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 the Notes barrow 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.
Just off Highway 1 in southern California, east of Monterey, in the delightfully-named town of Seaside, is a parking lot. Not just any old parking lot, mind you. This one’s special. Although I did wonder, as I pulled in, if I’d come to the right place… However, there, at the back of the lot, in a low, garage-like building, is the Acme Coffee Roasting Company, purveyors of fine artisan, small-batch coffee.
Acme, which was established in 2004, roasts all its own coffee. Indeed, this used to be the roastery, but as the company grew, the roaster was moved to a dedicated facility, leaving this space as a lovely little coffee bar. There’s a blend and single-origin on espresso, plus a filter bar, where the drip coffee is made to order using pour-over cones. There’s also the obligatory bulk-brew if you’re in a hurry and a selection of cakes and sweet-treats.
After the venerable Federation Coffee, Balance, on Ferndale Road, is one of the more established names in Brixton’s speciality coffee, recently joined by the likes of Stir Coffee Brixton and Brixton Blend, plus, across the road, the new Volcano/Assembly Roastery. Established in 2014 by the owner, Ali, who I had the pleasure of meeting, Balance is a tightly-focused shop selling espresso-based drinks, with beans from The Roastery Department and Assembly, freshly-blended juices and a small selection of pastries, toasties and sandwiches.
It’s a tiny place too, with just enough space inside for the counter, espresso machine behind, where you can order and wait for your coffee. If you want to sit down, you need to head outside (although you’re welcome to stand at the counter like I did and drink your coffee) where you’ll find a bench and a couple of two-person tables on the pavement.
Somewhere everyone had been telling me to go in York was Stanley & Ramona, slightly off the beaten track on Bishopthorpe Road, outside the city walls and a whole 15-minute walk from the city centre. Stanley & Ramona’s run by a lovely couple, disappointingly called Lee and Lucy, although they do redeem themselves by having alliterative names, which always gets bonus points.
Stanley & Ramona is a small spot, where the outside seating (four two-person tables) outnumbers the inside seating (benches along the window and by the counter). This makes for a very cosy atmosphere where you are somewhat obliged to talk with Lee & Lucy. Fortunately they are excellent company, although they did spend most of my visit insulting the other customers.
Somewhere along the line there is coffee, from Cornwall’s Origin on espresso and from various guests on filter through the Chemex. There’s also a decent breakfast/lunch menu.
Wander down Cheapside, away from St Paul’s Cathedral, and you’ll find a branch of Hummus Bros. on the left-hand side. This, in itself, is unspectacular since Hummus Bros. is a familiar sight in London. However, this one’s special: look closely and you’ll see that it houses none other than Silhouette, a speciality coffee shop run by one of coffee’s nicest couples, Lee and Syirin (although these days Syirin’s rarely in the shop).
The space itself is nothing special: long and thin with a makeshift counter two-thirds of the way down on the right, housing Silhouette’s trusty La Marzocco espresso machine. From this surprisingly small space, you’ll find Lee dispensing excellent espresso-based drinks from Notes and occasional guests (although rumour has it that if you ask nicely, you can get pour-over, although it’s not on the menu). Even more impressive is the small, but tasty, toast-based menu & some excellent cakes.
Third Rail Coffee has been part of the New York speciality coffee scene for some time now. A chain of precisely two, this branch, in Greenwich Village, is the original, having opened seven years ago. It’s a small spot, not much bigger than Café Grumpy’s Lower East Side branch where I had started the day, with space inside for maybe 12.
The coffee’s from North Carolina’s Counter Culture, the Los Rosales single-origin Colombian on espresso, joined by a guest roaster. This guest spot focuses on East Coast roasters, exemplified by the choice during my visit, Boston’s George Howell. There’s a single-origin (sometimes blend) on bulk-brew, with a choice of four single-origins through the Chemex. These change every couple of months and are chalked up on boards next to the menu. As is often the case in the US, the focus is firmly on the coffee, with cookies if you’re hungry.
And Coffee is a small, almost cubic space on the busy Wulumuqi Middle Road, the door on the left and a solitary window on the right. I found it completely by chance, something about it setting off my Coffee Spot radar. I’m not quite sure what, but I’ve learnt to trust my radar over the years.
There’s not much to And Coffee. The counter occupies the back of the room and there’s just enough space for an eight-person communal table in the centre, plus a four-person window-bar at the front. And that’s it. The décor is similarly plain, verging on the austere, with white-painted walls and ceiling, punctuated by a wooden counter-front and wooden table.
Coffee-wise, there are espresso-based drinks, single-origin pour-overs (with a choice of four beans) and cold brew, all using beans from the local Moon Coffee Roaster. There’s also tea, detox smoothies and, if you’re hungry, cake.
Idle Hands started as a long-term pop-up by Manchester’s Piccadilly Station. I had a hit-and-miss relationship with Idle Hands, constantly turning up when it was closed before finally visiting during last year’s Cup North. Idle Hands moved out earlier this year, finding a temporary home with barbers Mr Beardmore in the building on Dale Street that will become its permanent home. Eventually.
The building’s being redeveloped, and, in a tale of woe which you can read on Idle Hands’ website, the opening date has been pushed back and back. Originally scheduled to move in permanently by the end of October, this now looks like early next year. In the meantime, the developer has allowed Idle Hands to move into 32 Dale Street, in the space next door to its future permanent home of 34 Dale Street. It’s a bit makeshift, but at least Idle Hands is back and serving coffee!
Manner Coffee was a recommendation from Anna, my barista at Monday’s Coffee Spot, Sumerian Coffee. Handily placed just a few streets away from Sumerian Coffee on the quiet Nanyang Road, I was very grateful for the tip since I’m not sure I’d have found it by myself, particularly since it doesn’t show up on any on-line maps that I know of and has no social media presence.
I’m not even sure I’d have noticed it if I was just walking past since Manner Coffee is literally a hole-in-the-wall operation (for the pedants out there, technically it’s a window-in-the-wall operation). However, the crowd of people standing outside, waiting to order their coffee, might have drawn my attention.
And what coffee! Despite its size, Manner offers espresso (house-blend) & pour-over (various single-origins) from a selection of beans, all roasted in-house. It’s takeaway cups only though, so don’t forget to bring your own.
Café Grumpy, a small, local coffee shop chain, roasts all its own beans in Brooklyn. With its no compromise attitude, it’s fast becoming one of my NYC favourites. The Lower East Side branch, on Essex Street, is the smallest and is perhaps my favourite (of those I’ve visited so far).
My go-to place for morning coffee used to be the original Pushcart Coffee on East Broadway. Just a few blocks east of my usual hotel in Chinatown, it was perfect. Then it closed and, for the last two years, I’ve been coffee-less first thing in the morning: not the ideal situation!
Embarrassingly, I only discovered Café Grumpy on my most recent trip, not realising that the Lower East Side branch had been open since 2012, some while before Pushcart closed. Just around the corner from my hotel, it’s every bit as convenient as Pushcart, so I needn’t have gone coffee-less all those mornings. What an oversight!