Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, Paddington Central

What’s The Story?, a washed Ethiopian single-origin espresso from Wegida in Yirgacheffe, served in a glass at the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs Paddington Central branch.I feel that today’s Coffee Spot should be marked by fireworks or something. The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs has a long, distinguished history, opening its first branch on London’s Leather Lane in 2010. Since then it’s gone on to start roasting its own coffee and now has multiple branches in London (14 and counting), Manchester and Bristol, plus several in Chicago. It’s also acquired other operators such as TAP and Tradewind Espresso.

But here’s the thing. While I’ve always loved the coffee, I’ve never loved any of the actual coffee shops (and, believe me, I’ve tried many of them!). Until last week that is, when I walked into the new branch on Kingdom Street in Paddington Central. Quite why this one clicked with me when so many haven’t, I can’t say, but I knew as soon as I walked in the door. It helped that it was across the road from the office I was working in all last week, making me a daily visitor, but it’s that good, I’d go out of my way to visit.

There’s a blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, with two single-origins on batch brew, plus a wide range of cakes and savouries.

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Doughnut Vault, Canal Street

Some gorgeous latte art in Amanda's cappuccino at the Doughnut Vault on Canal Street, Chicago.The Doughnut Vault is one of Chicago’s better kept (speciality coffee) secrets. Put onto it by my friend Phillip, it was touted as the source of the best doughnuts in Chicago, Phillip recommended the Franklin Street location, a small (almost) hole-in-the-wall operation in River North around the corner from my hotel, which Amanda and I visited during our “polar vortex” trip to Chicago. It was only while we were there that the server pointed us towards the Canal Street branch across the river.

Given the aforementioned polar vortex, we didn’t venture out much, so couldn’t get to Canal Street on that visit. However, I returned the next time I was in Chicago, first with Amanda on Monday morning and again on my own on Wednesday lunchtime. As we discovered, Canal Street is somewhat bigger, best described as a “proper coffee shop”, serving, espresso, batch-brew and, of course, the aforementioned doughnuts.

A word of warning, though: the doughnuts sell out quickly. Best be there before nine o’clock if you want to be sure of getting one!

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Surrey Hills Coffee, London Square

The interior of the new Surrey Hills Coffee shop at London Square.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!

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Craving Coffee

The Craving Coffee logo, from the wall of the coffee shop in Tottenham.Craving Coffee celebrates its fourth birthday this year, a pioneering outpost of speciality coffee in northeast London, which is not somewhere I venture very often. While Craving Coffee has been on my list for a while, I am indebted (again!) to my friend, Daniel Stevens, who gave me the excuse to visit. A café, bar, community hub and evening social, Craving Coffee is also an art gallery, where different artists exhibit each month. And this month (August), exhibiting for the first time, is Daniel, who held his launch party on Friday, the excuse I finally needed to drag myself out to Tottenham and visit Craving Coffee.

When it comes to coffee, Craving Coffee uses Climpson and Sons, with the Baron blend on espresso, plus decaf and (usually) a single-origin on pour-over through the V60. During the day, there’s an extensive menu, including breakfast, lunch and cake, with all the meals cooked in the open kitchen behind the counter. This closes at 4pm, but on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, it re-opens in the evening as Craving Coffee hosts a different pop-up each week as the Tottenham Social. Finally, Craving Coffee is fully licenced, with a three-page menu feature beer, cider, wine and spirits.

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Mother Espresso

My 6oz with milk at Mother Espresso in Liverpool.Coffee shop chains are strange things. Sometimes places expand quickly, adding shop after shop, building a strong brand name. Other times, a second branch is only added after long, careful consideration. And sometimes, that second branch is so far removed in look and feel from the original that, until the barista tells you about the connection, you are completely clueless.

So it is with Mother Espresso, the Liverpool outpost of Manchester’s finest, North Tea Power, which opened a mere eight years after its parent and is about as different as can be in terms of look and feel. In my defence, as soon as the barista told me, I remembered, having read about the opening at the end of 2017 on social media, but by the time I came to visit, I’d completely forgotten about the connection, the name “Mother Espresso” not exactly screaming “North Tea Power” at me.

Like its parent, Mother Espresso does many things, excelling at them all, from coffee through tea, craft beer, wine and cocktails to an impressive food menu. The coffee is from Has Bean, with a pair of single-origins on espresso (for milk and black drinks respectively), while there’s also pour-over and batch-brew.

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Hideout Coffee

Head Barista, Jordan, talks with regular customer, David, at Hideout Coffee.Hideout Coffee is, quite literally, Portsmouth’s best kept secret when it comes to coffee. Right in the city centre, a few minutes’ walk away from Canvas Coffee, it’s tucked away down a side street with no external advertising, not even a name. You really do have to know it’s there. And that’s how Hideout likes it, giving it a speakeasy-like atmosphere, like you’re in a secret, members’ only club.

Hideout opened in the summer of 2017, effectively the in-house coffee shop for design agency I Love Dust, whose offices are above Hideout. Indeed, to get to I Love Dust, you go through Hideout first, which is in the small entrance lobby to offices. There’s room for just 10 seats, the coffee coming from a La Marzocco Linea tended by head barista, Jordan, who serves a standard espresso-based menu using a bespoke house-blend from Coffee@33, just along the coast in Brighton.

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Garage Coffee at Fruitworks

The Garage Coffee logo from the cafe inside the Fruitworks Coworking space in Canterbury.Just off Canterbury High Street, down a very unpromising lane (at least by the route I took, although there are far prettier approaches) is the latest addition to Canterbury’s speciality coffee scene, and a very welcome addition indeed, given the recent closure of nearby stalwart, Water Lane. There you will find, installed in the ground floor of the Fruitworks Coworking space, Garage Coffee.

Garage has been roasting coffee since 2015, disappointingly in a shipping container in nearby Hoath, rather than a garage, but Shipping Container Coffee didn’t have the same ring. Having built itself a dedicated local following, it moved into Fruitworks (at Fruitworks invitation) in April 2017. Occupying a large, open space of a size that most coffee shops can only dream of, Garage serves its house-blend and a single-origin on espresso, with another single-origin on pour-over through Aeropress, V60 or Chemex. Decaf is available on both espresso and pour-over.

There’s also tea from local suppliers, Debonair Tea Company, from nearby Hythe, plus a selection of very tempting cake. Unsurprisingly, all the coffee is for sale, along with coffee-making kit and a selection of tea, while you can also buy the beautiful cups that Garage serves its coffee in.

January 2019: Garage Coffee has opened a second location in Whitstable.

November 2019: Garage Coffee has left Fruitworks and taken over Canteen on Sun Street, a short walk away in the direction of the cathedral, which I visited at the end of the month.

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Infuse Coffee & Tea Bar, River North Point

A lovely Verve espresso in a classic white cup, pulled at Infuse Coffee & Tea Bar in River North Point, Chicago.Good coffee in offices is something of a rarity, the odd exception such as Store Street Espresso in Sheldon Square notwithstanding. Therefore imagine my surprise on turning up at my office for the week and discovering, in the lobby, not a run-off-the-mill coffee bar, but a genuine multi-roaster in the shape of the Infuse Coffee & Tea Bar. Best of all? The building’s open to the public, so anyone can walk in for some great coffee.

Infuse has a blend and decaf on espresso, plus two options on bulk-brew, using different roasters from all over the country. Cold brew and iced tea are on tap, plus there’s normal tea, matcha and chai lattes and a range of food from local suppliers. Even better, if you are planning on staying for a bit, Infuse will serve your coffee in a proper cup, while the lobby has seating plus free Wifi.

January 2019: Infuse now uses Passion House Coffee Roasters on both espresso and batch-brew.

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Alex Does Coffee

Details from the sign hanging on the door of Alex Does CoffeeAlex Does Coffee, part of Bristol’s growing speciality coffee scene, has graced Old Market Street, just  east of the city centre, since June last year, where it’s been joined more recently by 25A Old Market, which sits across the road. Located in spacious surroundings on the ground floor of Two’s Company, a creative hub and studios, Alex Does Coffee pretty much does what it says on the tin, with Alex doing coffee from an espresso machine on a counter at the back of the main space.

Alex Does Coffee has a concise espresso-based menu, focusing on doing a few things well, rather than trying to be all things to all people. The coffee is from the local Extract Coffee Roasters, while there’s also tea, hot chocolate, cold brew and soft drinks. If you want something sweet with your coffee, there’s a small selection of cake, including cookies, waffles and pastries.

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Render Coffee 121

The Render Coffee Logo, a coffee cup seen from above, painted on the window at 121 Devonshire Street in Boston.Not long after I left Boston on my previous trip in 2016, Render Coffee opened its second branch, continuing a recent theme of speciality coffee moving into the heart of downtown Boston. Just around the corner from downtown pioneers, Ogawa Coffee, you’ll find Render Coffee 121, appropriately enough, on 121 Devonshire Street.

The first thing to say is that this is a totally different space from the original Render on Columbus Avenue. It’s inside the CIC office building, serving as an in-house café as well as being open to the public. The space, in comparison to Columbus Avenue, is huge, with high ceilings and a broad frontage onto Devonshire Street. However, both are long and thin, although 121 is probably four to five times as wide as the Columbus Avenue branch, but goes just as far back.

Despite these differences, the coffee is just as good at 121. With offerings from Portland’s Tandem Coffee Roasters and the local Gracenote Coffee, you’ll often find the same coffee at both branches, but each manager has discretion to order what they like, so there may be differences. Unlike Columbus Avenue, there’s no breakfast/lunch menus, but you’ll find a similarly excellent selection of cake.

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