Idle Hands @ Grub

The Idle Hands logo, taken from the A-board outside the second pop-up on Dale Street.Idle Hands, run by the very wonderful Dave & Lucy, started life as a pop-up next to Manchester’s Piccadilly Station. With the building due for redevelopment, this was always going to be a short-term arrangement, but the good news was that about a year after leaving the Piccadilly site, Idle Hands found a new and (at the time) permanent home on Dale Street, moving in on a temporary basis while waiting for the space to be refurbished.

However, just before Dave & Lucy started fitting out the new shop, the landlord abruptly terminated the lease, leaving Idle Hands homeless. For a less determined couple, that would have been the end, but Dave & Lucy picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and, with a ground swell of support from the wider coffee/independent sector in Manchester, found a new temporary home at Grub’s Mayfield site, where I visited one rainy Friday afternoon.

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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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My Travelling Coffee Kit

Improving hotel coffee one Aeropress at a time with a little help from my Knock feldfarb hand grinder.A little while ago, a reader, Linda, got in touch to ask me how I managed when travelling to places where there was no good coffee. This made me realise what a very good question that was. While I’ve written on several occasions about my penchant for making my own coffee on long-haul flights and overnight trains, as well as hinting on other occasions about making my own coffee in hotels, I realise that I’ve never really addressed the issue in a comprehensive matter.

Over the five years I’ve been writing the Coffee Spot, I’ve gone from drinking whatever I’m given to being quite obsessive above bringing my own coffee and coffee-making equipment. I’m not quite sure when this started, but it’s become increasingly important with the amount of travelling I’m doing. As an example, tomorrow I’m off to Manchester for a week for work, then the weekend after that, I’ll be in Leeds, before flying to Chicago for three weeks (work + play). I can’t imagine being away for all that time without decent coffee, so I’ve assembled a basic travelling kit which, give or take a few items, comes with me wherever I go.

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Yorks Coffee Roasters

Detail from the front of the packaging of one of the bags of Yorks Coffee Roasters coffee.The subject of today’s Meet the Roaster has a long history. I visited the original Yorks Bakery Café on Newhall Street during my first trip to Birmingham exactly four years ago today, when I met a knowledgeable, engaging young barista called Richard. Since then Yorks has expanded, both in size and ambition. First came the new Yorks Espresso Bar at the Colmore Row end of the Great Western Arcade. Then, at the end of 2015, Newhall Street closed, the site undergoing a major redevelopment, with Yorks moving the Bakery Café to new premises on Stephenson Street, next to Birmingham New Street Station. Now there’s a third Yorks, with a new branch at the Ikon Gallery.

However, that’s not the half of it. Soon after moving into Stephenson Street, Yorks acquired the adjacent unit, effectively tripling its size. While it was still a building site, I was given a behind-the-scenes tour by a very excited Richard, who pointed out a small, awkward area at the back, cut-off from the rest of the space by stairs giving access to the basement. That, he told me, was where the new Probat was going. Yorks, it seemed, was going to become a coffee roaster…

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London Coffee Festival 2017: Coffee

An espresso from Outpost Coffee's Kilimbi from Rwanda in my Kaffeeform recycled cup at the London Coffee Festival.Welcome to this, the final one of my detailed write-ups from this year’s London Coffee Festival. So far I’ve written about sustainability, kit & cups, and my coffee experiences, as well as kicking things off with my traditional festival round-up. Today I’ll end as I normally do, with a discussion of the actual coffee. Plus a few other random items.

I’ve never yet been to a coffee festival where I’ve managed to visit all the roasters I’ve wanted to and this year was no different, so apologies to everyone I missed. This year was a bumper one for smaller roasters, with the London Coffee Festival building on the introduction last year of the Roasters Village, with an expanded version this year. Indeed, it was so big that it had to be split into two: north (which was upstairs) and south (which was downstairs).

As before, I’ll start with introducing you to some old friends, roasters who are well known to the Coffee Spot, before moving onto all the new roasting friends that I made at the festival, then some of my coffee highlights. I’ll end with a round-up of all the food on offer, including the excellent White Label Kitchen.

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Glasgow Coffee Festival 2017 Part III

The Glasgow Coffee Festival LogoWelcome to the third and final part of my detailed write-ups from the third Glasgow Coffee Festival, which took place earlier this year. In Part I, I looked at the venue itself, the wonderful, soaring hall that is the Briggait, before continuing with a round-up of those exhibitors who had travelled from outside of Scotland to attend. I followed that in Part II with arguably the person who’d travelled the furthest to attend the festival: me! I’d just come back from Japan and brought loads of coffee with me. Using the coffee, we held a Japanese coffee cupping on the last day of the festival.

In part III, I’m going to look at everything else that I got up to at the festival. This includes a round-up of Scottish coffee shops and roasters at the festival, including plenty of old friends and several new ones. There’s also a look at various bits of kit, including tampers, grinders and a shiny espresso machine. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a coffee festival without lots of glorious food!

As usual, there was never enough time to see everyone and visit all the stands, so if I have missed anyone out, I apologise.

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Vietnamese Coffee Part III

My traditional Vietnamese cup-top filter from The Espresso Station in action at my friend's house in the USA.Welcome to the third and final part of my exploration of traditional Vietnamese coffee following my recent visit to Vietnam. Part I covered my introduction to Vietnamese coffee and the traditional cà phê phin, a cup-top metal filter. I explained how, after a few false starts, I discovered a taste for speciality coffee made with the cà phê phin when I tried it at Shin Coffee in Ho Chi Minh City.

In Part II, I continued my exploration, trying traditional Vietnamese coffee, both speciality and non-speciality, over ice, and with condensed milk, with mixed results. I also tried the (in)famous egg coffee, traditional Vietnamese coffee with a layer of whipped egg yolk and condensed milk. Think of it as a liquid pudding rather than coffee and you’ll be fine.

In this, Part III, you can see how I got on making traditional Vietnamese coffee in various hotels and back at home using my own cà phê phin which I bought at The Espresso Station in Hoi Ann. I’ve tried a number of different beans, and used a couple of recipes which I picked up simply by observing baristas making coffee at the likes of Shin Coffee and Hanoi’s The Caffinet.

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La Gelatiera, New Row

A shot of the eponymous espresso blend from Terrone & Co, served at La Gelatiera on New Row in London.As much as I like ice cream, ice cream parlours normally don’t appear on the Coffee Spot (Philadelphia’s iconic Franklin Fountain being, until now, the only exception). However, while wandering along New Row to check on New Row Coffee (which, following its change of ownership last year, has rebranded as The Espresso Room) something caught my eye in the window of La Gelatiera: a coffee menu offering two espresso blends from none other than Terrone & Co! Well, that was my choice made for me: who doesn’t love coffee and ice cream? Especially on a hot day…

Although ice cream’s the main reason to visit La Gelatiera, it’s great to see non-coffee places (like Crosstown Doughnuts) serving speciality coffee and doing it well. La Gelatiera’s pretty small, with most customers grabbing their ice cream to go, but there are some tables and a small bar if you want to stay.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying Business Class with Vietnam Airlines

My Vietnamese Airlines Boeing 787-9 waiting at the gate at Heathrow's Terminal 4 to take me to Ho Chi Minh City.Welcome to another instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot. This is part of my series on Vietnam, which started with my flight over, and which, logically enough, would conclude with this, my flight back However, I’ve long since given up on assuming that there will be any logic to the order of these posts, so while you still await my thoughts on Vietnam itself, the final instalment of my three-part series on Vietnamese Coffee and the culmination of my trip up the coast by train, here’s a piece on my flight back from Vietnam, which marked, in another first for me and the Coffee Spot, a long-haul flight in business class.

I should point out that I do have this dream that at some point in the (hopefully not too distant) future, loads of free time will magically appear, allowing me to go back and complete the outstanding Travel Spots. These will then form a coherent narrative, full of useful information for the fellow traveller. Of course, knowing how these things go, it’ll take me ages, by which time they’ll be hopelessly out of date. Plus, of course, I’ll have to completely re-write this introduction.

I’ve clearly not thought this through…

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Vietnamese Coffee Part II

Traditional Vietnamese cup-top filter coffee with condensed milk from The Espresso Station in Hoi AnWelcome to the second of my three-part exploration of traditional Vietnamese coffee. As I explained in Part I, I’ve been exploring the local coffee culture during my time in Vietnam. The Vietnamese are volume coffee drinkers: I’ve not been anywhere with this many coffee shops! They are literally on every corner, often open from first thing in the morning to last thing at night.

However, traditional Vietnamese coffee, made using the cà phê phin, a cup-top metal filter, served either hot or over ice, and often with condensed milk, has a reputation for being strong, sweet and heavy on the Robusta. Sadly, much of that does not appeal to me, but, despite my initially scepticism, I found, to my surprise, that I liked many aspects of both the culture and of the coffee itself.

In Part I, I shared my initial, rather unsuccessful, forays into traditional Vietnamese coffee, followed by my conversion when I tried the combination of speciality coffee and the cà phê phin. In this, Part II, I continue my exploration with coffee over ice plus coffee with condensed milk. Finally, Part III will cover my experiments of using my own cà phê phin to make coffee.

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