I’ve always liked La Colombe, the Philadelphia-based chain, ever since visiting the amazing Dilworth Plaza branch near Philadelphia’s City Hall. I’ve now visited a number of branches, and, other than the coffee, they all have one thing in common: they occupy amazing physical spaces. This is something that La Colombe shares with the UK’s Boston Tea Party: taking iconic buildings and turning them into amazing coffee shops. Like the Boston Tea Party, La Colombe manages the trick of making each branch simultaneously its own place and yet obviously a La Colombe.
In this respect, the Wicker Park branch, one of four (soon to be five) in Chicago, is no different. Almost directly underneath the elevated Blue Line, which thunders above Milwaukee Avenue, La Colombe is opposite Damen station, occupying a large, rectangular building with a glass front, high ceilings and exposed brick walls. Add in windows at the back and it’s a wonderfully light and airy space.
There’s all the usual La Colombe goodness, with multiple choices on espresso, bulk-brew and pour-over. All the coffee is roasted in-house, in a facility a few blocks from the coffee shop which supplies all La Colombe’s Mid-west outlets. There’s also loose-leaf tea and a range of cakes/pastries.
A long time ago (at least, it feels that way) when I regularly visited London, I’d often wander past the Southbank Centre Food Market. Conveniently on the route from Waterloo Station to Hungerford Bridge (as I stubbornly still call the Golden Jubilee Bridges) it was made even better by the presence, at the foot of the stairs, of the Bean About Town coffee van, a lovely, old Citroen, run by the equally lovely, but not so old, Claire (who shares, by the way, her nationality with the van, both being French). It was one of the first places I wrote about on the Coffee Spot.
However, things change, I ceased to be such a regular visitor, and I didn’t notice when the van disappeared from the bottom of the stairs. Then, last Sunday, with an hour to spare, I decided to wander out of Waterloo and have a nose around the market, whereupon I stumbled upon a big sign saying “Coffee” at the far end of the market.
That’s new, I thought to myself. Only it wasn’t. It was the old Citroen van, with Claire still there, pulling shots. “What’s going on?” you might well ask. What’s going on indeed!
Lever & Bloom is a coffee cart on the corner of Byng Place in Bloomsbury, London, with the magnificent Church of Christ the King as its backdrop. Come rain or shine, Lever & Bloom is open throughout the year from eight to five, five days a week, serving top-quality espresso, the shots pulled on a lovely lever machine.
Lever & Bloom has been on my radar for a couple of years now, ever since it moved onto its new pitch in fact, but it wasn’t until yesterday, on my way to Euston Station, that I was able to actually stop by and say hello to Mounir, the owner. Serving Climpson and Sons’ Baron on espresso, there’s also decaf, a range of Birchall teas and a small selection of cakes, all made by Mounir’s wife. Needless to say, it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.
When I ran into Jamie, owner of Luckie Beans, at the Glasgow Coffee Festival, I learnt all about the coffee cart which had opened, at rather short notice, the previous summer. Invited in by the management at Glasgow Queen Street Station, Jamie had all of two weeks to set everything up, including sourcing the cart and all the equipment.
The result is quite impressive and a welcome addition to the station. Although there are plenty of options nearby in Glasgow city centre, there’s nothing quite like having speciality coffee on the station concourse, especially if you’re waiting for a train.
The Luckie Beans cart serves a blend and single-origin on espresso, with the option to buy the beans. There are also various sweet treats and savoury offerings, including porridge and sandwiches. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a small seating area, perfect if you have a few minutes to spare.
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!
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.
The latest addition to the growing Daisy Green/Beany Green collective is a rather different beast from those which have gone before. Spread over two floors on the corner of the prodigious new Nova development near Victoria Station, Timmy Green takes the strengths of Daisy/Beany and builds on them. The original Daisy Green, plus the Paddington and Liverpool Street Beany Greens, gained a reputation for innovative brunch menus, but Timmy Green goes one better, turning this into a fully-fledged restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner, complete with desserts, wine, beer and cocktails. And, of course, Roasting Party coffee.
The bulk of Timmy Green is downstairs, a triangular space providing restaurant-style table seating to the right and, in a tapering section to the left, cocktail tables and window-bars, plus a couple more intimate spaces. Upstairs, the mezzanine shares space with the kitchen as well as housing a few more tables.
There’s a large outdoor seating area in front of Timmy Green, with a narrower strip down the right-hand side. If all you want is coffee, a barrow with a bright yellow La Marzocco serves takeaway from half-an-hour before opening until three in the afternoon from its spot just left of door.
Badger & Dodo is a curious beast, and not just for its name. Starting life as a roastery in Cork in 2008, Badger & Dodo supplies coffee shops across Ireland. Except for the west coast. So, to plug the gap, in October 2014 Badger & Dodo opened its own café in Galway. As you do.
Occupying the corner of a modern, glass-walled building, Badger & Dodo is a bright and awkward-shaped spot. Just around the corner from the train station, bus station and coach station, there really is no excuse not to visit if you arrive in Galway by public transport (unless you arrive in late afternoon, when Badger & Dodo is closed). If, like I was, you leave by public transport, be sure to allow an hour or two before your train/bus/coach to sample the full coffee menu. Although maybe that’s just me…
Badger & Dodo serves a single-origin on espresso (which changes every five/six weeks or so) and another on filter through V60/Aeropress/Chemex (which changes every week or so). You can also buy a large range of single-origin beans. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a wide selection of handmade sandwiches/toasties, plus an excellent-looking range of pastries and cakes.
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.
When it comes to speciality coffee south of the river (in London), Federation Coffee has been flying the flag longer than most (almost six years in fact), with three years at its current location in the heart of Brixton Village. Although it now has company in the likes of Balance, Stir and Brixton Blend, Federation’s still a standard-bearer when it comes to speciality coffee in Brixton. There’s a house-blend on espresso from Kent-based roasters, Curve, with regularly-rotating single-origins from Curve and various guests on filter through the ever-reliable Moccamaster.
Federation occupies a couple of units in Brixton Village. You can sit inside or out, where the glass-roofed market arcades make for the perfect location, whatever the weather. Inside, you share the space with the counter, the seating in the windows all around the edges, giving you the perfect spot for people-watching, particularly if you get one of the window-bars.
If you’re hungry, there’s a good selection of cake on offer, backed up by an impressive breakfast/lunch menu, particularly when you consider the small space behind the counter in which the kitchen staff have to work. The menu is largely bread-based, with toast and toasted sandwiches, which suited me just fine.