Lufkin Coffee

Detail from the top of the sign outside Lufkin Coffee.Cardiff’s speciality coffee scene has changed considerably since my last visit, not least with the arrival of Lufkin Coffee Roasters. Highly recommended by none other than Steve of Darkroom Espresso, Lufkin was naturally top of my list when it came to a return visit to the Welsh capital. Tucked away in the residential streets northwest of the city centre, it takes a little bit of finding, but you will be well rewarded. It’s also a great option if you are attending a cricket match at the nearby SWALEC stadium.

Lufkin opened its doors in September 2015, roasting all its coffee on a 1kg Topper, dedicated to serving pour-over. However, that quickly changed, and, with demand exceeding capacity, the Topper gave way to the 10kg Golden Roaster which you see behind the counter today. Lufkin also added espresso-based drinks to the menu.

Roasting once a week, Lufkin only roasts single-origins, mostly for use in-house, one on espresso and two or three roasted for filter, served using the Kalita Wave. The green beans are bought in small batches and once they’re gone, Lufkin moves onto the next one, although if a particular bean proves popular, it’s likely to make a return appearance.

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Root & Branch

The Root & Branch sign, pointing the way to good coffee on Belfast's Jameson Street.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.

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Exmouth Market Grind

The right-hand side of Exmouth Market Grind, looking out onto Exmouth Market, it's doors flung open in the warm, May weather.Exmouth Market Grind, which opened earlier this year, is another recent addition to the Grind empire, which started with Shoreditch Grind. Since then, Grind has grown and evolved, morphing from its roots as an espresso bar by day, and cocktail bar by night, to include roasting its own coffee and adding substantial breakfast and all-day menus at the likes of London Grind.

Exmouth Market Grind falls into this latter category, as much a restaurant as it is a coffee shop. In this, it’s in good company, sitting diagonally across from that Exmouth Market institution, Caravan. The breakfast menu contains all the usual favourites, such as smashed avocado, various eggs on toast, pancakes, French Toast and more the traditional full English breakfast (plus a vegetarian version). The all-day menu takes over after noon, with small plates, a variety of interesting mains and a selection of salads. And, of course, there’s coffee, with a seasonal house-blend plus a single-origin on espresso.

This is the brightest, most open of all the Grinds that I’ve been to, and also the quietest. If there’s one thing I’ve struggled with when it comes to Grind over the years, they can sometimes be too loud for me.

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200 Degrees, Leicester

The famous 200 Degrees neon fireplace, seen here in the back room of 200 Degrees Leicester200 Degrees, the Nottingham-based roaster, only opened its first café three years ago. Then, last year, came second Nottingham outlet, down by the station, plus, in the shape of the Birmingham 200 Degrees, its first coffee shop outside Nottingham. However, 200 Degrees was only getting started. In a flurry of activity, starting in December 2016, the Leeds branch opened, followed by Cardiff in April. And then there’s the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, the Leicester 200 Degrees, which opened a month before Cardiff.

If you’re familiar with 200 Degrees, then the Leicester branch will hold few surprises. Like those that have gone before it, 200 Degrees has taken an iconic building (in this case, a jewellers in an Art Deco building) and turned it into a lovely coffee shop. All the staples are there: a plush, well-appointed interior, plenty of wood and exposed brick, plus some amazing light-fittings.

The coffee also holds no surprises, with Brazilian Love Affair, the house espresso, joined by the interestingly-named Mellowship Slinky Decaf and a single-origin guest espresso, plus another single-origin on filter, all roasted in-house. There’s cold-brew on tap, plus the usual food options, including breakfast and lunch sandwiches, salads and bucket-loads of cake.

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Treves & Hyde

A lovely espresso, pulled on Treves & Hyde's Mavam Espresso machine using Volcano Coffee Works' Full Steam espresso.On the edge of Whitechapel, a stone’s throw from Aldgate and Aldgate East tube stations, stands Treves & Hyde, simultaneously a coffee shop, restaurant and bar, all tucked underneath the Leman Locke apartment hotel. I always thought that the coffee shop part of Treves & Hyde was in a basement, so I rather surprised to find it on the ground floor, with the restaurant on the first floor. I couldn’t tell whether I was disappointed, because I really like basements, or pleasantly surprised, since it’s such a lovely space. Probably both, in equal measure.

However, the real draw (for me, at least) is that Treves & Hyde has the UK’s first Mavam espresso machine (there’s now a second at Tab x Tab in Westbourne Grove). One of the new breed of modular espresso systems, the Mavam’s bulk is hidden, tucked away below the counter, leaving only the group heads and steam wands to rise gracefully from the counter top. This leaves an open, uncluttered counter, in keeping with the coffee shop’s dual purpose of serving beer, wine and cocktails alongside the coffee. For those less geeked-out than me, Treves & Hyde serves Volcano Coffee Works’ Full Steam espresso, along with a decaf from Old Spike Roastery, plus a single-origin on bulk-brew.

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St Martin’s

A lovely flat white made with the Friday Street Blend at St Martin's in Leicester.Given its size, Leicester is not blessed with many speciality coffee shops, but those that it has are large by industry standards. Chief amongst these is the venerable St Martin’s, tucked away in the delightful St Martin’s Square, after which it was named. Talking of which, it goes by many names. Having started life as St Martin’s Tea & Coffee Merchants, it’s also known as St Martin’s Coffee Roasters and, three evenings a week (Thursday to Saturday), Crafty, which is when it turns itself into a burger restaurant.

St Marin’s was started by husband & wife team, Andy & Ellie, and recently underwent a major refurbishment when the roasting operation moved out to a dedicated facility about 10 minutes’ walk away. Spread over two spacious floors, there’s plenty of seating both upstairs and down, with a mix of tables big and small, plus the occasional window-bar, sofa and comfy chair. Add to that a large outdoor seating area and you’re spoiled for choice.

St Martin’s has a blend on espresso and a regularly-rotating single-origin batch-brew, all roasted in-house. There’s a wide selection of tea, plus decent breakfast and lunch menus, everything being prepared in the kitchen next to the counter.

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LMDC Espresso Bar

A lovely flat white with some impressive latte art in a classic blue cup from LMDC Espresso Bar in Harrogate.The LMDC Espresso Bar occupies the perfect spot for a coffee shop on Harrogate’s pedestrianised John Street. Nestled alongside numerous other bars, cafes and restaurants, LMDC doesn’t immediately stand out from the crowd, but it’s worth hunting down. There’s a pair of two-person tables outside on the pavement, one either side of the door, the whole area fenced off from the passing crowd. Stepping inside takes you into a small but lovely space, full of wooden furniture, with a stone-flagged floor and a low, wooden-beam ceiling, all of which adds to a cosy, welcoming atmosphere.

Talking of which, a warm welcome is assured from the owner, Leslie, and from Head Barista, Elliott. When it comes to coffee, LMDC Espresso serves Square Mile on espresso, using the ubiquitous Red Brick blend, while there’s a single-origin on offer through either V60 or Chemex, the options changing every couple of weeks. If you’re hungry, you can almost hear the counter groaning under the weight of the homemade cakes, while there are good breakfast and lunch options if you want something more savoury. These use locally-sourced ingredients wherever possible, prepared in the kitchen at the back, tucked away beyond the end of the counter.

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5th Element Coffee

An espresso, plus a glass of sparkling water, beautifully presented at 5th Element Coffee in Madison.I popped over to Madison for a week of visiting friends, not necessarily expecting to find great coffee. However, serendipity had other ideas. Rather than hang out in my friend’s house while she was at work, I decided to come into the office with her and then find a coffee shop for the day. And it just so happens that two blocks from the office is the totally awesome 5th Element Coffee.

5th Element was established in 2015 by Alejandro Mendez, the 2011 World Barista Champion, along with Todd Allbaugh, who I was fortunate enough to meet. Serving only single-origin coffee, 5th Element’s main claim to fame is its close ties with coffee farmers in El Salvador, where Alejandro sources and roasts the coffee at 4 Monkeys Coffee Roasters. The coffee is then flown over to Madison every couple of weeks.

5th Element occupies a corner unit on the north side of University Avenue, west of downtown Madison. A large, open, uncluttered space, there’s plenty of seating at numerous communal tables at the back, plus a small outdoor seating area set back from the road to the right. If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of panini, waffles and cakes.

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Buzz Killer Espresso

The reflection of a light-bulb in my cup of coffee at Buzz Killer Espresso, Chicago.I feel a little bad about taking so long to write up Buzz Killer Espresso, since it was the first place I visited in Chicago when I was there last October as part of my around the world trip. However, given that I’m sort of back in Chicago (I’m actually in Madison all week), it seems the perfect opportunity to rectify this.

Buzz Killer is just off Milwaukee Avenue to the northwest of Chicago’s centre, in the area known as Wicker Park, one of the longer-standing members of a cluster of great coffee shops which includes Ipsento 606, La Colombe and Wormhole Coffee. Buzz Killer roasts all its own coffee, with a house-blend on espresso, plus a blend and a three seasonal single-origins on V60. There’s also decaf, while the bulk-brewer, that staple of the American coffee shop, is mercifully absent.

Buzz Killer occupies an interesting spot, offering a small, sheltered outside seating area and two contrasting floors. Downstairs (which is ironically up a flight of stairs from the street) is full of little tables, tucked away in corners, while upstairs is bright and open, filled with light and with a simple row of tables, plus a large, communal table.

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Mia Coffee

The sign for the new Mia Coffee roastery and cafe in Hoi An, two doors down from the original!Mia Coffee is in Hội An’s French Quarter, east of the old town, another recommendation from the tag team of Bex (Double Skinny Macchiato) and Simon (Fancy A Cuppa). Set back a decent way from the road, Mia Coffee occupies a low, single-storey building with a small, recessed terrace. Inside, the single space is open to the A-framed roof. Like The Espresso Station, it doesn’t have air-conditioning, relying on fans to keep things cool. It also bucks the usual Vietnamese trend of staying open until late at night, closing at five o’clock.

Like most of the independent coffee shops I’ve come across in Vietnam, Mia Coffee is a roaster as well as a coffee shop, championing links with Vietnamese coffee growers and only serving Vietnamese coffee. Unlike some, the range on offer is limited, with a single Arabica blend for espresso and traditional cup-top Vietnamese filter, plus  another for use at home, both available in retail bags.

A word of warning: Mia Coffee’s done so well that it’s outgrown its current premises and is moving. If all goes well, come October, Mia Coffee will be across the road in a new, purpose-built café/roastery that was under construction during my visit.

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