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.
Four Barrel Coffee, founded in 2008, is one of the big names of San Francisco speciality coffee. Now a chain of three shops (one of which is a bakery) as well as a roaster, this branch, in the Mission, is the original. It was also, for a while, the main roastery as well. These days, roasting takes place at a dedicated facility in Oakland, but the old roaster is still there at the back of the store. In fact, the space is neatly split in two, with the coffee shop in the front, and the old roastery, now used for storage, training and cuppings, at the back.
Four Barrel is unusual in that it has two counters. The main one is in the middle of the store, offering the Friendo Blendo seasonal house-blend on espresso, along with decaf, plus a rapidly-changing single-origin on bulk-brew. There is also a wide selection of cake on offer if you are hungry. Alternatively, to the left of the door, is the “slow bar”. This offers five single-origins on pour-over and another on espresso. The slow bar has limited hours, only opening from eight until three in the week and until six at the weekends.
The first thing to say about Sightglass (which practically everyone recommended that I visit) is that it’s huge! It might not be as big as say, Caravan, King’s Cross, but it’s getting there. This is Sightglass HQ, which is where it all started back in 2009. It houses the roastery, coffee bar and the company’s training room and offices. What’s amazing, from a UK perspective, is that other than the roastery and offices, which occupy less than half the space, all Sightglass does is serve coffee, backed up with a few pastries. There’s no food service here, something which I’d find unimaginable in a similar-sized (or indeed much smaller) operation in the UK.
This does mean that the focus is firmly on the coffee, however, which is all roasted on-site. There are two counters: the main one, downstairs, serves the Owl’s Howl espresso blend, with three single-origin filters, one on batch-brew and two on V60, all three changing daily. The smaller counter, which is upstairs at the back of the mezzanine, opens at 11 o’clock and serves two single-origin espressos, plus the Blueboon filter blend on V60. The two single-origins, a Kenyan & a Honduran, change on a seasonal basis.
Case Study Coffee Roasters is the first coffee shop I visited in Portland. Located in the heart of downtown, on the intersection of SW 10th Avenue/Yamhill Street, it is one three branches of this local chain, which roasts all its own coffee in a separate roastery.
The downtown branch is glorious. Rectangular in shape, there’s an amazing, copper-topped island counter and floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides, the natural light supplemented by multiple, interesting light-fittings for the odd gloomy day. The seating follows the windows, with the trees lining the streets providing plenty of shade, plus you can sit at the counter, or right at the back whether there are four more tables. The right-hand wall is taken up by a large set of retail shelves.
The focus, of course, is firmly on the coffee, all roasted in-house. There is a choice of the house-blend on espresso, joined by a single-origin and decaf. For filter, there’s the obligatory bulk brew, plus a choice of four single-origins through the Kalita Wave filter, which you can watch being made. Finally, Case Study has cold brew, made on the counter using some impressive kit that could have come straight out of a chemistry lab.
I visited Dwelltime in Cambridge (Massachusetts, not UK) on my coast-to-coast adventure in June last year and, since I’m now back in Boston, I thought it was high-time I published it! However, since my original visit, Dwelltime has renamed itself barismo 364 to better reflect its ownership (although I quite liked the name Dwelltime).
Dwell-barismo-364-time (henceforth barismo 364) opened in 2012 as the flagship coffee shop for local roaster barismo. It incorporates a full kitchen at the back of the store, where all the food is prepared and all the cakes, cookies, etc are baked. It also has a lovely island counter, which was all part of the fit-out when barismo took over the disused Hubley auction house on Broadway.
Barismo offers two options (during my visit, a blend and a single-origin) plus decaf on espresso, while there’s also a full filter-bar, offering a pair of single-origins through the V60. Unusually for an American coffee shop, there’s no bulk-brew filter (something it shares with Render Coffee). If you’re hungry, there’s an extensive lunch menu and a range of cakes, cookies and pastries. At weekends, there’s also a full brunch menu until 2.30 and a ban on laptops.
In a desperate attempt to publish all the Coffee Spots from my last trip to Philadelphia in March 2015 before I return there next week, I present today’s Coffee Spot, Square One, which started life as a roaster in Lancaster, PA. It still roasts all its coffee in Lancaster, in a purpose-built roastery and training space, having previously roasting on-site on its Duke Street café. I first came across Square One’s coffee in 2014 at Plenty in Rittenhouse and then, last year, I called into the first of its two Philadelphia branches which opened its doors on South 13th Street in 2013.
Square One is in good company, the area just south of City Hall turning into something of a go-to spot. Coffee-shop-cum-roaster Greenstreet Coffee Co is a few blocks away, as was Cafe Twelve until it closed on Monday. Just a few blocks more on the other side of Broad Street is another Philadelphia café/roaster, Elixr, while the aforementioned Plenty is nearby.
Square One occupies a fantastic spot, a large, open rectangle, with an island counter, and serves some excellent coffee. There’s a house-blend and single-origin on espresso and two more available through the Chemex, plus the obligatory bulk-brew.
Given that I’ve written about both Small Batch’s coffee and about places serving Small Batch, I thought it about time that I wrote about Small Batch itself. For those who don’t know, Small Batch is a well-established and well-respected roaster and coffee shop chain in Brighton and Hove, which I covered on one of my first assignments for Caffeine Magazine. In all, there are four Small Batch coffee shops in Brighton and Hove, with coffee stalls at both Brighton and Hove stations, and a roastery/café in Hove. Naturally, this being the Coffee Spot, I started at the end, not the beginning, visiting the newest Small Batch of all, the Norfolk Square branch.
On the busy Western Road, between Brighton and Hove, this might be the most beautiful of all the Small Batches. Located in an old bank branch, it is an elegant, bright, high-ceilinged space, enhanced by an island counter that subtly dominates the room. There’s a range of seating, including at the counter itself, where you can watch the espresso machine in action or marvel at the brew bar on the opposite side. You can also sit outside if you wish.
And, of course, there’s Small Batch’s excellent coffee.
A relative newcomer to Bath’s rapidly-expanding coffee scene, the Forum Coffee House had only been open for a month when I visited it in October as part of my Caffeine Magazine trip. In a city which can boast the coffee legend that is Colonna & Small’s as well as some outstanding physical spaces, any newcomer needs something special about it in order to carve out its own niche.
Part of The Forum, Bath’s largest convert venue and an old Art Deco cinema, the Coffee House takes its lead from its surroundings, being a beautifully-appointed and fairly unique space. Its island counter is the focus of the coffee house, while simultaneously dividing it into a series of smaller, more intimate spaces.
However, the Forum Coffee House doesn’t rest on its laurels, backing this up with a strong coffee-offering from Bristol’s Clifton Coffee Company. A concise espresso-based menu (offering the house espresso-blend and a decaf) is supplemented by the Forum’s signature, a choice of two single-origin beans through the Chemex. While I was there, the options were Indonesian or Brazilian.
There’s also a decent range of tea, bottled beers, wine and soft drinks, plus a small range of bread-based snacks and cake.