On my recent trips, I’ve had the very good fortune of having some outstanding coffee shops right next to my hotels, but in this case, good fortune had nothing to do with it. I’d deliberately picked my hotel, buried in the warren of narrow streets west of the lake in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter (Hoàn Kiếm), because it was next to two of Bex (Double Skinny Macchiato) top two recommendations, Café RuNam and today’s Coffee Spot, Oriberry Coffee.
Oriberry is a Vietnamese social enterprise founded in 2010 to work closely with Vietnamese coffee and tea farmers, the ideals at the heart of the third-wave coffee movement. Oriberry is a chain of four coffee shops, which also double as retail outlets for its range of pottery, which is handmade in the nearby village of Bat Trang, and coffee, all of which is roasted in-house.
Oriberry serves two espresso blends, one, the 64 blend, a mix of Robusta and Arabica beans, the other, the 73 blend, pure Arabica. Both are available as espresso, while the 64 is also available as traditional Vietnamese Coffee, made with the cà phê phin cup-top filter. There’s also a range of Vietnamese tea and cakes.
Vietnam Coffee Republic is part of a small, but growing band of speciality coffee shops in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City. Like the nearby The Workshop Coffee and Shin Coffee, Vietnam Coffee Republic is a roaster as well as a coffee shop. There’s a second branch, the VCR Bar & Showroom, just around the corner, which is where all the roasting takes place.
On a narrow alley off a main street, Vietnam Coffee Republic is a modest-looking spot, with a small, sheltered outside seating area. However, it’s far bigger than it looks. Long and thin, there’s a seating area at the back and a second seating area upstairs at the front.
When it comes to the coffee, Vietnam Coffee Republic mostly serves blends, with four principle blends containing varying ratios of Robusta and Arabica beans, all grown in Vietnam. They are also available to buy, while if you are drinking in, they are available as espresso or filter, where they’re joined by a single-origin. Options include 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, all made at a second counter upstairs.
The Workshop Coffee, right in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon as was) was the one place that everyone said to visit. Tucked away on the top floor of an old building overlooking the main street of Đồng Khởi, it’s a glorious place, open to the roof, which soars high above and with windows on three of the four sides. Although the building’s old, inside it’s very modern, with a post-industrial look and feel, full of exposed brick, concrete floors, iron window-frames and with multiple lights hanging from the ceiling.
In this respect, it could be any coffee shop in any number of cities around the world, a warehouse loft in Brooklyn or Shoreditch for example, making it part of the global phenomenon of speciality coffee. This is followed through with the philosophy of its coffee, with direct trade at its heart, roasting high-quality single-origins in small batches on-site.
At the same time, it’s a very Vietnamese establishment, with an overwhelmingly local clientele and staff. The coffee too, is predominantly Vietnamese, the Workshop championing local Arabica growers, roasting them either as single-origins for filter, or blending them for espresso with other high quality beans from around the world.
A long time ago (at least, it feels that way) when I regularly visited London, I’d often wander past the Southbank Centre Food Market. Conveniently on the route from Waterloo Station to Hungerford Bridge (as I stubbornly still call the Golden Jubilee Bridges) it was made even better by the presence, at the foot of the stairs, of the Bean About Town coffee van, a lovely, old Citroen, run by the equally lovely, but not so old, Claire (who shares, by the way, her nationality with the van, both being French). It was one of the first places I wrote about on the Coffee Spot.
However, things change, I ceased to be such a regular visitor, and I didn’t notice when the van disappeared from the bottom of the stairs. Then, last Sunday, with an hour to spare, I decided to wander out of Waterloo and have a nose around the market, whereupon I stumbled upon a big sign saying “Coffee” at the far end of the market.
That’s new, I thought to myself. Only it wasn’t. It was the old Citroen van, with Claire still there, pulling shots. “What’s going on?” you might well ask. What’s going on indeed!
Caravan is a rather successful chain of three coffee shop/restaurants, with a significant in-house roastery, supplying coffee shops all around the country with a variety of blends and single-origins. However, this is where it all started back in 2010 on the corner of London’s Exmouth Market. This is the original Caravan, which is still going strong, coffee shop by day, restaurant by night, serving excellent coffee and food throughout the day. Unlike others of its ilk, such as Notes and Grind, both of which now roast their own coffee, Caravan was a roaster from the start and, indeed, the original roaster is still down in the basement at Exmouth Market.
Caravan sits on a sunny, south-facing corner, windows on two sides, outside seating spilling out on Exmouth Market itself. Inside, coffee excellence is taken as standard, with a blend and single-origin on espresso, two more on pour-over and a third on batch-brew. However, Caravan is also about food, with table service to match. There’s an excellent, extensive breakfast menu until 11.30, with an all-day menu of small/large plates from noon. At weekends, brunch takes over from 10 until four. There’s also beer, cider, cocktails, spirits and a massive wine list.
Hoxton North started life in October 2013 on Parliament Street in Harrogate. I did try to visit back in 2014, when I was in Harrogate to see the likes of Bean & Bud, but I foolishly came on a Monday and, back then, Parliament Street had Mondays off. By the time I returned to Harrogate at the end of last year, there were two Hoxton Norths with this, the second branch, having opened in October 2016, just around the corner on Royal Parade. For a while the two branches operated in tandem, but in March this year, the original on Parliament Street closed, leaving Royal Parade as Hoxton North’s sole outpost for now.
In comparison to Parliament Street, where the focus was firmly on the coffee, Royal Parade has spread its wings a little, offering extensive breakfast and brunch menus, plus wine and beer in the evenings. The two spaces are very different as well, Royal Parade offering a larger, bright, open space, lacking Parliament Street’s cosy little nooks and crannies. When it comes to the coffee, there’s a house-espresso blend (Resolute during my visit), with decaf on the second grinder (a San Fermin from Colombia), both from Cornwall’s Origin.
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!
When I ran into Jamie, owner of Luckie Beans, at the Glasgow Coffee Festival, I learnt all about the coffee cart which had opened, at rather short notice, the previous summer. Invited in by the management at Glasgow Queen Street Station, Jamie had all of two weeks to set everything up, including sourcing the cart and all the equipment.
The result is quite impressive and a welcome addition to the station. Although there are plenty of options nearby in Glasgow city centre, there’s nothing quite like having speciality coffee on the station concourse, especially if you’re waiting for a train.
The Luckie Beans cart serves a blend and single-origin on espresso, with the option to buy the beans. There are also various sweet treats and savoury offerings, including porridge and sandwiches. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a small seating area, perfect if you have a few minutes to spare.
The Local Coffee Stand was a chance discovery in Tokyo, conveniently located halfway along my walk from my hotel in Shibuya and the office in Minamiaoyama. I passed it on the second day, when the A-board caught my eye, and the following day, I popped in for a cappuccino to take to the office with me. Of all the places I visited in Tokyo, it perhaps reminded me the most of a western, third-wave coffee establishment in layout as well as look and feel. It also kept what I call “western hours”, opening at 8am, whereas a lot of more traditional Japanese coffee shops don’t open until 10 o’clock or even noon.
The Local was set up by the people behind Good Coffee, an online resource for finding good coffee in Tokyo. The coffee shop, which showcases roasters from around Japan, is on the ground floor, while the floor above is used by Good Coffee as its training centre and coffee academy. The Local’s not a huge spot, with space for maybe a dozen people in the seating area at the back, with three more at the counter. There’s espresso, bulk-brew and pour-over, plus cake for those who are hungry.
So far in covering Tokyo’s Coffee Spots, I’ve written about Maruyama Coffee, a modern take on a traditional Japanese, service-oriented coffee shop and Kaido Books & Coffee, which any aficionado of western, third-wave coffee shops would instantly recognise. For today’s Coffee Spot, however, I wanted to write about Café de L’Ambre, a traditional Japanese kissaten.
This is a very different beast, more akin to a bar than a coffee shop. In the case of L’Ambre, all the coffee is roasted on-site on a pair of small roasters at the front of the store, while coffee is made and consumed at the back, in a long, low, smoky room with a counter/bar on the left and a handful of tables on the right.
If you can, sit at the counter, the further along the better, where you can watch your coffee being prepared for you using a linen filter. This is really old-school: no scales, timers or temperature-controlled kettles. It’s coffee as a performance and although the end result might not please everybody, it’s an experience I would recommend trying. Be warned, though, L’Ambre allows smoking and it’s pot-luck whether you end up sat next to someone lighting up a cigarette.