About Life Coffee Brewers is part of the small Onibus Coffee group which has its own roastery in Nakameguro, although it also serves coffee from two other Tokyo roasters, Switch Coffee Tokyo and Amameria Espresso. No more than a coffee stand at the top (western) end of Dōgenzaka in Shibuya, it’s something of an institution and a favourite of many visitors to the city. Serving mostly takeaway customers (so don’t forget to bring your own cup), you can stand at the counter or sit on one of two benches down the side. There’s also a semi-secret sheltered standing-room only area inside, which is handy if it’s raining.
For such a small spot, About Life has a large output. There’s a concise with/without milk espresso menu, with the Onibus house-blend used for milk drinks and blends from the other two roasters available as espresso/Americano. However, what’s really impressive is the selection of six single origins, two from each roaster. These can be had as an espresso (no milk) or as a pour-over through the V60. All the coffee, espresso and pour-over, can be had hot, or with ice. The selection of single origins is seasonal, changing every two to three months.
Regular readers of my Brian’s Travel Spot posts will know that I have a poor opinion of airline coffee, and, as a result, I’ve taken to making my own coffee on long-haul flights over the last few years. However, to its credit, British Airways has also recognised this short-coming and has recently partnered with Union Hand-roasted to up its coffee game. Union is supplying coffee to the British Airways lounges and, in the first instance, to the First Class add Club World cabins, although I believe the plan is to roll it out to the World Traveller cabins in due course.
As luck would have it, on Friday I flew with British Airways from Manchester to Tokyo, via Heathrow, not long after Union’s coffee was introduced, giving me the chance to experience it first-hand. Normally I would write this up as part of my longer Travel Spot covering the flight. However, these take me absolutely ages to write and, since there’s quite a bit of interest in this, I thought I would put it on its own, self-contained post, rather than burying it in a longer post.
If you’ve been following the latest series on Brian’s Travel Spot, you’ll know that I spent the last two weeks of April in Thailand, departing on the Sunday of the London Coffee Festival. The first instalment of this Travel Spot covered my flight over with British Airways. I spent a week in Bangkok, before catching the sleeper to Chiang Mai, where I spent another week exploring its awesome speciality coffee scene. I returned on the sleeper to spend three days in Bangkok, with the two train trips forming the second and third instalments (written and published while I was out in Thailand). Meanwhile, today’s Travel Spot, the fourth and final instalment in the series, covers my return flight on Tuesday 1st May.
What I’ve underplayed in all the posts so far is the state of my back. When I flew out, my back was cranky, but basically okay. It got worse during my time in Bangkok, but was still basically okay. However, while I was in Chiang Mai, it got really bad, forcing me to take the sleeper back. By the time I was due to fly home, I could hardly sit down, leaving me dreading the 13 hour flight…
My travel schedule for the first four months of the year has been pretty hectic, verging on the brutal, although it was partly self-inflicted. This kicked off with two month-long visits to the USA, starting with a trip to Miami and Phoenix and followed by another that saw me travel from New England to Arizona by train.
Since then it’s calmed down a bit, so I thought that before I jet off on my next adventure (a week today I should have just arrived in Japan) I really ought to finish writing up the previous one. This saw me spend three days at the London Coffee Festival, head home on the Saturday evening and then turn around on Sunday to fly out to Thailand for the first time.
This instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot covers my flight over with British Airways. I then spent a week in Bangkok, before catching the sleeper up to Chiang Mai, where I spent another week exploring the awesome speciality coffee scene there. I returned to Bangkok, again on the sleeper, spent three days in the capital, then flew back, again with British Airways, which will form the fourth and final part of this Travel Spot.
I didn’t spend long in Hanoi, at the end of my Vietnam trip, so didn’t have much time to explore. I also didn’t have a long list of coffee shops to visit when I arrived. That I found Gấu Coffee Roasters was entirely down to The Caffinet, which in turn I only found following a recommendation from Oriberry Coffee. Sometimes all you need is a list of one…
On a busy road in the northeast of Hanoi’s old city, you really need to know where Gấu Coffee Roasters is, although if you look in the window, you’ll probably be drawn in, particularly if you see the roaster all the way at the back of the long, thin store. All the coffee’s roasted here, with a range of origins, plus home-grown Vietnamese Arabica. There’s a blend on espresso, with multiple single-origins on pour-over through a variety of methods, plus traditional Vietnamese coffee.
This time last week I was in Amsterdam for the World of Coffee, the Specialty Coffee Association’s annual European jamboree. If you’ve never been to World of Coffee, think London Coffee Festival, but with a more relaxed feel. London Coffee Festival on decaf perhaps? Although general consumers are welcome, it is more of a trade event, which contributes to the relaxed atmosphere.
All the usual (big) names are there when it comes to coffee equipment, in a large, spacious main hall dominated by big stands. There’s a dedicated Roasters Village, home to the small (and not so small) speciality roasters. The stands are much smaller and closer together, which gives it a London Coffee Festival-like atmosphere, but without the annoyingly loud music. World of Coffee is also home to one or two of the world coffee championships, this year hosting the World Barista Championships.
I’ve not been very good at attending World of Coffee, first visiting two years ago in Dublin. I really enjoyed it though and had every intention of going to last year’s event in Budapest, but work sent me to Vietnam instead. I know, it’s a hard life. However, this year I was free and determined to go…
CanDo Coffee was one of many speciality coffee places to spring up around my old stomping grounds of Sheldon Square/the back of Paddington Station once I’d stopped working there at the end of 2015. In the case of CanDo Coffee, it first made a brief appearance in a canal boat in 2014, before reappearing in 2016 with a permanent pitch by the canal outside the back entrance to the station. There was a second CanDo Coffee pitch just over the canal at the western end of Paddington Basin. This slowly migrated eastwards over the next two years, reaching Merchant Square and the Floating Pocket Park at the eastern end of Paddington Basin by the time I returned to the area for a week at the start of June.
Serving espresso-based drinks using the Rocket 88 blend from Ealing’s Electric Coffee Company, it was just outside my hotel, making a perfect early morning coffee stop on my daily walk to the office. CanDo Coffee serves principally takeaway customers and only has takeaway cups, so don’t forget to bring your own. However, if you do want to linger, there are several tables scattered around on the grass of the park.
I first came across Sarah’s Caring Coffee towards the end of 2017. What piqued my interest more than anything was that it’s based in Holywell, the North Wales town where I was born and brought up, where my father still lives and where I am a very frequent visitor. On further investigation, it turned out that Sarah’s Caring Coffee had been set up to generate income, by selling coffee on-line and at various local markets, for The Cariad Project, a charity which helps disabled people in Africa.
I met the eponymous Sarah, who is behind both Sarah’s Caring Coffee and The Cariad Project, at the start of this year, and was given a bag of her Ethiopian Sidamo to take with me on my travels around North America. It graced my Aeropress from Providence to Phoenix, via cities such as New Orleans, and was a lovely coffee.
I was therefore delighted when I heard in May that Sarah had opened The Coffee Bean in Holywell, providing a permanent retail outlet for Sarah’s Caring Coffee, as well as a community hub and flexible meeting space. Naturally I took the first opportunity I could to pay Sarah and The Coffee Bean a visit.
I’ve already written about my ignorance regarding Lichfield when I visited the Melbourne in Lichfield coffee shop on Bird Street. However, this is where it all began in April last year, when the original Melbourne in Lichfield opened, a small kiosk on a narrow alley called Bolt Court in the heart of the city. There’s not much to Melbourne in Lichfield, but the output’s impressive, reminding me in ambition of Reading’s Tamp Culture, albeit with slightly more shelter.
It consists of a kiosk with a small, covered seating area to the left and with three bar stools at the counter, semi-exposed to the elements. The coffee is from Union Hand-roasted with a house espresso, Maraba, a single-origin from Rwandan, plus a guest espresso from either Union or a guest-roaster as well as decaf (Union again). There are retail bags from Union and various guests, plus a decent selection of cake.
The list of the UK’s coffee festivals is growing. First there was London, still the biggest of the lot, followed by the likes of Manchester and Glasgow. Then, last year, slipping quietly in, was the inaugural Birmingham Coffee Festival, which I completely missed. It has such a low social media profile that I almost missed it this time around as well, but I was saved from that ignoble fate by my friends at Cakesmiths, who clued me in.
As luck would have it, I was actually in the country for the event (the usual reason I miss coffee festivals is because I’m abroad: it’s why, for example, I’ve never been to the Edinburgh Coffee Festival), so I decided to attend. It was held last weekend in the Custard Factory in Digbeth, from Friday (industry day) through Saturday and Sunday (consumer days). I was working on Friday, but headed up to Birmingham for the Saturday. Not sure what to expect, I’d only booked for the one day, but I found more than enough to keep me occupied, so returned on the Sunday, although I suspect that the average consumer will only need a single day (or part day) to see everything.