Cartel Coffee Lab, Downtown Phoenix

The Cartel Coffee Lab logo from the wooden A-board outside the store in downtown Phoenix.The contrast between Cartel Coffee Lab’s downtown location and its flagship roastery/coffee shop in Tempe, which I visited the day before, couldn’t be starker. While the former’s a large, sprawling set of interconnected spaces, downtown is in an alcove off the lobby of 1 North 1st Street. It’s a very pleasant alcove, and, as alcoves go, it’s spacious enough, but it’s an alcove nonetheless. You can sit at the window-bar, out in the (echo-chamber like) lobby, or on the street at another window-bar.

Despite any perceived shortcomings in size, Cartel doesn’t compromise on the coffee, with the same full offering that’s out in Tempe. There are six single-origins, including decaf, all are available through Aeropress, V60, Clever Dripper or Chemex. Meanwhile, one (plus decaf) is available as espresso. There’s also bulk-brew filter and cold brew, a small tea selection, plus cakes and prepared salads in the fridge opposite the counter.

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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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Seesaw 433

The Seesaw logo.Seesaw is a roastery and a chain of seven Shanghai coffee shops, although this one, Seesaw 433, is the original, having opened in 2012. Like most of the places I visited in Shanghai, it helps to know where it is, only more so in this case, since it’s at the back of a design centre, with no obvious signs on the street. If I hadn’t have known it was there, I would have missed it completely.

However, it would have been a shame to walk past since it’s a beautiful spot, with an enclosed courtyard, complete with glass roof. Perhaps because the courtyard is completely enclosed, it’s no smoking, but despite this, it can still get very hot and humid. If you want air-conditioning (or power outlets for your laptop), you’ll need to head inside the coffee shop proper, off to one side of the courtyard.

Seesaw roasts all its own coffee in a dedicated facility. There’s a seasonal house-blend and single-origin on espresso, with six or seven further single-origins on pour-over/cold brew, with all the typical origins represented. You can also buy the beans to take home with you, while if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of western-style cakes.

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Tab x Tab

A flat white served in a handmade pottery cup, made with a single-origin Brazilian roasted by Bocca and served in Tab x Tab in London, pulled on a Mavam espresso machine, made in Seattle.Tab x Tab is the latest (and much needed) addition to west London’s speciality coffee scene, opening at the end of July on Westbourne Grove, not far from Paddington Station. The brainchild of husband and wife team Mathew and Charmaine, it brings top quality coffee to an area of London that has, up until now, been sorely lacking it. It’s also got a Mavam espresso machine, which, I believe, is just the second one in the UK.

The shop’s set back from the busy street, so you can walk past it if you’re not paying attention. Long and thin, with the long side running along Westbourne Grove, it’s a bright, open space with plenty of outside seating, features it shares with Treves & Hyde, the home of the UK’s other Mavam.

When it comes to coffee, Tab x Tab has teamed up with local roaster, Ozone and Amsterdam roaster, Bocca, which I’d not come across before. There’s a seasonal house-blend on espresso, plus a single-origin guest, joined by another single-origin on bulk-brew. Currently a selection of pastries and light bites are available, but as the kitchen behind the counter gets up to speed, expect a full brunch menu to appear.

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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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The Coffee Academics, Wan Chai

One of the many interesting statements on the seats of the stools at the communal tables at the Wan Chai branch of The Coffee Academics in Hong Kong.The Coffee Academics is a roaster with a chain of coffee shops which, starting in Hong Kong, where there are multiple branches, has now spread to Shanghai and Singapore. It places itself firmly at the top end in terms of quality, with marketing to match. For example, I’ve never seen a coffee shop with such a fancy menu. Fortunately, the coffee (and the coffee shop) more than live up to the hype.

There’s a house-blend on espresso, with a range of standard drinks, most of which can also be had over ice. The real treat is the filter section where there’s a house-blend and four single-origins, all matched to a pair of preparation methods (Chemex and ice-drip for pour-over, Aeropress and Clever Dripper for immersion).

There’s an equally impressive range of food, which occupies most of the 16 page menu. This includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus various dessert options. In keeping with most of Hong Kong’s speciality coffee culture, the food is very western, with staples such as Eggs Benedict on offer. Consistent with the high-end setting, The Coffee Academics is table service only, so find a seat, peruse the menu and wait for someone to take your order.

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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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Established Coffee

Detail from the sign outside Established Coffee in Belfast, showing the letters ESTD.You can’t really talk about speciality coffee in Belfast without talking about Established Coffee, which opened in December 2013. Located at the northern edge of Belfast’s historic Cathedral Quarter, Established occupies a surprisingly modern building on the corner of Hill and Talbot Streets. It’s a large, bright, uncluttered space that, during my visit, was constantly busy.

Established serves coffee from Dublin’s 3FE and various guests on both espresso and filter. There’s usual a choice of three coffees, plus a decaf. One of these is always unique to Established, another is from a rotating cast of guests, while the third is only available as a batch-brew filter. Unusually, the other two are available as both filter and espresso.

As well as coffee, Established has an extensive food offering, all cooked in the kitchen behind the counter. This is based around an all-day breakfast menu of poached eggs on toast, with various sides, supplemented by a selection of seasonal plates. If that doesn’t appeal, there’s always the option of toast or granola, plus a soup of the day. Everything’s available until the kitchen closes at three o’clock. If that isn’t enough, there’s always an interesting selection of cake to be had.

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Saint Frank Coffee

A beautiful espresso with milk, part of a split shot of a single-origin Guatemalan coffee in Saint Frank Coffee, San Francisco.Once again, I find myself following in the footsteps of Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato. Saint Frank Coffee, in San Francisco’s Russian Hill area, was the very last stop of my final day-trip to San Francisco, part of my epic four-corners trip around America at the start of the year. It had been a good day, starting with a visit to Four Barrel in the Mission and ending at Saint Frank, both recommendations from Bex.

Founded in 2013, Saint Frank’s a relative newcomer to the scene. This is its flagship store, with two other outlets, one on the Facebook campus (sadly, employees only) and a new venture, called St Clare Coffee, in the Mission. Saint Frank roasts all its own coffee (sadly off-site), working directly with a small number of coffee farmers around the world.

There are three options on espresso (house-blend, a single-origin and a decaf) through a bespoke, under-the-counter espresso machine. There are three more options on pour-over (all single-origins, one of which is a decaf) using the Marco Beverage Systems SP9. Finally, there are two further single-origins, one on bulk-brew and one available as an iced coffee. If you’re hungry, there’s a small but tasty cake range.

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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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