Coffee Island, St Martin’s Lane

An information card for a micro-lot from the Cerro de Jesus farm in Nicaragua, supplied by Coffee Island in St Martin's Lane.Coffee Island is, unusually for the Coffee Spot, a chain and an international one at that, which started on a Greek island in 1999 and now has over 300 shops throughout Greece, Cyprus and south-east Europe. However, its branch on St Martin’s Lane is (so far) the only UK one. Opening earlier this year with a considerable media push, I was away at the time and so missed all the fuss. I popped in later in the year and I liked what I saw…

A modest exterior hides a surprisingly-large coffee shop with plenty of seating and a mezzanine level at the back. I’d describe Coffee Island as coffee geeks meet the mainstream, so while there’s a house-blend, decaf and five single-origins, there’s also flavoured coffee, which is not something you normally associate with the speciality end of the market. There’s also a large retail section (beans and equipment), tea and food, the latter in the shape of salads, sandwiches and cake.

There’s an excellent range of options for the coffee including espresso, Greek coffee (Ibrik), bulk-brew or pour-over using the V60, Aeropress or Chemex (for one or two). If you want to compare coffee or methods side-by-side, it’s awesome!

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Nem Coffee & Espresso

A lovely shot of the house-blend at Nem Espresso & Coffee in Tokyo, served in a classic white cup.The delightful Nem Coffee & Espresso is definitely the hidden gem of Tokyo’s speciality coffee scene. Located south of the Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park, Nem is tucked away down a narrow, pedestrian alley, so much so that you think you’re walking into a residential neighbourhood to visit someone’s house, which is not as far from the truth as it seems. The coffee shop is on the ground floor of an old house, painstakingly renovated/converted by the owners, a married couple who live upstairs, Nem opening for business in May 2016. The result is a small, but delightful space, with windows front and back, with a very Japanese feel to the architecture, but a very western feel to the coffee shop itself.

Talking of coffee, Nem has a concise menu, drinks split between “black” and “with milk”. There’s a house-blend on espresso (from Switch Coffee) and two single-origins plus a decaf (from Nozy Coffee) on filter through the cafetiere. There’s also tea and hot chocolate, plus a small food menu, with a choice of two cakes. Small is definitely the name of the game at Nem, with all the food being cooked to order in a compact, open kitchen behind the counter.

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Society Café, Bristol

The main entrance to Society Cafe in Bristol, a pair of glass double-doors opening out onto Farr's Lane, with the counter directly ahead.I first came across Society in its home city of Bath, where I managed to visit the two branches in the order that they opened, a rarity for the Coffee Spot, starting with Kingsmead Square before moving onto The Corridor. However, I’ve safely broken that trend by skipping the third Society Café, in Oxford, instead visiting the fourth and most recent branch which opened this summer in Bristol.

You’ll find Society Café down by the harbour, on the corner of Narrow Quay and Farr’s Lane, right next to the youth hostel. It’s a lovely setting, with lots of outdoor seating on the quayside as well as down Farr’s Lane, while there is even more seating inside, spread over two large, spacious areas, one either side of a central counter.

The coffee is always of the highest order, with the house-espresso, which changes monthly, coming from Origin. This is joined by a guest single-origin which changes every couple of weeks. Meanwhile there’s bulk-brew filter and another option on Aeropress, both of which change every week or so. If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s a wide selection of tea, plus a dedicated smoothie-bar, as well as sandwiches and cake if you’re hungry.

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Vermillion Café

A lovely espresso at Vermillion Cafe in Kyoto, made using its bespoke house-blend and served in a classic cup.Vermillion is a chain of precisely two in Kyoto, with an espresso bar next to the Inari train station and, five minutes’ walk away, by a large pond at the foot of Mount Inariyama, is the Vermillion Café, subject of today’s Coffee Spot. I didn’t spend long enough in Kyoto, Japan’s old Imperial capital, nor did I get to many coffee shops, but with my visit to Vermillion, I definitely saved the best until last!

Vermillion Café has a small outside seating area at the front (northern) end, which catches the evening sun, while inside, it’s long and relatively wide, with a couple of large tables. However, the best part is at the back, where the south-facing wooden terrace overlooks the pond. Here you’ll find the best views and perhaps my favourite spot for coffee in the whole of Japan.

Vermillion serves coffee roasted by the local Weekenders Coffee, with a bespoke house-blend on espresso and a choice of a blend or single-origin on pour-over through the V60, all of which can be had hot or over ice. There’s also a limited range of tea, beer and soft drinks, plus, if you’re hungry, a small selection of sandwiches and cake.

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District, Ormeau Road

A single-origin Colombian espresso from Ballies in Belfast, served as the house-espresso in District, looking resplendent in its classic blue cup.Just up the road from Root & Branch, and a little further down from General Merchants, District is another addition to Belfast’s growing speciality coffee scene, adding to the small cluster of great places along Ormeau Road, each one offering something different. In the case of District, it’s excellent contemporary café food to go with locally-roasted coffee, all served in a bright spot set back a little from the road with plenty of seating both inside and out.

District is a new name to Belfast, opening at the end of 2016. The first of (so far) two, with the second opening on Stranmills Road a couple of months later, District uses local roaster, Bailies, with single-origins served on espresso and pour-over through the V60. The former is effectively the house espresso, while the latter changes regularly, occasional giving way to a guest roaster for variety. There’s also tea from local tea merchants, Suki Tea.

The other main draw is the excellent food, with lots of vegetarian and some vegan choices (something I occasionally found lacking in Belfast) on both the breakfast menu (served until 3 pm) and lunch menu (from noon). There are also sandwiches and an abundance of cake.

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Porter

A chalk outline of an old fashioned porter, case in hand, from the sign of Porter, in Madison.When it comes to railways, I have a romantic streak a mile wide. However, railway coffee and station coffee shops, with the notable exception of the likes of Coffee Affair, can sometimes be disappointing. Step forward Porter, a relatively new addition to Madison’s speciality coffee scene, located in the city’s old railway station. The (passenger) trains may have long gone, but Porter has recreated the atmosphere quite nicely, especially outside, where you can sit on the old platform.

Serving Counter Culture from North Carolina, Porter has the Hologram espresso blend, plus different single-origins on guest espresso, pour-over, bulk-brew (drip) and on tap (cold brew). The coffee menu comes in two parts, a more mass-market-based left-hand side with lattes and drip coffee offered in sizes of 8/12/16oz, and a more speciality-orientated right-hand side with cortados and flat whites.

Porter also offers a range of made-to-order and pre-made sandwiches, plus other breakfast and lunch options. There’s the usual selection of beans and coffee equipment for sale, but, unusually, they’re joined by items you’re more like to find in a delicatessen or grocers: tinned tomatoes, sardines, cured meats, cheese and a select range of spirits were just some of the things I noticed.

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Wormhole Coffee

A model of the Millenium Falcon hanging in Wormhole Coffee in Chicago.Wormhole Coffee is something of a Chicago institution, certainly in the Wicker Park neighbourhood which has been its home for six years, where it is joined by the likes of the (recently departed) Buzz Killer Espresso and relatively newcomer, La Colombe and Ipsento 606. Wormhole stands out because of its 1980s sci-fi décor, which includes plenty of Star Wars memorabilia (which I guess extends it back to the 1970s) as well as the pièce de résistance, a full-size “Back to the Future” DeLorean on a shelf at the back.

However, while some might be happy with this particular claim to fame, Wormhole does not rest on its laurels. Not just an iconic location, it also serves damn good coffee, roasted in-house by its roasting arm, Halfwit Coffee, which has been around for five years. There’s a pretty good range too, with a house-blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, joined by a selection of single-origin filters. This includes bulk-brew, Aeropress, V60, and Chemex, plus a guest roaster, also available through the V60. The single-origins on offer change every few days, while the guest roaster changes every month or so. There’s also a range of teas, plus cake if you are hungry.

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Johnson Public House

The front of Johnson Public House on East Johnson Street in Madison.Having recently celebrated its sixth birthday, Johnson Public House is something of a stalwart of Madison’s small, but growing, speciality coffee scene. Located just north-east of the Square, the spiritual and literal centre of Madison, it’s definitely worth the short stroll along the isthmus required to reach it.

Set on the ground floor of a three-storey, brick-built building dating from 1923, Johnson Public House (which, despite sounding like a pub to British ears, is definitely a coffee house) is a large, open space, with plenty of seating and a generous counter at the back. You can also sit outside by the (relatively) busy road at one of three large picnic tables.

Johnson Public House is a family-run business which started life a multi-roaster, with the likes of Intelligentsia as a mainstay. However, about a year ago, Johnson Public House set up a roasting arm, Kin-Kin, which now supplies the bulk of the coffee, although you will also find one or two guests in there as well. There are two options on espresso and four single-origins on pour-over, using V60, Chemex and cafetiere. If you are hungry, there’s a select breakfast and lunch menu, featuring sandwiches and the like, plus cake.

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Crosstown Doughnuts, Victoria

The Crosstown Doughnut logo from outside the coffee shop in Soho.Crosstown Doughnuts has been a staple of several London coffee shops, as well as being available direct from Crosstown at various London markets. Then, Crosstown opened its own coffee shop, in Soho. And then another. And another. And, earlier this year, the fourth opened, in the new Nova development north of Victoria Station.

If you know Crosstown Doughnuts, you know what to expect. If you don’t, you’re in for a treat. However, that’s not all. As well as doughnuts, there’s coffee, and not just any old coffee. Crosstown serves Caravan, the ubiquitous Market Blend in the main grinder with a seasonal guest, always a single-origin, and also from Caravan, in the second.

The Victoria branch is a pod, a rather space-age looking contraption with outdoor seating. Inside, there are two small corner bars, each with two stools. Not really designed for customers who linger, it’s actually a really neat spot.

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North Star Coffee Shop

Details from the sign on the door of North Star's Coffee Shop & General Store in Leeds Dock.North Star moved its roastery from the northern suburbs to the Leeds Dock development in the heart of Leeds last year. However, it wasn’t until this summer that it opened its new coffee shop in the space next door. A beautiful, high-ceilinged, glass-fronted spot, it’s the perfect showcase for North Star’s considerable output, with two single-origins on espresso and four on pour-over using the Kalita Wave and Marco Beverage Systems SP9.

If you are hungry, there are breakfast plates and bakes, plus lunches and, from 10am to 3pm on weekends, a concise brunch menu. This has four options, all vegetarian, with nut-free, vegan and gluten-free options available. There’s also an excellent selection of tasty-looking cakes, all baked fresh each day by Noisette, which does the food from the open kitchen behind the counter.

If that’s not enough, there’s also a range of loose-leaf tea from Storm and hot chocolate from Kokoa Collection. What’s more, North Star doubles as a general store, with a corner to the left of the door devoted to the likes of free-range eggs and sourdough loaves. As you’d expect, there’s a range of coffee-making kit for sale, along with bags (and boxes) of North Star’s coffee.

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