Seesaw 433

The Seesaw logo.Seesaw is a roastery and a chain of seven Shanghai coffee shops, although this one, Seesaw 433, is the original, having opened in 2012. Like most of the places I visited in Shanghai, it helps to know where it is, only more so in this case, since it’s at the back of a design centre, with no obvious signs on the street. If I hadn’t have known it was there, I would have missed it completely.

However, it would have been a shame to walk past since it’s a beautiful spot, with an enclosed courtyard, complete with glass roof. Perhaps because the courtyard is completely enclosed, it’s no smoking, but despite this, it can still get very hot and humid. If you want air-conditioning (or power outlets for your laptop), you’ll need to head inside the coffee shop proper, off to one side of the courtyard.

Seesaw roasts all its own coffee in a dedicated facility. There’s a seasonal house-blend and single-origin on espresso, with six or seven further single-origins on pour-over/cold brew, with all the typical origins represented. You can also buy the beans to take home with you, while if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of western-style cakes.

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The Coffee Academics, Wan Chai

One of the many interesting statements on the seats of the stools at the communal tables at the Wan Chai branch of The Coffee Academics in Hong Kong.The Coffee Academics is a roaster with a chain of coffee shops which, starting in Hong Kong, where there are multiple branches, has now spread to Shanghai and Singapore. It places itself firmly at the top end in terms of quality, with marketing to match. For example, I’ve never seen a coffee shop with such a fancy menu. Fortunately, the coffee (and the coffee shop) more than live up to the hype.

There’s a house-blend on espresso, with a range of standard drinks, most of which can also be had over ice. The real treat is the filter section where there’s a house-blend and four single-origins, all matched to a pair of preparation methods (Chemex and ice-drip for pour-over, Aeropress and Clever Dripper for immersion).

There’s an equally impressive range of food, which occupies most of the 16 page menu. This includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus various dessert options. In keeping with most of Hong Kong’s speciality coffee culture, the food is very western, with staples such as Eggs Benedict on offer. Consistent with the high-end setting, The Coffee Academics is table service only, so find a seat, peruse the menu and wait for someone to take your order.

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Vietnamese Coffee Part III

My traditional Vietnamese cup-top filter from The Espresso Station in action at my friend's house in the USA.Welcome to the third and final part of my exploration of traditional Vietnamese coffee following my recent visit to Vietnam. Part I covered my introduction to Vietnamese coffee and the traditional cà phê phin, a cup-top metal filter. I explained how, after a few false starts, I discovered a taste for speciality coffee made with the cà phê phin when I tried it at Shin Coffee in Ho Chi Minh City.

In Part II, I continued my exploration, trying traditional Vietnamese coffee, both speciality and non-speciality, over ice, and with condensed milk, with mixed results. I also tried the (in)famous egg coffee, traditional Vietnamese coffee with a layer of whipped egg yolk and condensed milk. Think of it as a liquid pudding rather than coffee and you’ll be fine.

In this, Part III, you can see how I got on making traditional Vietnamese coffee in various hotels and back at home using my own cà phê phin which I bought at The Espresso Station in Hoi Ann. I’ve tried a number of different beans, and used a couple of recipes which I picked up simply by observing baristas making coffee at the likes of Shin Coffee and Hanoi’s The Caffinet.

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The Caffinet

A traditional cup-top filter at The Caffinet in Hanoi.At last! A coffee shop in Vietnam not recommended by either Bex (Double Skinny Macchiato) or Simon (Fancy A Cuppa). Instead, today’s Coffee Spot, The Caffinet, was recommended by the wonderful folks at Oriberry Coffee (and, in fairness to Bex/Simon, it opened after their respective visits). On a busy street to the northeast of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, it’s another with a modest exterior that hides a delightful, and spacious, interior.

Spread over two floors, The Caffinet (which translates loosely as The Coffee House) opened in 2016 with the aim of serving Vietnamese-grown coffee and tea with a distinctly western-style. It does this using coffee from La Viet, a coffee shop/roaster in the Dalat coffee-growing region of Vietnam, and, tea from Long Dinh, which comes from Vietnam’s Lam Dong tea-growing province.

Unusually, there’s no hulking espresso machine at The Caffinet. Instead, espresso drinks are provided by the ROK hand espresso machine, which sits quietly on the counter. This is joined by a bewildering array of pour-over and immersion brewing methods. I think that the only one I didn’t see was the Clever Dripper! Finally, since this is Vietnam, there’s the traditional Vietnamese cup-top filter. Naturally, all the beans are for sale.

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Oriberry Coffee, Hàng Trống

A beautiful vase from Oriberry Coffee in Hanoi.On my recent trips, I’ve had the very good fortune of having some outstanding coffee shops right next to my hotels, but in this case, good fortune had nothing to do with it. I’d deliberately picked my hotel, buried in the warren of narrow streets west of the lake in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter (Hoàn Kiếm), because it was next to two of Bex (Double Skinny Macchiato) top two recommendations, Café RuNam and today’s Coffee Spot, Oriberry Coffee.

Oriberry is a Vietnamese social enterprise founded in 2010 to work closely with Vietnamese coffee and tea farmers, the ideals at the heart of the third-wave coffee movement. Oriberry is a chain of four coffee shops, which also double as retail outlets for its range of pottery, which is handmade in the nearby village of Bat Trang, and coffee, all of which is roasted in-house.

Oriberry serves two espresso blends, one, the 64 blend, a mix of Robusta and Arabica beans, the other, the 73 blend, pure Arabica. Both are available as espresso, while the 64 is also available as traditional Vietnamese Coffee, made with the cà phê phin cup-top filter. There’s also a range of Vietnamese tea and cakes.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying Business Class with Vietnam Airlines

My Vietnamese Airlines Boeing 787-9 waiting at the gate at Heathrow's Terminal 4 to take me to Ho Chi Minh City.Welcome to another instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot. This is part of my series on Vietnam, which started with my flight over, and which, logically enough, would conclude with this, my flight back However, I’ve long since given up on assuming that there will be any logic to the order of these posts, so while you still await my thoughts on Vietnam itself, the final instalment of my three-part series on Vietnamese Coffee and the culmination of my trip up the coast by train, here’s a piece on my flight back from Vietnam, which marked, in another first for me and the Coffee Spot, a long-haul flight in business class.

I should point out that I do have this dream that at some point in the (hopefully not too distant) future, loads of free time will magically appear, allowing me to go back and complete the outstanding Travel Spots. These will then form a coherent narrative, full of useful information for the fellow traveller. Of course, knowing how these things go, it’ll take me ages, by which time they’ll be hopelessly out of date. Plus, of course, I’ll have to completely re-write this introduction.

I’ve clearly not thought this through…

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Mia Coffee

The sign for the new Mia Coffee roastery and cafe in Hoi An, two doors down from the original!Mia Coffee is in Hội An’s French Quarter, east of the old town, another recommendation from the tag team of Bex (Double Skinny Macchiato) and Simon (Fancy A Cuppa). Set back a decent way from the road, Mia Coffee occupies a low, single-storey building with a small, recessed terrace. Inside, the single space is open to the A-framed roof. Like The Espresso Station, it doesn’t have air-conditioning, relying on fans to keep things cool. It also bucks the usual Vietnamese trend of staying open until late at night, closing at five o’clock.

Like most of the independent coffee shops I’ve come across in Vietnam, Mia Coffee is a roaster as well as a coffee shop, championing links with Vietnamese coffee growers and only serving Vietnamese coffee. Unlike some, the range on offer is limited, with a single Arabica blend for espresso and traditional cup-top Vietnamese filter, plus  another for use at home, both available in retail bags.

A word of warning: Mia Coffee’s done so well that it’s outgrown its current premises and is moving. If all goes well, come October, Mia Coffee will be across the road in a new, purpose-built café/roastery that was under construction during my visit.

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Vietnamese Coffee Part II

Traditional Vietnamese cup-top filter coffee with condensed milk from The Espresso Station in Hoi AnWelcome to the second of my three-part exploration of traditional Vietnamese coffee. As I explained in Part I, I’ve been exploring the local coffee culture during my time in Vietnam. The Vietnamese are volume coffee drinkers: I’ve not been anywhere with this many coffee shops! They are literally on every corner, often open from first thing in the morning to last thing at night.

However, traditional Vietnamese coffee, made using the cà phê phin, a cup-top metal filter, served either hot or over ice, and often with condensed milk, has a reputation for being strong, sweet and heavy on the Robusta. Sadly, much of that does not appeal to me, but, despite my initially scepticism, I found, to my surprise, that I liked many aspects of both the culture and of the coffee itself.

In Part I, I shared my initial, rather unsuccessful, forays into traditional Vietnamese coffee, followed by my conversion when I tried the combination of speciality coffee and the cà phê phin. In this, Part II, I continue my exploration with coffee over ice plus coffee with condensed milk. Finally, Part III will cover my experiments of using my own cà phê phin to make coffee.

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The Espresso Station

The Espresso Station logo, taken from a sign halfway down the alley which houses it in Hoi An.The Espresso Station is a delightful little spot in Hội An, just to the north of the old city and, conveniently, just down the street from my hotel. Despite this convenience, I might have struggled to find it, since it’s tucked away down a narrow alley off the main street, Trần Hưng Đạo. However, forearmed is forewarned and, having read all about it after my friend Bex (of Double Skinny Macchiato fame) adventures in Vietnam last year, I knew what I was looking for.

The Espresso Station occupies a low, single-storey building with its own courtyard, which is where most of the seating is. It’s both roastery and café, with the roaster, a shiny 5kg job, tucked away at the back of the main building. Serving espresso, pour-over and traditional Vietnamese cà phê phin (cup-top filter), there’s also a range of tea, juices, plus a limited all-day breakfast menu and pastries.

There’s a blend for espresso and cà phê phin, using Arabica beans grown in Vietnam’s Dalat region, with a Vietnamese single-origin or another from Panama on pour-over. The espresso beans are available for sale, along with traditional cup-top filter (a steal at 25,000 Vietnamese Dong, or less than £1).

July 2017: In a fit of extremely bad timing on my behalf, less than a month after my visit, The Espresso Station closed for a full refit. Judging by the pictures on its Facebook page, you can expect the same excellent coffee, but in a lovely new setting.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Vietnam By Train

My sleeper compartment on the TN2 train from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi.Welcome to the second instalment of the latest Brian’s Travel Spot, the occasional series in which I attempt to catalogue my travels by means other than the coffee shops I visit. This trip began just over a week ago, when I flew out to Vietnam, a new destination for both me and the Coffee Spot. Since then I’ve been in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon as was), first exploring the city (through the lens of its speciality coffee shops), then attending a week-long meeting for my day job.

In an ideal world, I’d be writing things up as I go, letting you know what I made of the city, with regular updates documenting my various adventures and experiences. However, if the last year has taught me anything, it’s that trying to combine travelling, working, keeping the Coffee Spot regularly updated and writing Travel Spots in real time just doesn’t work. Something has to give and, sadly, it’s the Travel Spot.

Instead, let’s skip over Ho Chi Minh City to the second part of my trip, which began yesterday. It’s an epic 36-hour train journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, stopping along the way at Hoi An and Hué.

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