Exo Roast Co. has, since 2013, been roasting and serving some excellent coffee in the centre of Tucson, Arizona. I first visited in March last year, after a tip-off from Coffee Ken, who I met at Matador Coffee in Flagstaff on my first of visit to Arizona in 2018. I also called in again on Saturday, when I was back in Tucson.
Occupying a sunny corner, Exo is split in two. From the outside, I’d have bet that the back was the roastery, with the coffee shop up front. While I was right about the coffee shop part, the roaster is here too. The back, meanwhile, provides overspill seating, a part-time bar and occasional events space.
Exo Roast Co has a concise espresso-based menu, pleasingly lacking the buckets-of-milk style drinks, with a single-origin plus decaf on espresso, another on batch-brew and two more as pour-overs through the V60. Breakfast is served until noon during the week, while at weekends, it shifts by an hour, not starting until 8:00 but continuing until one o’clock. There’s a short, but inventive seasonal menu chalked up on a blackboard on the wall next to the coffee menu. There’s also a small selection of cakes/pastries.
Story Coffee on St John’s Hill in South West London is one of the capital’s speciality coffee stalwarts, having first opened in 2014. I took my time in visiting, only calling in for the first time towards the end of the September last year, when I found, to my surprise, that Story Coffee had a second branch, a little sibling if you like, called Story Works, just down the hill at the back of Clapham Junction.
Much smaller than the original, Story Works has a cut-down offering while retaining many similarities with Story Coffee, including a gorgeous two-group Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine. Like Story Coffee, there’s a single option on espresso, but pour-over has given way to batch-brew. Similarly, while there is food, Story Coffee’s brunch menu has been replaced by avocado on toast, grab-and-go salads and superfood smoothies, although there’s still a good selection of cake.
Toro Coffee burst onto Glasgow’s speciality coffee scene (specifically the Southside) in September, becoming an instant hit, partly thanks to the efforts of cheerleader-in-chief, my friend Charlotte. Indeed, when I popped over to Glasgow last week, Charlotte’s plan for the morning was “we’re going to Toro”. Not, “would you like to go to Toro?”. No, we were going. On the other hand, Charlotte has excellent taste in coffee shops, so I wasn’t about to disagree.
Other than the coffee, the main draw is the wonderful, friendly and welcoming owners, Ross and Gill. Although a new name, Toro has good pedigree: Ross’ big brother, Iain, owns Primal Roast, one of my favourite Glasgow breakfast spots (and also home to some excellent coffee).
Although there’s a wide selection of cakes, plus toast for breakfast (as if I needed any further encouragement) Toro’s main focus is the coffee. It’s a multi-roaster, offering separate options on espresso and filter, the later available as batch-brew through the ever-reliable Moccamaster, and as pour-over, using hand-thrown ceramic Kalita-wave style filters. The espresso changes every week, while the filter is swapped every day or two, with roasters drawn from just down the road to half way across Europe.
For the longest time, London Square has just been a large office complex that I walked past on Guildford’s London Road, opposite London Road Station and Guildford High School. Not anymore. While I was flying around the world and swanning off to Manchester and Rome, Surrey Hills Coffee was busy opening a new branch, to go with this year’s relocation to Jeffries Passage.
Not that you’d know from walking past on the street. The new Surrey Hills Coffee is in a container-style cabin in the car park, its back to the main entrance, facing the offices. It’s cosy looking, instantly reminding me of the Grindsmith Pod in Manchester, only with fewer windows. There are a couple of tables outside, which will come into their own during the warmer weather, while inside a pair of three-person bars provide the seating. When it comes to coffee, the Holmbury Hill blend is on espresso, plus a range of cakes, snacks and, at lunchtime, soup and sandwiches/toasties. Even better, although the customers are primarily take-away, there are proper cups!
I’ve long been a fan of Heart & Graft, and its co-owner, James, having first met in 2013 at Coffee Fix in Gatley on the outskirts of Manchester. Back then James was running his first roastery, The Coffee Circle, while also working as a barista at Coffee Fix. However, by the time the first Manchester Coffee Festival (then known as Cup North) came around in 2014, James was installed in a new roastery in Artwork, the venue for the original Cup North. By then, the Coffee Circle had morphed into Heart & Graft and soon after, James teamed up with Sean, the two of them taking Heart & Graft from strength to strength.
Sadly I never managed to visit the original roastery, which closed down at the end of the summer, moving to a new space in Newton Heath. At the same time, Heart & Graft had the opportunity for a coffee shop under a railway arch in Salford, a few minutes’ walk from the original roastery, the shop opening in early October. Naturally, when I was back in Manchester at the start of the month for this year’s Manchester Coffee Festival, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to call in.
When looking for speciality coffee in Rome, it pays to get a little off beaten track. Although you can find good quality traditional espresso bars like Tazza D’Oro and the occasional gem such as Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria in the centre, there’s also great coffee to found elsewhere. Today’s Coffee Spot, the Tram Depot, is south of the historic centre, beyond the Palatine Hill and Circo Massimo, on the far side of the Aventine Hill.
The Tram Depot consists of a small kiosk where you can take your coffee at the counter, with a spacious outdoor seating area if you want to linger. During the day, the focus is very much on the coffee, from Le Piantagioni del Caffè, a roaster I had not heard of before, hailing from the Tuscan coast. There’s a single-origin on espresso and three more on pour-over through V60, Syphon and cafetiere, while there’s also loose-leaf tea.
In the evening, the Tram Depot switches to a bar, staying open until 1am each night, serving wine, spirits and cocktails, although you can also get espresso-based drinks. This is all backed up by a range of tasty cakes and pastries, plus sandwiches if you want something more substantial.
For the longest time, Chester, closest city to Holywell, the town where I grew up, has been poorly served by speciality coffee. However, in recent months a spate of new openings have joined stalwarts such as The Barista’s and Jaunty Goat in the city centre and Little Yellow Pig, out in Hoole, which is where you’ll find today’s Coffee Spot, Short + Stout.
Occupying an interestingly-shaped building on a narrow corner at the end of two terraces in a relatively quiet, residential area, it’s not a huge space. Despite this, Short + Stout acts like a much larger coffee shop, offering breakfast, brunch and lunch menus, complete with full table service, a clear sign of its Melbourne roots, which is where the owners, Sarah and Will, first got their inspiration.
The coffee is from nearby Ancoats Coffee Co in Manchester (Sarah having known Manny, from Ancoats, when they were both working in Melbourne). During my visit it was espresso only, with the ubiquitous Warehouse City blend joined by Ancoats’ seasonal decaf. However, Short + Stout, which had been serving cold brew over the summer, was in the process to switching to offering guest roasters on batch-brew alongside the espresso-based drinks.
Occupying a bright, sunny corner just a few doors down from Birdhouse, Story Coffee has been part of the furniture in this part of London, which is just west of Clapham Junction station, for close to four years. Give how often I go up to London, this shows just how little I get out of the station rather than zipping through it on the train. The loss, frankly, is all mine.
There’s not much to Story Coffee, just a single, unfussy rectangular space, with plenty for room on the broad pavement for a cluster of tables. Meanwhile, inside is a mix of tables and bars. Since it started, Story Coffee has used London’s Square Mile, but that’s slowly changing, Story having recently started roasting its own coffee. For now it’s Square Mile’s Red Brick on espresso, with a different single-origin on batch-brew and another on pour-over. These change every day or two and represent your best chance of sampling Story’s own coffee, which occasionally makes an appearance.
For somewhere so small, there’s also an impressive brunch menu, prepared in the kitchen downstairs, and served until three o’clock each afternoon (four o’clock at weekends). Naturally, there’s a good selection of cake.
Once upon a time, good coffee was relatively hard to find near Waterloo Station, but now it’s positively ringed by great options, from Four Corners and Coleman Coffee Roasters on Lower Marsh to For the Good of the People Coffee and Beany Green on the South Bank. However, the latest addition, Urban Baristas, on Waterloo Road itself, has the distinction of being the closest to the station, just across the road from the main Jubilee Line concourse.
Urban Baristas is a small chain which, starting in 2016, now has four locations, the Waterloo branch opening in October last year. It’s a tiny place, reminiscent of Goodge St Espresso, only smaller. Despite the size, there’s espresso from Union Hand-roasted and a rotating cast of guest roasters on batch-brew, plus cake, sandwiches and toast if you’re hungry. There’s also a selection of tea and Kokoa Collection hot chocolate.
Naturally it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own, while Urban Baristas has gone cashless at Waterloo, so you’ll also need a credit or debit card.
The Gentlemen Baristas, which started life at the end of 2014 on Union Street, just south of the Thames, now boasts four branches, of which this, on nearby Park Street, can legitimately be said to be the baby. In terms of look and feel, however, it very much has the air of a miniature version of the original, albeit with a cut-down coffee menu featuring two options on espresso and another on batch-brew, pour-over having been sacrificed to save space.
This lack of space also means that seating is at a premium, with room for four inside and another four outside on two benches. That said, there’s still the space for a well-stocked set of retail shelves, selling retail bags of coffee/coffee kit on one side, and produce at the other, including pickles, preserves and condiments. Meanwhile if you’re hungry, there’s a range of cakes and sandwiches. Another victim of the lack of space is cups, The Gentlemen Baristas only offering takeaway cups, so bring your own, although there are some espresso cups knocking around.