find the coffee offering familiar: three coffees, each available as espresso or filter, changing on a regular basis from a limited cast of roasters. Added to that is a much-expanded food offering, taking advantage of the large kitchen space at Carliol Square, plus extended opening hours.