Chalk Coffee (COVID-19 Update)

The A-board outside Chalk Coffee is a sign of the times, reminding you that you need to wear a mask (from October 2020).Of all the coffee shops that I’ve visited since the COVID-19 restrictions were eased in England, Chalk Coffee can make a claim to be the one with the least physical changes. Located on Watergate Street, it’s part of the rapid expansion of Chester’s speciality coffee scene that has seen numbers swell in the last few years. Like many of the city’s speciality coffee shops, it has a basement-like feel, stretching a long way back under the famous Rows and it looks, and feels, remarkably like it did on my last visit in 2019.

However, there have been changes. As well the (admittedly minor) physical ones, you’ll find a clear sign outside on the pavement reminding you that you must wear a mask. Meanwhile, there’s a QR code on the counter that you can scan, checking you in on the NHS COVID-19 app. Not all the changes are COVID-19 related though. Chalk Coffee used to use Origin for its house espresso, but it’s recently changed to Colonna Coffee, although Origin is still on decaf, while a regularly-changing guest roaster provides the second espresso option and filter. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, the usual cast of premade sandwiches and cakes are still available.

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Jaunty Goat Update

The Jaunty Goat logo, which was painted on the wall to the left as you enter the store in Chester.Jaunty Goat is one of Chester’s speciality coffee stalwarts, having relocated from a few doors along Bridge Street to its current location in 2015. I first visited in 2016, when it could be fairly described as a coffee shop doing good food, all in a lovely, basement-like interior that extends a long way back under the Rows above. There are even the remnants of a stone staircase in the wall at the back that might date back to the middle-ages.

Jaunty Goat was set up by twins, Patrick and Ed, with Ed leaving in 2018 to establish the nearby Chalk Coffee. Since then, Jaunty Goat has reinvented itself, considerably upping its food game to match the likes of The Flower Cup and Panna, serving a brunch menu until 4 o’clock. It’s also revamped and extended the interior, adding more table seating.

At the start of 2019, it opened a second, plant-based, location on Northgate Street, then, after reopening following the easing of the COVID-19 restrictions, Jaunty Goat itself has gone vegetarian. Finally, over the summer, it started roasting its own coffee in a dedicated, off-site roastery, with seasonal single-origin offerings on espresso (house, guest and decaf), plus another on pour-over (AeroPress/V60/Chemex).

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Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters Update

The 15 kg Giesen roaster at Quarter Horse, Birmingham.Quarter Horse Coffee opened its Birmingham café/roastery in 2015, the roastery operating on one side of the space, the coffee shop on the other, the two separated by a waist-high counter. While this arrangement had the obvious advantage of making the roastery very visible to the customers, it had its drawbacks. As the roastery became busier, the inevitable interruptions that come from having such an open and visible roasting operation began to have an impact on productivity.

Nathan, the driving force behind Quarter Horse, decided that he need to make some major modifications to improve the roastery. However, the question was how to accommodate the disruption that the structural work would cause, which would inevitably shut both roastery and café for several weeks. Then along came COVID-19, with its enforced shutdown, giving Nathan his opportunity…

The results of the remodelling were plain for all to see when Quarter Horse reopened on the last day in July. Although it would be more accurate to say that they weren’t plain to see. Although the roastery hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s now enclosed in its own room, leaving Nathan and his team free to get on with the important business of roasting in peace.

This Coffee Spot Update focuses on the roastery, while the café has its own update, where you can find more details of the physical changes.

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Kaffeine Eastcastle (COVID-19 Update)

The front of Kaffeine, door to the left, windows to the right, with a pair of benches in front of the window acting as tables.If you ever need evidence that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for operating a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic, I  present Kaffeine, the London-based chain of precisely two coffee shops. I’ve already looked at how the original Kaffeine, on Great Titchfield Street, has adapted to COVID-19 and today it’s the turn of Kaffeine Eastcastle, which reopened at the start of September. Although less than five minutes’ walk apart, how the two shops are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is quite different.

Of course, there are similarities, with both adhering to the same underlying principles, but in each case, the response has been moulded to/by the needs of the individual shop. Perhaps the biggest difference is that while Great Titchfield Street offers table service, Eastcastle, with its lower footfall, has a more traditional counter service model.

In terms of what’s on offer, little has changed. The espresso-based menu still has Square Mile’s ubiquitous Red Brick at its heart, along with a single-origin option, while there’s also a single-origin filter, which changes monthly. The concise brunch menu is served until 2 pm (3 pm at weekends), supported by an all-day selection of salads, tarts and toasted sandwiches, plus cake, of course.

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92 Degrees Coffee (COVID-19 Update)

The 92 Degrees logo, taken from above the counter on the Hardman Road coffee shop.92 Degrees Coffee, Liverpool’s first combined speciality coffee shop/roaster, has come a long way since I first visited at the end of 2015. Then it was just a single shop at the top of Hardman Street, the roaster tucked away in a small space behind the counter. Now it’s a chain of three, adding a larger shop in the Baltic Triangle, which does food, and a smaller shop five minutes’ walk from the original, catering more to the students (and only recently reopened). The roaster has also moved since my original visit, first to the Baltic Triangle, then to a dedicated roastery/office back in the same building on Hardman Street (which, sadly, isn’t open to the public).

This update is about the original which looks and feels very much how I remember it from my visit almost five years ago. There are a few COVID-19 changes, such as a thinning out of the seating and a move to disposable cups (so don’t forget to bring your own). However, the basic offering is the same, with the house blend on espresso and three options through the Kalita Wave, along with tea, hot chocolate, plus a selection of cakes, bagels and prepared sandwiches/salads.

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Guildford (COVID-19 Update)

Guildford's famous Guildhall clock on the High Street with the Hog's Back in the background.It’s been a busy time, coffee-wise, in my hometown of Guildford, so I thought I would take the unusual step of writing a Coffee Spot Update for the town itself, rather than for each individual coffee shop. Perhaps the most exciting news is that, since the start of September, Guildford has a brand new coffee shop, the Ceylon House of Coffee, which I featured at the start of the week as Monday’s Coffee Spot. However, there have been plenty of other changes, including reopenings, changes of hours and a couple of places opening up their indoor seating. In fact, I think that the only place that hasn’t changed since I was last in town (in August!) is Canopy Coffee.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Guildford’s speciality coffee scene seems to be doing well. Depending on what you count, Guildford now has six specialty coffee shops, with only the Surrey Hills Coffee pod (serving the offices in London Square) unable to reopen at the moment. As with elsewhere in the country, however, circumstances are still challenging and, in light of recent events, the future is even more uncertain than before, so please do support your local coffee shops if you can.

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Obscure Coffee Update

A lovely flat white, made with Climpson & Sons signature Estate espresso, served in a classic yellow cup at Obscure Coffee in Chester.My only disappointment from my visit to Chester at the start of August was the discovery that Obscure Coffee had yet to reopen after the enforced COVID-19 shutdown. Fortunately, I was tipped off a few weeks later by Glenn Mango on Instagram that Obscure was back, so I made sure to pop in when passing through Chester on my way home last week.

Obscure had only been open for two weeks at that point. While the basic set-up is the same, there have been plenty of changes since my first visit a year ago, some of which pre-date COVID-19. The seating has been upgraded in the front section, while Obscure no longer serves pour-overs, instead concentrating on its concise espresso menu, backed up by batch brew through the Moccamaster. The coffee is still from Climpson and Sons, while the warm, friendly welcome is as warm and friendly as ever.

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Bold Street Coffee Update

The Bold Street Coffee sign, back outside the shop on Bold Street, Liverpool.Bold Street Coffee, a legend of Liverpool’s speciality coffee scene, was opened in 2010 by the equally legendary Sam Towil (who, incidentally, now lives in Llangollen, where he runs Sam’s Coffee). I visited in 2013, returning almost exactly seven years later to see how it was faring during the COVID-19 pandemic. In between, Bold Street Coffee has been through a lot, including having to leave its beloved Bold Street home in January 2018, only to return at the end of the year, bigger and better than ever.

Then came 2020 and COVID-19 which forced Bold Street Coffee to close, along with everyone else, in March. Bold Street Coffee partially reopened in May, offering an extremely popular weekend take-out service, before fully reopening in early July, following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in England.

If you’re familiar with Bold Street Coffee of old, the new layout is very similar, only with a larger, open kitchen and more seating at the back. There are also three tables outside on the temporarily-pedestrianised Bold Street. The menus are slightly limited for the moment: there’s no second option on espresso, while filter is restricted to batch-brew, but hopefully things will be back to normal soon.

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Ngopi (COVID-19 Update)

My pour-over at Ngopi in Birmingham, a V60 of a Mount Halu honey-processed coffee, which was roasted in the shop, and served in a carafe, presented on a wooden tray with a handleless cup on the side.The last stop on my brief tour of Birmingham is Ngopi, which exclusively serves single-origin Indonesian coffee, all of which is roasted in the little roaster visible through the front window. Ngopi was my find of 2019, after the staff opened my eyes to the variety and sheer quality of Indonesian speciality coffee at that year’s Birmingham Coffee Festival.

Like the rest of the UK’s speciality coffee shops, Ngopi was forced to close by COVID-19, only reopening in July following the relaxation of restrictions in England. The obvious COVID-19 precautions are now in place (Perspex screens on the counter, reduced seating, etc) but otherwise, Ngopi is very much its old self. In particular, the coffee is just as good as I remember it, while there’s a menu of light Indonesian dishes and desserts which, had I not just come from lunch at Wayland’s Yard, would have been very tempting.

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Root Coffee (COVID-19 Update)

The words "Root Coffee" written in an arch in black capitals on white, tiled wall. "EST / 20 / 15" is written in red in a box below.I first visited Root Coffee back in 2016, when it was a relative newcomer to Liverpool’s speciality coffee scene, having opened right at the end of 2015. By the time of my return at the start of September, checking out how the city’s speciality coffee shops were coping during the COVID-19 pandemic, Root was an old hand, looking (and feeling) very similar to how it had over four years earlier.

Blessed with a large, bright interior and a generous outdoor seating area on the (already) pedestrianised western end of Seel Street, Root Coffee was ready-made to offer a COVID-safe environment with minimum change. The outdoor seating was reopened as soon as the restrictions were eased on 4th July, with the indoor seating quickly following.

These days, Root is almost back to normal, with slightly reduced opening hours (10:00 -17:00) and with the kitchen closing at three o’clock. The coffee is a good as I remember it, with a cast of three roasters gracing the various hoppers, although batch-brew is off the menu for the moment.

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