In the booming world of speciality coffee, where shops open faster than I can visit/write about them, it’s nice to come across one that’s older than the Coffee Spot itself. Durham’s Flat White Café, which opened in 2010, now boasts two, soon to be three, locations in the city. That I’ve not visited before now is entirely my loss, Durham being somewhere that I’ve often gone through on the train, admiring its steep hills and stunning views from the station, but never actually bothering to get off and explore. Again, entirely my loss.
The original Flat White Café is a pretty small spot, a long, low rectangular space with as much seating outside as in, with the outside seating perched on whatever flat surfaces can be found. Yes, Durham really is that hilly. Given the size, there’s a surprisingly large breakfast/lunch menu, an impressive array of cakes and an espresso-based menu with options from Newcastle’s Ouseburn Coffee Co and London’s Workshop. Perpetually busy, and with tables at a premium, if you need more space, the second branch, Flat White Kitchen, is just around the corner (although up a steep hill), with more space, a bigger menu and even longer queues!
This time last year, I was approaching the end of my Vietnamese trip and, reaching my final stop, Hanoi, I found a small but vibrant coffee scene. My hotel had been carefully chosen, in the heart of the old city and around the corner from both Oriberry Coffee and today’s Coffee Spot, RuNam Bistro, although back then it went by the name Càfê RuNam. A national chain, I had somehow missed its four branches in Ho Chi Minh City, including the one on the same street as Shin Coffee. The Hanoi branch came highly recommended though, by no higher authority than both Fancy A Cuppa? and Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato.
RuNam Bistro is a high-end coffee-and-food spot, offering table service and high-quality food from breakfast through lunch to dinner, all accompanied by Vietnamese-grown coffee, roasted in-house, and served in the most elegant surroundings of any coffee shop I visited on my trip. The coffee is available as either espresso or traditional Vietnamese cup-top filter (cà phê phin). There’s a dark-roasted house blend of Arabica and Robusta beans, plus some 100% Arabica beans, including decaf (a rarity in Vietnam), but you have to know to ask, otherwise you will get the house blend.
Like my waistline when I eat their cakes, the Daisy Green/Beany Green chain is rapidly expanding. From its roots as a brunch spot at the original Daisy Green, through its various Beany Green coffee shops, the chain now encompasses everything from cocktails and craft beer to sit-down restaurants, all of which are combined in the (relatively) new Darcie & May Green. Opening late last year, they are a pair of canal boats, moored stern-to-stern on Regent’s Canal , in the heart of my old stomping ground around Sheldon Square. You’ll find them outside the back entrance to Paddington Station (this is the one down the right-hand side of the station by the Hammersmith & City/Circle Line).
May Green is a coffee shop by day and craft beer/cocktail bar by night, while Darcie Green is a restaurant offering breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are joined by a continuous rooftop deck that runs the length of both boats. The coffee, as ever, is by fellow-Aussies, The Roasting Party, with a traditional espresso-based menu available in both May & Darcie Green, while May Green has a takeout window if you need a quick pick-me-up on the way from the station to the office.
Vietnam Coffee Republic is small chain (of two), part of a growing band of speciality coffee shops in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City. Like the nearby The Workshop Coffee and the various branches of Shin Coffee, Vietnam Coffee Republic is both roaster and coffee shop. There’s a large coffee shop just around the corner, while this, the VCR Bar & Showroom, is where all the roasting takes place, plus it’s a coffee shop in its own right.
Sheltering under the towering edifice of the Roseland Corp Hotel, the VCR Bar & Showroom is easily missed. There’s more seating outside, a lovely area set back from the road, than there is inside, a wide, shallow space with the roaster at one end behind the counter.
When it comes to coffee, which is all grown in Vietnam, the VCR Bar & Showroom has the same menu as its big sibling, serving four principle blends containing varying ratios of Robusta and Arabica beans, plus a single-origin. These are available as espresso or filter, with options including V60, Aeropress, cafetiere and syphon, plus traditional Vietnamese filter coffee. If you’re hungry, there’s a salad bar, with a range of tasty salads on offer.
When I first started working in Sheldon Square, behind Paddington Station, in the summer of 2013, there was nothing in the way of good coffee. Then came Beany Green in 2014, followed over the next couple of years by the likes of KuPP and Kioskafé. I stopped working there at the end of the 2015, at which point my office decided to upgrade its in-house café, bringing in Baxter Storey to run the operation, with coffee from Modern Standard. Not that I’m still bitter about that…
I didn’t quite escape Sheldon Square though, since my new job, which sees me travelling all over the world, also means I visit Sheldon Square about once a year, allowing me to keep tabs on the growing coffee scene, including the likes of Can Do Coffee and (the recently closed) Store Street Espresso. I was back there last week, when I found another crop of new places vying for my attention, including Darcie & May Green, twin barges tied up on the canal-side, another Can Do Coffee pitch and the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, The Meal Ticket, which was then into its third week of operation, serving Caravan on espresso and batch-brew…
I often choose my accommodation during my travels based on where the good coffee is. However, in the case of February’s visit to Flagstaff, I wasn’t necessarily expecting to find anything, so the fact that I woke up on my first morning, drew back the curtains in my motel room and found Matador Coffee Roasting Co. literally across the road, was entirely down to good fortune.
Matador is a roaster, coffee shop and drive through, with a second, larger branch (without the roastery) on Highway 89, on the other side of Flagstaff. Occupying an old garage, it’s a handy spot to pick up coffee if you’re driving through, while if you have time to stop, there’s limited seating inside (where, if you’re lucky, you can watch the roaster in operation), or you can sit outside at one of the picnic tables set well back from the road.
Be aware that this is more of a traditional American coffee shop, with a darker roast espresso blend and large drink sizes (12oz to 20oz), plus the ubiquitous bulk-brew options. However, there are also several lighter roasts available as pour-over, while if you’re hungry there’s a small range of breakfast bagels and cakes.
Rocket is a small chain of upmarket all-day brunch spots in Bangkok, serving some excellent coffee from the local Phil Coffee Co. This branch, Rocket S.12, is in the Silom district, east of the river, an interesting area of modern skyscrapers, interspersed with older, colonial-style buildings, where major, traffic-filled arteries, are interwoven with quiet, narrow lanes, all cut through by the concrete pillars of the elevated railway, making it a relatively easy destination to get to. I am, by the way, indebted to Lan Din Coffee for the heads-up about Rocket.
Rocket occupies a square space with a very modern/Nordic feel to it, all light woods and with a tiled floor. It shares the building with the restaurant next door (there is an open, connecting doorway at the back) but the two are separate businesses. There’s a very western-themed all-day brunch menu, backed up by a house-blend and decaf on espresso, plus five single-origins on pour-over, using a mixture of home-grown Thai coffee and various familiar origins from around the world. It’s also one of the few coffee shops that I came across in Thailand that takes credit cards, useful if it’s your last day and you’re short on cash!
What turned out to be one of my favourite spots during my recent trip to Chiang Mai was also one of the hardest to find, although it was well worth the effort. Cottontree Coffee Roasters epitomises much that is good about Chiang Mai’s (and, indeed, Thailand’s) growing speciality coffee scene. It’s relatively new, having been set up in 2015, catering to a local crowd, offering both Thai-grown and imported coffee, but with the light roasts beloved of the third wave. The name “Cottontree” by the way, is a play on the names of the owners, a lovely young couple, Fai (Cotton) and Ton (Tree).
The coffee shop, which doubles as the roastery, is perhaps the most beautiful of those I saw in Chiang Mai, which is saying something given how many beautiful coffee shops I found. With its high ceilings, and clean, uncluttered lines, it’s worth seeking out on aesthetic grounds alone. Cottontree roasts both Thai single-estate coffees and seasonal imports (currently Ethiopian and Kenyan single-origins). There are two options on espresso (one for espressos/ Americanos, the other for milk-based drinks) and two more on pour-over via V60, Chemex or Syphon. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of freshly-baked cakes and pastries.
Cherry Espresso Bar opened towards the end of 2016, although it’s been going since 2013, operating inside Stein’s Deli on Magazine Street. This branch, in the Uptown district, west of the Lower Garden District, is a bit of a trek, but well worth the effort. Occupying the ground floor of a lovely, sunny, south-facing building near the river, it’s very much a neighbourhood spot, but with multiple options on espresso and pour-over, plus full breakfast and lunch menus, served until three o’clock.
In many ways, I picked a poor time to visit. I arrived shortly before Cherry Espresso opened another branch in the Lower Garden District, midway between Uptown and the French Quarter, at the same time closing its original location. Cherry Espresso has also started roasting (as Cherry Coffee Roasters), with plans to move to its own coffee on espresso, but retaining a guest roaster on the second grinder.
For now, however, Portland’s Roseline provides the house espresso, while there is a rotating weekly guest single-origin on the second grinder, which was from Wisconsin’s Ruby Coffee Roasters during my visit. There are also two single-origins from Roseline available through the Chemex while Cherry’s own coffee is on the bulk-brewer.
When it comes to speciality coffee in Bangkok, one of the pioneers, and one of the few I’d heard about before I reached the city, was Gallery Drip Coffee, recommended by the ever-reliable Simon from Fancy a Cuppa? and featured in his excellent book, Crossing Paths, Crossing Borders. Located inside the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre, Gallery Drip Coffee only serves pour-over coffee (the clue is in the name), a style directly inspired by Japanese coffee culture.
It occupies a weirdly-shaped space inside the atrium of the Centre, with a long counter facing the door, which is where most of the action takes place. There are multiple single-origins on offer, seven while I was there, three of which were from Thailand and the rest from around the world, all roasted in-house. These are made using the V60, while there is also a house-blend of Thai coffee which is made using the Melitta filter and served with steamed milk to provide a latte substitute for those who like their coffee milky. Finally, if you want something sweet to go with your coffee, there’s a wide selection of cheesecakes and their ilk in a cooler cabinet at the end of the counter.