Belfast has a varied speciality coffee scene, although one of the main trends I noticed during my visit in March was the tendency for coffee shops to occupy relatively large spaces, with an emphasis as much on food as on the coffee. However, firmly bucking that trend is today’s Coffee Spot, Root & Branch.
A roaster as well as espresso/brew bar just off the busy Ormeau Road, Root & Branch is tiny, with a covered courtyard that’s bigger than the shop and with more seating on the pavement than it has inside, where it’s standing-room only! However, don’t let that put you off, since there’s also a cosy upstairs, where there’s a pair of chairs and a few stools.
Despite the lack of room, Root & Branch has miraculously managed to fit in a 6kg Giesen coffee roaster in the corner, which turns out all the coffee, including the Saints & Scholars seasonal espresso blend. This is joined by a single-origin on the second grinder, while pour-over fans won’t be disappointed, with three more single-origins available through either Kalita Wave or Aeropress, depending on the particular bean. There’s also a small selection of delicious cake to go with your coffee.
Seesaw is a roastery and a chain of seven Shanghai coffee shops, although this one, Seesaw 433, is the original, having opened in 2012. Like most of the places I visited in Shanghai, it helps to know where it is, only more so in this case, since it’s at the back of a design centre, with no obvious signs on the street. If I hadn’t have known it was there, I would have missed it completely.
However, it would have been a shame to walk past since it’s a beautiful spot, with an enclosed courtyard, complete with glass roof. Perhaps because the courtyard is completely enclosed, it’s no smoking, but despite this, it can still get very hot and humid. If you want air-conditioning (or power outlets for your laptop), you’ll need to head inside the coffee shop proper, off to one side of the courtyard.
Seesaw roasts all its own coffee in a dedicated facility. There’s a seasonal house-blend and single-origin on espresso, with six or seven further single-origins on pour-over/cold brew, with all the typical origins represented. You can also buy the beans to take home with you, while if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of western-style cakes.
Sextant Coffee Roasters is a relatively new name in the San Francisco speciality coffee scene, but fits perfectly into the model established by the likes of Four Barrel Coffee and Sightglass Coffee. Like them, it’s a coffee shop/roaster, roasting on the premises on a vintage cast-iron roaster and occupying an old, warehouse-like building with high ceilings, skylights, exposed rafters and bare brick walls. It’s also roughly halfway between the two, sitting on Folsom Street between the Mission (Four Barrel) and SOMA (Sightglass), just a block from the Wrecking Ball roastery.
When it comes to coffee, Sextant specialises in Ethiopian coffees, the owner, Kinani Ahmed, hailing from Ethiopian. However, it also occasionally roasts some Central and South American coffees, aiming to roast light and extract the maximum sweetness from the coffee. The house-blend, Maiden Voyage, is always on espresso, while there are two single-origins on pour-over, using the Kalita Wave filter, and another on bulk-brew, all changing on a weekly-basis. If you fancy tea, then there’s a selection of loose-leaf teas brewed using the Silverton drippers (which I’ve only seen at La Colombe, where they were being used for coffee). If you’re hungry, there’s the usual range of pastries and cookies.
Allpress Espresso isn’t just a major roaster in the speciality coffee scene, with roasteries in New Zealand (where it all started in 1986) Australia, Japan and the UK. It also runs its own roastery/cafés, starting (in the UK) with the original roastery/coffee shop on Redchurch Street which opened in September 2010. Redchurch Street’s still going, but only as an espresso bar, the roastery moving out to its new site in Dalston in May 2015. Naturally, there had to be a café attached, which is the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, while the roastery was subject of its own Meet the Roaster feature back in January.
The new roastery/café is huge, with plenty of room for expansion. The main café, which includes a full kitchen, is downstairs on the left, with an even larger upstairs area at the front that opens at the weekend for brunch. There’s also some lovely outside seating options in a large garden in front of the roastery, which is set back from the road. If you’ve come for coffee, there are different options on espresso, pour-over and bulk-brew, while for food, there are full breakfast and lunch menus, as well as mixed plates, sandwiches and cakes.
Not long after I visited the original Hot Numbers on Cambridge’s Gwydir Street, back in September 2014, a new roastery/café was announced. Sadly it took me almost two years to get back to Cambridge to check it out, finally returning in June last year and again in September. This post is about the café-side of Hot Numbers, with the roastery appearing in its own Meet the Roaster feature in due course.
It’s all very different from Gwydir Street. Whereas that’s a large, open space, Trumpington Street is long and thin, with the counter at the front on the right and seating down either side. Looking at it, it’s a miracle that Hot Numbers managed to squeeze a roaster in, but it did, tucked in on the right-hand side at the back.
All the usual Hot Numbers coffee goodness is here, with two single-origins and a decaf available on espresso and two more on pour-over, plus a fifth on bulk-brew. There’s also lots of technology on show: a Sanremo Opera espresso machine, Mahlkönig Peak grinders & Marco Beverage Systems SP9s. These are backed up with a selection of loose-leaf tea, craft beer, wine, a small but decent food selection and some excellent cake choices.
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!
The Gentlemen Baristas opened at the end of 2014 and is favoured by such luminaries as Bex (Double Skinny Macchiato) and Daniel (Cups of Coffee London). So quite why it’s taken me over two years to visit the original coffee shop on Union Street is a mystery. And, frankly, the loss is all mine. From the street, a modest multi-paned square window next to a solitary door hides an unexpectedly large and glorious interior, consisting of several interlinked spaces spread over two floors, including a sheltered roof-garden and cosy back room. I can see the appeal already.
The Gentlemen Baristas projects a fun image, reminding me of Victoriana and, more specifically, Steampunk, but not in an in-your-face sort of way. If you’re just coming for a cup of coffee, don’t let it put you off. Talking of which, while The Gentlemen Baristas may be about fun, it’s very serious when it comes to the coffee, which is private-label roasted by Wogan Coffee in Bristol under The Gentlemen Baristas brand. There are several blends and single-origins available on espresso, with more single-origins on filter (Aeropress, V60, Kalita Wave and Chemex), where they’re joined by a guest roaster, currently Liverpool’s Neighbourhood Coffee.
Not that long ago, London’s Waterloo Station was a bit of a desert for good coffee. There was the Scooter Café on Lower Marsh, plus Bean About Town’s van on the South Bank, but that was about it. However, three short years later, things have changed. Bean About Town’s been joined by Beany Green and, in the summer, the Look Mum No Hands! Pop-up. Meanwhile, on Lower Marsh, first Four Corners popped up across from the Scooter Café and now, a few doors down, there’s Coleman Coffee Roasters.
Run by Jack Coleman, who’s been roasting since 2010, the coffee shop appeared two months ago. Occupying what was, for a long time, a book shop, it’s not a huge spot, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in character. Oh, and it has a wonderfully-secluded garden at the back.
Coleman Coffee Roasters blends elements of old-school style with a third-wave lightness of touch. There are two single-origins through the V60 and a single espresso blend. In an interesting twist, this can be pulled one of two ways, either as an espresso or an “old-fashioned” espresso. Jack also dishes up Oaties (think savoury pancakes) with various fillings.
I’d heard quite a lot of good things about Tradewind Espresso, both on twitter and on my previous visit to Bristol in September last year, when it had only just opened. Sadly there wasn’t time to visit, so on my next trip, I ensured that I’d set aside a chunk of my schedule to take the train out to Clifton Down and to allow for the short climb up the Whiteladies Road.
What I hadn’t appreciated is that Tradewind Espresso was opened by local roasters, Roasted Rituals, which is making a name for itself in and around Bristol, supplying the likes of The Crazy Fox and Playground Coffee. Like Tradewind, I’d also heard good things about Roasted Rituals, which only increased my curiosity.
I needn’t have worried. Everything I’d been told about Tradewind and Roasted Rituals was true, and then some. Tradewind occupies a beautiful location, with a gorgeous interior, table service, a great food menu (all cooked downstairs in the kitchen), lots of lovely cakes and a limited selection of beer/wine. As well as Roasted Rituals’ Highground seasonal blend and a single-origin on espresso, there’s a selection of single-origins through the V60, plus the option of a four-cup cafetiere.
I was very taken with Ox Coffee on my first trip to Philadelphia in 2014. Back then it hadn’t long since celebrated its first birthday, but I was struck by its clean, simple looks and its dedication to serving excellent coffee with no frills: Stumptown’s ubiquitous Hair Bender blend on espresso, with two single-origins on bulk-brew filter. The major drawback was Ox’s size: if you wanted to sit in, there was the bench on the street outside, a simple L-shaped bench in the window inside and a narrow bar against the wall opposite the counter, with three bar-stools.
I was, however, given a sneak preview of the back room, which was large enough for another L-shaped bench and a table, but which had yet to open. I was also told of plans to open the garden at the back of the shop, which was enough to entice me back on my first day in Philadelphia on my return in 2016 to see if the plans had come to fruition.