The 2018 Coffee Spot Calendars

The cover of the 2018 Coffee Spot Calendar. I visit the Great Wall of China, along with my Espro Travel Press and Therma Cup.The Coffee Spot Calendar is an annual event with this, the fifth Coffee Spot Calendar. As always, the calendars are A4 in size and professionally-printed on glossy paper, while there’s also a desktop version. Each month has a landscape, full-sized picture from one of my favourite Coffee Spots of the last 12 months, although this year, as he did last year, my friend Keith has helped by choosing some of the pictures.

Calendars cost £12.00 (£10.00 for the desktop version) with a flat £2.00 postage and packing charge, regardless of how many you order. If you think we’re likely to meet up in the near future, I’ll even waive the postage and hand your calendar over in person! If you’re ordering from outside of the UK, then I’m afraid I have to charge more for postage. For orders for Europe, postage and packing is £4.00 for one or two calendars, while for the rest of the world, it’s £6.00. If you want more than two, please get in touch regarding postage.

Unfortunately, work commitments have meant that I’m very late in producing this year’s calendars, so while I will do my best, I can’t guarantee they will arrive before Christmas.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Shanghai to Beijing by Train

My train, a brand new CR400, waiting to take me from Shanghai to Beijing on the world's second-fastest passenger service in December 2017 (and the world's fastest intercity passenger service).Welcome to another Brian’s Travel Spot. In case you’ve not been paying attention, I’m in Shanghai, having flown out two weeks ago for a week of work, followed by a week of sightseeing and Coffee Spotting. Having visited Shanghai last year, I was keen to explore a little bit more of China and, buoyed by travels by train in both Japan and Vietnam earlier this year, I contemplated taking the train to Beijing.

A little bit of research on the ever-useful The Man in Seat 61 showed that the train was considerably cheaper than flying and a lot more convenient. Not only that, as long as I caught the right train, I would be travelling on the world’s second-fastest passenger rail service, which appealed to the geek in me, especially since I’d already travelled on the world’s fastest passenger rail service when I caught the Maglev train serving Shanghai Pudong airport.

After further research, I decided to catch a regular high-speed service from Shanghai to Beijing on Saturday, the day after my meeting ended, returning four days later by sleeper, leaving Beijing on Wednesday night, arriving in Shanghai on Thursday morning, giving me three days to explore before flying home.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying Business Class to Shanghai

Celebrating a successful flight in business class with China Eastern to Shanghai with some coffee made in my Travel Press and served in my Therma Cup.Welcome to a Brian’s Travel Spot, the occasional series documenting my increasing travel experiences. This year it’s gone from principally recording the trips themselves (its original purpose), to discussing the various flights I’ve been taking, starting with a pair of flights out to Phoenix and culminating in three trips from Manchester to Chicago, each one flying a different route with a different airline, United, British Airways and American Airlines. In between, when returning from Vietnam, I flew long-haul flight in business class for the first time.

This, my final trip of the year, sees me heading back to Shanghai for work. It also involves flying both legs in business class for the first time. This is largely down to self-preservation: due to prior commitments, I was busy the preceding weekend, so I had to forgo my normal practice of flying out midweek the week before my meeting and giving myself three or four days to get over the jetlag. Instead I flew out on Sunday night, arrived on Monday afternoon and went into a four day meeting starting at nine o’clock on Tuesday morning. Therefore, sleeping on the flight became a necessity, which meant flying business class…

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Craft Coffee, King’s Cross

Some beautiful latte art by Craft Coffee at King's Cross in my Therma Cup.The spot around the back of King’s Cross station has a long and distinguished history when it comes to coffee stands, having housed both Weanie Beans and Bean & Gone (both before the Coffee Spot’s time) and, most recently, Noble Espresso. However, in November 2016, Shaun, the man behind Noble, made the hard decided to give up the coffee stand to concentrate on his booming milk business, Estate Dairies.

What could have been a huge loss to all concerned, not least his band of loyal customers, was averted by some forward-thinking by Shaun who invited Craft Coffee, veterans of the outdoor coffee scene with a long-standing weekend pitch at Maltby Market, to take over. Emily and Jamie, Craft’s owners, said yes, so now you’ll find them here during the week, turning out fine espresso-based drinks using an exclusive single-origin from Notes, plus tea, hot chocolate and a selection of pastries.

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The Philosophy of Coffee

A line drawing of a Moka Pot, taken from the cover of my book, "The Philosophy of Coffee".Something very exciting happened last Monday. I visited the British Library, where I met with Rob, from the Library’s publishing arm. In what turns out to have been a very well-kept secret (or a very poorly publicised one, depending on your point of view) I have written a book, The Philosophy of Coffee, which the British Library is publishing on 25th January next year.

To quote from the book itself, it’s a “short, entertaining and illuminating introduction to the history and culture of coffee, from the humble origins of the bean in northeast Africa over a millennium ago, to what it is today, a global phenomenon that is enjoyed around the world.”

It’s not a big book, just over 15,000 words, with 15 beautiful illustrations sourced from the British Library collection.  It’s also, according to the blurb, “the perfect gift for coffee lovers” so you should definitely buy a copy. Or two.

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Manchester Coffee Festival 2017 Part II

Dale Harris, the UK Barista Champion, pulling me a shot of his competition coffee on a La Marzocco Modbar at the Manchester Coffee Festival the day before he flew to Seoul where he would go on to win the World Barista Championship.Welcome to Part II of my round up of this year’s Manchester Coffee Festival. In Part I, I took a look at the venue itself, and also reported on my favourite coffee competition, the UK Cup Tasters’ Championship, won for a second year running by Freda Yuan from Caravan. This time I’m focussing on the coffee, looking at the various roasters who were there in force this year. I’ll finish things off next week in Part III with a roundup of everything else!

In previous years, I’ve tried to get to visit roasters who are new to me, but this year, most of the names were familiar. However, there were still a few I’d not heard of, and, as is always the case, I still failed to get to see everyone. Quite a few roasters made guest appearances at various stands, including Neighbourhood Coffee, North Star and Ozone, none of whom I managed to get around to seeing!

Despite this, I did manage to visit many excellent roasters, tried lots of great coffee, both filter and espresso, which included the coffee that won the World Barista Championships this year, and, yes, I did make some new friends along the way.

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Manchester Coffee Festival 2017 Part I

The winners of this year's UK Cup Tasters Championship: Freda (centre), who successfully defended her title, Katelyn, who came second and Don, who finished third.Last weekend I made my annual visit to the  Manchester Coffee Festival (Cup North as was), returning for a fourth year and, for the third year running, gracing the halls of the Victoria Warehouse. This year, it occupied the same space as before, a minor bonus that meant I could find everything that little bit more easily. It also felt slightly bigger, but without sacrificing the relaxed, friendly nature which marks it out as one of my favourite events of the year. As a sign of my dedication, I flew back from Chicago especially to attend, arriving in Manchester at 7 am the day before the festival!

All the usual suspects were there, with roasters and equipment manufacturers leading the way. Milk was also important, with several non-dairy alternatives featuring strongly. There were various food-related stands and a small selection of street food stalls located outside. Making a triumphant return for the third year running was my favourite coffee competition, the UK Cup Tasters’ Championship, while there were plenty of talks and cuppings going on. As usual, over the two days, I saw almost everyone I wanted to, but there’s quite never enough time to get around all the stands!

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to Chicago, Part III

My American Airlines Boeing 757 at the gate at Manchester Airport, having safely returned me from Chicago O'Hare.Welcome to the third and final part of this instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, which chronicles my various flights to/from Chicago this year. 2017 has seen me flying over all the world, including three trips to Chicago in relatively quick succession. While all three flights to Chicago have started at Manchester, I’ve flown a different route each time and flown with different airlines. This Travel Spot is my attempt to compare and contrast my experiences.

My first trip was at the end of June, when I flew with United from Manchester to Chicago via Newark, returning direct to London. My second trip, in September, took me from Manchester to London with British Airways and then on to Chicago with American Airlines. Once again, I returned on a direct flight, this time flying to London in business class with British Airways, just the second time I’ve flown long-haul in business, having done it earlier this year when returning from Vietnam.

My final flight, at the end of October, was my most straight-forward, flying direct from Manchester to Chicago with American Airlines and returning overnight by the same route, arriving on Friday morning, just in time for the Manchester Coffee Festival.

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18 Grams, Times Square

The words "18 GRAMS" in white in a black circle. Some stylised coffee beans are drawn above the 18.My first experience of speciality coffee in Hong Kong was at the Causeway Bay branch of roaster/coffee shop chain, 18 Grams. Two days later, I found myself in Times Square (opposite Café Corridor) and decided to pop into the 18 Grams there. Although “pop in” might be over-stating things since it took me almost an hour to find it!

18 Grams’ Times Square branch is inside the City Super super market, which itself is in the basement of Times Square. Occupying a simple, triangular stand, with seating along two sides of the counter, 18 Grams only serves coffee, plus the usual retail selection of beans and coffee-related kit. There’s a more limited offering than at Causeway Bay, but that’s to be expected, with just espresso (a house-blend), several single-origins on V60 and cold-brew. What surprised me was the relaxed atmosphere, making it the ideal place to linger over your coffee.

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Carvetii Coffee Roasters

The Carvetii Coffee Roasters' logo, with the slogan "Cumbria's Coffee Roasters".Carvetii, Cumbria’s Coffee Roasters, is somewhere that’s been on my radar for years, ever since I met Gareth and Angharad, the Welsh couple behind Carvetii, at the London Coffee Festival in 2014. Since, I’ve caught up with them at various coffee festivals around the country, including the Manchester Coffee Festival and, most recently, the Glasgow Coffee Festival. However, it’s taken me over three years to finally pay a visit to the Carvetii roastery in the heart of the Lake District. This delay is entirely down to me, and no reflection on the quality of their coffee, which I’ve always enjoyed.

I’ve wanted to feature Carvetii for a while, partly because it represents an object lesson in how to build a speciality coffee business in a non-speciality area from the ground up. Gareth and Angharad are also some of the most thoughtful people I’ve met in my five years of writing the Coffee Spot. Carvetii is an example of doing a few things and doing them well: there’s a seasonal espresso blend, three single-origins and a decaf. These will soon be joined by a second espresso (either a single-origin or another blend) plus the occasional experiment, designed to showcase the coffee.

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