Brian’s Travel Spot: Tokyo

A quiet, narrow Tokyo street 10 minutes' walk from the madness of Shibuya but feeling a million miles away.It’s almost been two weeks since I set off from Heathrow to fly, for first the time, to Japan. You can read about my (lack of) preparation for the trip and my thoughts about it in the previous Travel Spot. Rather than give a blow-by-blow account of my trip, including where I went and what I did, I’m taking a different approach with this Travel Spot, concentrating on my general impressions of Tokyo and, in another post, Japan (at least, those bits that I visited).

My trip’s been split into three parts. Part I involved three nights in Tokyo where I was pretty much getting over my jet-lag and gentling exploring random parts of the city. Part II was work, a Monday to Friday meeting that was ostensibly the purpose of the trip and involved moving to a swanky hotel in Shibuya (think Piccadilly Circus/Oxford Street or Times Square). Part III, the bit I’m on now, sees me exploring Japan by train for a week and will be covered in another Travel Spot.

Back to this Travel Spot, where I will kick off with some general observations about Tokyo, before moving on to talk about coffee shops and other matters.

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Glasgow Coffee Festival 2017 Preview

The Glasgow Coffee Festival LogoIt’s that time of year again. No sooner has one festival finished, than another looms on the horizon. And, in my case, as soon as I get back from Japan, I’ll be heading up to Glasgow for the third Glasgow Coffee Festival. Unfortunately, I had to miss the first festival, which was back in 2014, but I made it to the second festival, which took place in 2015. Sadly, it then skipped a year in 2016 in order to move from the distinctly chilly months of October/November to warmer (we hope) times in May (the weekend of 6th/7th).

Although called the Glasgow Coffee Festival (it’s held in Glasgow, after all), it’s more a celebration of Scotland’s growing specialty coffee scene, with lots of contributors from further afield as well. After the first two years, when it was sold out, the festival has expanded from a single day to occupy the entire weekend, from Saturday morning to Sunday evening, putting it on a par with the likes of the Manchester Coffee Festival, a festival which it closely resembles in scale and atmosphere (compared to, say, the London Coffee Festival).

So, without further ado, sit back and enjoy my Glasgow Coffee Festival preview.

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London Coffee Festival 2017: Round-up

The 2017 London Coffee Festival LogoSo there we have it, another year and yet another London Coffee Festival come and gone, my fifth in all. After attending all four days of last year’s festival, I scaled things back this year and only went on Friday (the industry day), and on the two consumer days (Saturday and Sunday).

Once again, I’ll be following my tried-and-trusted method of writing a series of themed Saturday Supplements, each covering a different aspect of the festival. Today’s Saturday Supplement is a general round-up, including what I made of the festival, the highs and lows, and what differed from last year. The remainder in the series, to be published over the coming weeks, will cover sustainability, kit & cups, my coffee experiences and the coffee itself.

I’ve been saying this for a couple of years now, but it’s worth repeating: the London Coffee Festival organisers do seem to learn from experience and listen to feedback. Each year, several issues from previous festivals have been addressed and, while the festival is still not perfect, it keeps on going from strength-to-strength, while still continuing to grow. Next year the festival returns to the Old Truman Brewery, this time from 12th to 15th April.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Japan

This is a slight departure from my normal Travel Spot series, less recording what I’ve done, more advanced warning of what’s coming. Whether I expand it to recap my travels remains to be seen, but for now it can stand as a reminder of an increasingly busy year!

You see, I’m off to Japan. I’ve known about it for a while now. I booked the flights in early February, but only really started planning the trip at the weekend. For reference, today’s Wednesday and I’m leaving for the airport at noon!

This is very unlike me. Normally I’m a thorough planner and preparer, even if I then use my plans as a basis for improvisation rather than rigorously follow them. I suspect that I’m a bit of nightmare to travel with, so it’s just as well that I travel alone most of the time.

I’m back with British Airways after dabbling with various airlines over the last year. It’s the one part of the trip I have planned: my exit-row aisle seats are booked and I’m looking forward (honestly, I am) to 12 hours on a 787. It might give me a chance to do some preparation for this trip!

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Small St Espresso Update

The lovely La Marzocco FB80 espresso machine, with its custom paint job, at Small St Espresso in Bristol.I first wrote about Small St Espresso at the start of 2013, at which point it was at the centre of Bristol’s growing speciality coffee scene, which included (the now closed) Wild at Heart and (the yet to be opened) Full Court Press over on Broad Street. These days, the centre has expanded to include the likes of Playground Coffee and the newly-opened Tincan Coffee Co.

This is actually my second update on Small St Espresso, which featured as the first Coffee Spot Update, published in June 2013. One of many excellent things about Small St Espresso is that it’s on Small Street (other street-named coffee shops take note!). It’s just as well that it wasn’t so named because it’s small, since, after the latest changes which prompted the latest update, I might have to start referring to it as not-so-Small Street espresso…

Yes, that’s right, Small St Espresso has had an extension. Although this hasn’t increased the physical space that much, it’s almost doubled the (admittedly limited) seating, but fortunately without changing the essential character of the place which makes Small Street so special. Talking of expansion, Small St has also opened a second branch, the lovely Little Victories.

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Goodbye Ridley Place

The Flat Caps Coffee logo, taken from a bag of coffee roasted to mark Flat Caps' successful Kickstarter.Today’s Saturday Supplement is a little out of the ordinary. I avoid “Top 10…” lists like the plague. I detest rankings. I can’t abide arbitrary scoring systems. I write about coffee shops I like and put them on the Coffee Spot so you can find them. However, I can’t help but develop favourites, and, if there was a list of my favourite coffee shops, the original Flat Caps in Newcastle’s Ridley Place would be one of the first I’d pencil in.

That is, if I was writing the list today. If I wrote it tomorrow, Ridley Place wouldn’t be there. Because today’s its last day. Tonight, Joe closes up for the last time. Not that it’s the end of Flat Caps. Come Monday, you’ll find Joe at Flat Caps Carliol Square or maybe next door at Flat Caps Campus North. Flat Caps goes on, but the place where it all started, Ridley Place, will be no more.

Joe’s written about why he’s closing Ridley Place, a lovely piece which I urge you to read. Today’s Saturday Supplement isn’t about the whys and wherefores of the closing, but rather my own reflections on one of my favourite places to have coffee.

[Note: Yes, I realise that I’ve posted this on April 1st. I do hope this isn’t an elaborate April Fool’s joke that Joe’s playing on us…]

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Flat Cap Borough

A bag of Cachoeirinha Espresso, roasted by Notes and in the hopper at Flat Cap Borough during my visit in January 2017.Having finally paid a visit to Flat Cap Victoria in last week’s Saturday Short, I thought it was high-time that the Coffee Spot got around to the other Flat Cap, which is tucked away south of the river in London’s Borough Market. Once part of a small fleet of Notes Barrows, Flat Cap Borough is now a standalone operation and, despite the similarities, Flat Cap Borough is independent of Flat Cap Victoria.

There are, however, still close ties to Notes, with all the coffee coming from the Notes Roastery. There are a range of single-origin beans that you can buy, with one of them in the hopper. During my visit, this was a Brazilian Cachoeirinha, a naturally-processed coffee. All the usual espresso-based drinks are there, but otherwise that’s it. If you’re after something to eat with your coffee, never fear. You’re in Borough Market and spoilt for choice!

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Sage Barista Express

My Sage Barista Express in action, making an espresso with the Coffee Spot cup.Soon after starting the Coffee Spot, my faithful Gaggia espresso machine gave up the ghost and I was on the market for the replacement. The Rancilio Silvia, by overwhelming consensus, was by far the best single-boiler home espresso machine for under £400, so four years ago, I became a proud Silvia owner.

Fast-forward a year and Sage launched its dual boiler home espresso machine, instantly becoming a market-leader. However, it was well beyond my price-range (£1,200) and, well, I had my Silvia. A year later, Sage extended the range, introducing two single-boiler machines, the entry-level Duo-Temp Pro (£380), and the Barista Express (£600), with a built-in grinder.

Again, I was impressed. I only managed to play with them at various coffee festivals, but even I managed to pull decent shots on them. I also heard nothing but good things from friends who owned them, so I began recommending Sage if people asked about home espresso machines. Despite this, I didn’t actually own one, largely because Silvia still had plenty of life left in her and represented a significant investment. Then, shortly before Christmas, Sage asked if I’d like a Barista Express. Well, I wasn’t going to say no, was I?

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Flat Cap Victoria

A lovely flat white at Flat Cap Victoria in my Therma Cup, made with a single-origin Brazilian coffee, roasted by Notes.At the northern end of Strutton Ground Market, not far from Victoria Station, is Flat Cap Victoria, a veteran of London’s speciality coffee scene. For the last eight years, from Monday to Friday, it has been turning out top quality espresso-based drinks in all weathers from a lovely barrow, its only protection from the elements, a black, open-sided gazebo.

Flat Cap was set up by co-owners Fabio (of Notes fame), Rob and Charlie, although Fabio and Rob no longer work on the barrow. Despite being co-owned by Fabio, Flat Cap is independent of Notes (for example, there are no links, other than the name, with Flat Cap Borough in Borough Market), although there are close ties, with Flat Caps using Notes Coffee. There’s a single-origin espresso which changes every few weeks, largely depending on what the roastery sends through. If you’re hungry (and there early enough!), there’s a small range of pastries.

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London Coffee Festival 2017: Preview

The 2017 London Coffee Festival LogoIt’s London Coffee Festival time again! Yes, that’s right, three weeks from now, the London Coffee Festival will be in full swing, once again gracing the Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane from Thursday, 6th April to Sunday, 9th April.

If this is your first London Coffee Festival, take a look at my round up of last year’s festival. Alternatively, if you’ve been before, it’s all very familiar, with industry days on Thursday/Friday and three three-hour consumer sessions on Saturday/Sunday (Brunch, Lunch and Teatime). In a change from previous years, there’s an extended consumer session on Friday evening from four o’clock in the afternoon to 10 o’clock in the evening. This includes access to the Espresso Martini Launch Party (8 o’clock onwards) and is probably the best-value ticket in the whole event.

Talking of tickets, my usual advice applies: get your ticket now. For starters, you get a significant discount on the on-the-door price. What’s more, tickets are already selling fast! Leave it to the day of the festival and it could easily be sold out. Also, if you are attending the Industry Days, be aware that these are no longer free, so once again, it pays to book ahead.

April 2017: My festival round-up is now out, so you can see what I actually got up to!

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