As anyone who travels by train in the UK knows, good coffee is hard to come by. Every now and then, a coffee stand, such as The Flying Coffee Bean in my home town of Guildford, or Glasgow’s Luckie Beans, provides welcome relief, but a proper, sit-down speciality coffee shop is a rare find. This makes Canvas Coffee, located in the old station buffet on the concourse of Portsmouth and Southsea station, such a delight.
Since opening in a small kiosk across the concourse in March 2014, Canvas has gone from strength-to-strength, moving into the vacant station buffet six months later and slowly growing to occupy the entire space. In many ways, it’s a typical station coffee shop, with commuters calling in for their morning coffee on the way to the train or office, while a steady stream of people and their luggage kill time before their trains.
However, it’s more than that. With the Drake Blend from Winchester’s The Roasting Party served from a concise espresso-based menu, backed up with a range of options for lunch, plus cake throughout the day, it’s a destination in its own right, a large, spacious coffee shop that would grace any city.
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.
When it comes to railways, I have a romantic streak a mile wide. However, railway coffee and station coffee shops, with the notable exception of the likes of Coffee Affair, can sometimes be disappointing. Step forward Porter, a relatively new addition to Madison’s speciality coffee scene, located in the city’s old railway station. The (passenger) trains may have long gone, but Porter has recreated the atmosphere quite nicely, especially outside, where you can sit on the old platform.
Serving Counter Culture from North Carolina, Porter has the Hologram espresso blend, plus different single-origins on guest espresso, pour-over, bulk-brew (drip) and on tap (cold brew). The coffee menu comes in two parts, a more mass-market-based left-hand side with lattes and drip coffee offered in sizes of 8/12/16oz, and a more speciality-orientated right-hand side with cortados and flat whites.
Porter also offers a range of made-to-order and pre-made sandwiches, plus other breakfast and lunch options. There’s the usual selection of beans and coffee equipment for sale, but, unusually, they’re joined by items you’re more like to find in a delicatessen or grocers: tinned tomatoes, sardines, cured meats, cheese and a select range of spirits were just some of the things I noticed.
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.
Not long ago, there wasn’t much speciality coffee around Fulham, just the long-standing Chairs and Coffee (shamefully, I’ve still not been!). However, it’s a rapidly-changing scene, which now includes the latest arrival, Pitch, which opened last week inside Fulham Broadway shopping centre. Pitch made a name for itself when it cut the back off a Cadillac and turned it into an espresso bar in Westfield shopping centre out in Stratford.
Now it’s got a slightly more conventional pitch right in the middle of the main drag at Fulham Broadway, serving Allpress coffee from an espresso-based menu, with decaf on a second grinder. There’s also hot chocolate, tea, sandwiches and an impressive range of cakes. It doesn’t stop there: Pitch has an astonishing seven types of milk-substitute! For what is essentially a takeaway place, there’s also seating at the counter (including power!), which is a nice touch.
Having started life in Westfield, which is about as mainstream as it comes, Pitch isn’t afraid of a little competition from the chains, and so it is at Fulham Broadway. Pitch has set up directly opposite Starbucks and there’s a Pret one door down. Who says speciality coffee can’t compete with the big boys?
It took a while, but speciality coffee has reached Canary Wharf, and, having got here, it’s not going away. There are now two branches of both Taylor Street Baristas (Canary Wharf and South Quay) and coffee shop/roaster, Notes. Although I’ve already written about Notes in Crossrail Place, today’s Coffee Spot, on the concourse of Canary Wharf tube station, was the first I came across when, back in September, I innocently wandered through the ticket barriers and thought “ooh, look, a Notes”.
Sadly I only had my phone, which wasn’t up to adequately photographing somewhere which is entirely underground. It was only last week that I was able to return, proper camera in hand, at a time when there weren’t customers queuing out of the door!
Although small (and with no seats), the Canary Wharf Notes thinks it’s just as big and important as its much larger siblings. While there’s no wine or beer, there are impressive breakfast and lunch menus, a good selection of cake and coffee-kit/beans for sale. The coffee’s what it’s all about though: serving only single-origins, all roasted in-house, there’s espresso plus bulk-brew, and, surprisingly, Canary Wharf consistently serves the best coffee that I’ve had at Notes.
What’s going on? For the third Coffee Spot in a row, I’m visiting places in the order in which they opened! Hot on the heels of the original Artisan in Putney and the first Society Café on Bath’s Kingsmead Square, comes Doctor Espresso – Mama V’s in Clapham High Street!
I visited the original Doctor Espresso, Doctor Espresso Caffetteria, opposite Putney Bridge tube station, in the summer of 2013, not long after it had opened. So it seemed fitting that I should pop into Doctor Espresso’s second venture, named Mama V’s (after Vanessa, co-owner of Doctor Espresso) a couple of months after it had opened. Following the precedent set by the Caffetteria, Mama V’s is also right by a station, this time the overground, where it is nestled in an arch under the line by Clapham High Street station.
Mama V’s serves the same basic menu as the Caffetteria: coffee, cake and some lovely Italian food (panini, calzone, pizza, pasta & salad). If ever a place was designed to appeal to me, it’s Doctor Espresso’s. Pride of place, of course, goes to a classic 1957 Gaggia Tipo America lever espresso machine, just one year younger than the one in the Caffetteria!
The Flying Coffee Bean is a chain of coffee kiosks on stations in the South East. The Guildford one’s been a fixture for several years, but, until recently, I never gave it a second thought. I distinctly remember when, a couple of years before I started the Coffee Spot, I took my coffee (a two-shot latte) back to get an extra shot because all I could taste was milk. The barista didn’t look best pleased, explaining that this was how the customers liked it, at which point I decided to take my custom elsewhere.
Fast forward to six months ago and, for various reasons, I revisited the Flying Coffee Bean. Expecting disappointment, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only could I taste the coffee, it was really nice-tasting coffee too! 12-second extractions were a thing of the past and the milk was steamed so it held decent latte-art.
Tucked away in Westbourne Park tube station on the Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines, two stops west of Paddington, is the delightful Bica Coffee House. Having bemoaned the absence of top quality coffee in tube stations, I’ve now found two in as many months. However, unlike Piccadilly Grind, which I believe is a pop-up, Bica is here to stay.
Serving takeaway only, It’s a small spot, occupying what could have been an old booking office or kiosk. There is, however, a generous serving hatch and shelf, which is large and deep enough for a decent display of pastries and other baked goodies, as well as affording a view of the bright red two-group La Marzocco.
Unlike many coffee stalls/kiosks at stations, Bica’s commitment to excellence is there at the outset. The coffee is from east London roasters Nude Espresso and there are no 12-second extractions here, despite the steady stream of customers, while the milk is properly steamed, resulting in a great texture. There’s a decent range of espresso-based drinks: espresso and Americano, plus macchiato, cortado, flat white, latte and cappuccino. For those with a sweet tooth, there’s mocha and hot chocolate, plus tea of various types.
Piccadilly Grind is, as far as I know, unique, being the only coffee shop inside a London tube station. There might be others in the outer zones, but this is certainly the only one in a Zone 1 station. It’s an unexpected setting, but certainly a welcome one, meaning you can get great coffee on the go from seven in the morning until ten at night (nine until eight at weekends). Hopefully we will see more of this sort of thing in the future!
Tucked into literally a hole in the wall on the main concourse, it blends in well with its surroundings. Despite its relatively small size, Piccadilly Grind is anything but a small coffee shop in its outlook. It’s even got seating, power and free (sort of) Wifi. The only thing that it doesn’t do at the moment is pour-over. Other than that, there’s a comprehensive espresso menu (house-blend and decaf, both roasted by Brighton’s Small Batch), tea from Tea Pigs and an impressively wide ranges of soft drinks, pastries/cakes and (at lunchtime) sandwiches.
You can either order your coffee to go or sit down on the bench and, in the quieter moments, chat with the baristas.
November 2014: Sadly Piccadilly Grind is no more. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, it was always intended to be a six month pop-up, and closed at the start of the month.