Vietnam Coffee Republic

The flat bed of coffee grounds after brewing in a V60 at Vietnam Coffee Republic.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.

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The Workshop Coffee

My espresso surveys the room in The Workshop Coffee, Ho Chi Minh CityThe 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.

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Caravan Exmouth Market

The Caravan logo from the sign outside the original Exmouth Market branch.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.

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Hoxton North, Royal Parade

A lovely piccolo, made with Origin’s seasonal Resolute blend, and served in a glass at Hoxton North, Royal Parade, Harrogate.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.

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Café de L’Ambre

Details from the front of Tokyo's Cafe de L'AmbreSo 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.

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Kaido Books and Coffee

A single-origin Yirgacheffe from And Coffee Roasters, served in a classic black cup by Kaido Books & CoffeeKaido Books and Coffee is just down the street from my third (and final) hotel of my trip. I’ve done extremely well when it comes to good coffee near hotels/work on this trip and Kaido (plus a branch of Blue Bottle at Shinagawa Station) is the icing on the cake. It was also an unexpected surprise, a random discovery as I explored the rather lovely residential street I found myself staying on.

Kaido Books and Coffee does what it says on the tin: a book shop combined with a coffee shop. In fairness, though, it’s more like a coffee shop with plenty of books. In fact, I didn’t see anyone buy a book the whole time I was there! It seems that the books are more for the customers to browse as they linger over their coffee.

Kaido serves coffee from And Coffee Roasters and Ishikawa Coffee, although while I was there, all of the coffee on offer was from And Coffee. There was a choice of three single-origins (two Ethiopians and a Brazilian) on pour-over through the V60, one of which was also available on espresso. Kaido does a limited range of food, which includes a small cake selection.

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Maruyama Coffee, Nishi Azabu

Detail from the sign above the door of Maruyama Coffee's branch in Nishi AzabuMy first Tokyo coffee experience was down, in part, to the excellent Commodities Connoisseur and also to serendipity. Having done very little planning for this trip, I had picked my hotel for the first part of my stay almost at random. On arrival, I was delighted to discover that it was across the road from one of Commodities Connoisseur’s recommendations, Maruyama Coffee.

Maruyama Coffee is a roaster based in Karuizawa in the mountains northwest of Tokyo and founded in 1991 by Kentaro Maruyama. Nishi Azabu is the sixth store, one of three in Tokyo. It’s a lovely space, with plenty of seating and full table service. Although not a traditional Japanese coffeehouse (as I understand them to be), it was a very Japanese experience, far removed from the typical (western) third-wave café.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is the vast array of coffee on offer, which can be had principally through the humble cafetiere, although there are also options for Steampunk, Cores pour-over cones and espresso. If you are hungry, there is a small breakfast menu (08:00 – 10:00) and a decent selection of cake. There’s also a huge retail section, including beans, coffee-making equipment and a range of other products.

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Timmy Green

The Timmy Green logo from outside Timmy Green on Sir Simon Milton Square near Victoria Station.The latest addition to the growing Daisy Green/Beany Green collective is a rather different beast from those which have gone before. Spread over two floors on the corner of the prodigious new Nova development near Victoria Station, Timmy Green takes the strengths of Daisy/Beany and builds on them. The original Daisy Green, plus the Paddington and Liverpool Street Beany Greens, gained a reputation for innovative brunch menus, but Timmy Green goes one better, turning this into a fully-fledged restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner, complete with desserts, wine, beer and cocktails. And, of course, Roasting Party coffee.

The bulk of Timmy Green is downstairs, a triangular space providing restaurant-style table seating to the right and, in a tapering section to the left, cocktail tables and window-bars, plus a couple more intimate spaces. Upstairs, the mezzanine shares space with the kitchen as well as housing a few more tables.

There’s a large outdoor seating area in front of Timmy Green, with a narrower strip down the right-hand side. If all you want is coffee, a barrow with a bright yellow La Marzocco serves takeaway from half-an-hour before opening until three in the afternoon from its spot just left of door.

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New Harvest Coffee & Spirits

The soaring, vaulted glass ceiling of the central aisle of the Arcade Providence, home of New Harvest Coffee & Spirits.New Harvest Coffee & Spirits is that relatively rare combination in America: a coffee shop and bar, serving coffee by day and whisky and other spirits by night (although I believe you can order anything anytime). That it’s also a long-standing roaster (as New Harvest Coffee in Pawtucket, Rhode Island) and is housed in America’s old shopping mall, the Arcade Providence, makes it something very special indeed.

Although New Harvest Coffee has been roasting since 2001, the coffee shop only opened in 2014. There’s a seasonal house-blend and decaf on espresso, two options on bulk-brew and one on pour-over (Kalita Wave), backed up by a selection of cake and a wide range of spirits and cocktails.

New Harvest Coffee roasts 8-10 single-origins at any one time, giving it plenty of options in the coffee shop. There’s a light-roast on bulk-brew, which is usually a single-origin (which changes every day or so) and a dark roast (which changes less frequently). This tends to be a one of two filter-blends, but during my visit it was a single-origin from Papua New Guinea, while the light-roast was a Kenya from Kiangothe. Finally, the pour-over option is another single-origin (an Indonesian during my visit).

February 2016: Since I was in Providence the day I published my piece on New Harvest, I couldn’t resist popping in for a lovely Costa Rican pour-over. It’s so rare I get to re-visit places on the day I publish about them 🙂

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Cafe X, San Francisco

The robot arm at the heart of the Cafe X operation.One of the Coffee Spot’s tag lines is “places I like to have coffee”, so today’s Saturday (on-a-Wednesday) Supplement is something of a departure for me since I’m not sure I’d describe Cafe X as somewhere I’d like to have coffee. Somewhere I’d go to get coffee, perhaps, but it’s definitely not somewhere to have coffee. However, there I was on Monday, in San Francisco, minding my own business, when Cafe X announced its grand opening. A block from my hotel. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so along I went.

So, what is Cafe X? Well, put simply, it’s an automated coffee shop, with a pair of high-end bean-to-cup machines and a robot arm that takes the place of the barista. There’s a choice of beans from local roasters, such as Verve (Santa Cruz) and Oakland’s AKA (previously known as Supersonic), plus a fairly standard selection of espresso-based drinks, but only one size (8oz). You order using one of the tablets attached to the Cafe X kiosk, or preferably ahead of time on your phone using the Cafe X app. Typically your coffee will be waiting for you in under a minute. Well, that’s the theory…

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