It’s that’s time of the year again! Yes, that’s right, in just two weeks’ time, London Coffee Festival will be in full swing, returning to the Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane. It’s a little earlier in the year than usual, running from Thursday, 28th March to Sunday, 31st March. If it’s your first London Coffee Festival, take a look at my round up of last year’s festival. Alternatively, if you’ve been before, there’s much that will be familiar, with a few new things to keep you interested, all of which I’ll cover in this preview.
The festival kicks off with industry days on Thursday/Friday, followed by an extended consumer session on Friday evening and three three-hour consumer sessions on Saturday/Sunday (Brunch, Lunch and Teatime). If you’re thinking of coming, my usual advice applies: get your ticket now. For starters, you get a significant discount on the on-the-door price (at least £6.50, with the discounts adding up for the more expensive tickets). What’s more, if you leave it to the day of the festival, your slot could easily be sold out. You can buy tickets for individual sessions/industry days, or there are VIP tickets covering the whole day on Saturday/Sunday.
When I first visited, at the end of April 2014, Edinburgh’s Fortitude was the new kid on the block, having been open for all of four weeks. When I returned, at the end of last year, it had been going a bit long than that, but at first glance, not much had changed, particularly not when viewed from the street. Even when you go inside, the layout and décor is much the same, a small, high-ceilinged space, single window at the front, counter at the back, with the espresso machine tucked away around the corner.
However, look more closely and you’ll start to see the differences. The shelves on the right-hand wall, once lined with retail bags from the likes of London’s Workshop and Glasgow’s Dear Green Coffee, the bags now say “Fortitude”. That’s right, Fortitude started roasting. In 2017… That’s what I get for not visiting Edinburgh for over three years…
Not that long after the Coffee Spot began, a speciality coffee shop, The Wren, opened inside an old church in the heart of the City of London. I was (and am) extremely fond of it and therefore am rather annoyed with myself that I’ve overlooked another coffee shop in a church, Host Café, which predates The Wren.
That I discovered it was purely by chance. Looking for the newly-opened Rosslyn Coffee last summer, I stumbled across the church, St Mary Aldermary, home to Host Café and just around the corner from Rosslyn. I vowed to return, but such has been my hectic travel schedule that I wasn’t able to keep my promise until just before Christmas.
Whereas the Wren feels like a church given over to a coffee shop, Host Café feels like a coffee shop in the back of the church. It makes for a magnificent setting, putting the church right in the heart of the community. When it comes to the coffee, there’s a blend plus decaf from Mission Coffee Works (another unsung hero of London’s speciality coffee scene), served from a standard espresso menu, along with an Aeropress option, plus sandwiches, soup and a selection of cakes.
In keeping with the best Edinburgh coffee shop traditions, you’ll find Cairngorm Coffee in a basement, occupying a pair of joined spaces under a row of houses on the steeply-sloping Frederick Street. This is one of two branches, the other, on Melville Place, having opened in April 2015. This, however, is the original Cairngorm Coffee, having first opened its doors in March 2014, which means that it celebrates its fifth birthday this month.
Cairngorm Coffee started life as a multi-roaster, showing-casing coffee from across Europe. However, in April 2018, Cairngorm started roasting its own coffee. For now, the roastery is based in the family-owned café in Kingussie, just off the A9 in the heart of the Cairngorm mountains, but there are plans to move it to Edinburgh.
The coffee operation at Frederick Street is fairly simple, with a single-origin on espresso and another on batch-brew, although you’ll find a wider range at Melville Place. The coffee options change on a monthly basis and are served from a concise drinks menu, where they’re joined by an equally concise tea selection. If you’re hungry, there’s a short breakfast/lunch menu, heavily biased towards sandwiches and toast, plus a selection of cakes and pastries.
Sharps Coffee Bar, on Windmill Street, is something of a fixture in the London speciality coffee scene, having been around almost as long as the Coffee Spot. For those who don’t know, Sharps is a two-for-one, with a barber shop at the back and a lovely coffee bar at the front. It started life with London coffee legends Dunne & Frankowski, but it was taken in-house in 2014, with some equally famous names, such as Michael Cleland (Assembly) and David Robson (ex-Association Coffee) taking over behind the counter.
Fast forward five years and things have, in some ways, come full circle, with Harry and Alfie of Rag & Bone Coffee taking over the coffee operation at the start of February. Superficially, little has changed, with the layout still essentially the same. This includes the iconic Kees van der Western Spirit espresso machine, clearly visible through the window. However, there are subtle changes, including a new menu board, while the coffee has changed, Rag & Bone bringing in its house-blend from Old Spike Roastery on espresso, with various guests on filter, both batch-brew and pour-over through the V60. If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of pastries and several toast-based options.
In speciality coffee circles, Omotesando Koffee is something of a legend. Named after its home in Tokyo’s Omotesando district, this pop-up coffee shop was credited by some as helping to transform the Tokyo coffee scene. Sadly, it was a relatively short-lived affair and, while I visited its successor, Koffee Mameya, I missed the original (although you can read what my friend Bex made of it when she was there in 2014).
From those humble beginnings, Omotesando Koffee has gone on to spawn a series of coffee shops around the world, including branches in Hong Kong and Singapore. In the summer of 2018, a ripple, for want of a better word, went through the London speciality coffee scene. Omotesando Koffee was opening on Newman Street in Fitzrovia.! Excitement mounted for the rest of the year, until, in the middle of December, Omotesando finally opened its doors, perhaps the most anticipated event in London specialty coffee that year.
A minimalist coffee shop, offering a bespoke house-blend from Assembly (with components from Brazil, Colombia, Uganda and Ethiopian) on espresso and pour-over, plus single-origins on pour-over and batch-brew, it offers a slice of modern Japanese coffee culture. Naturally, I had to take a look…
Although a semi-regular visitor to Birmingham for many years, I tend to stick fairly close to the centre, coming and going via Birmingham New Street station. For that reason, while I’ve heard much about the excellent coffee scene in Harborne, the suburb to the west of the centre, I’ve never made my way out there. Until Saturday, that is, when, driving up to my Dad’s in North Wales, I realised that it made a good break-point for my journey, provided that I didn’t mind a 15-minute detour.
I therefore made a beeline for The Steam Room, which opened in early 2017 and which I’d heard several good things about. A little to the north of Harborne High Street in a very residential area, it’s a gem, serving weekly single-origins from Has Bean on espresso (including decaf), batch-brew and pour-over, with the decaf being given equal billing on the menu (always nice to see). There’s a decent selection of tea, plus craft beer and ciders, as well as wine by the glass/bottle. If you’re hungry, check out the regular brunch menu, with breakfast and lunch specials on the menu behind the counter, plus a generous cake supply from old friends, Cakesmiths.
I’ve had something of a hit-and-miss relationship with Atkinsons, the Lancaster-based coffee roaster and tea merchant. I’ve enjoyed Atkinsons’ coffee over the years and regularly run into the team at events such as the Manchester Coffee Festival. I even made a special stop in Lancaster in 2017 to visit one of the three Atkinson coffee shops there, but was foiled by IT problems which delayed my arrival until gone midnight…
I was therefore delighted when Atkinsons opened a coffee shop in the restored Mackie Mayor, Manchester’s old meat market, which dates from 1857. I even stayed on an extra day after the 2017 Manchester Coffee Festival in order to visit, only to find that Mackie Mayor, and hence Atkinsons, closes on Mondays…
Undaunted, I returned in 2018, this time before the Manchester Coffee Festival. Along with fellow coffee blogger, Charlotte Scotland (blogging as Coffee All Way), we paid Atkinsons a visit one Friday evening, taking advantage of its late opening hours. Along with a full espresso-based menu, with a choice of blend or decaf, there’s pour-over through the SP9, a selection of cake and cocktails, and, perhaps best of all, a working 100 year old Uno roaster in the corner!
I first dsicovered Edinburgh’s Machina Espresso in 2013, when I wrote about it as part of my first-ever feature for Caffeine Magazine. Back then it was an equipment supplier, in November that year, it opened its first coffee shop in Brougham Place, where it fulfilled dual roles of coffee shop and equipment supplier, its shelves full of (very) shiny home espresso machines, compact grinders, great cups, tampers, pouring kettles and so on. However, that was only the beginning…
In 2017, Machina Espresso took two big steps forward. First, in May, it started roasting its own coffee in a dedicated facility (sadly not open to the public) and then, in the summer, the second branch, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, opened on Nicolson Street.
In keeping with its roots, there is plenty of coffee kit on sale, although Nicolson Street stops short of grinders and espresso machines. Machina Espresso only roasts single-origins, with two choices on espresso (for drinks with and without milk), while there’s another on batch-brew. If you’re hungry, Machina Espresso has a good selection of cakes, plus a concise combined breakfast and lunch menu available until four o’clock (although the porridge is only available until 11 o’clock).
Small Batch Coffee has been a cornerstone of Brighton & Hove’s speciality coffee scene for many years. Currently there are seven outlets in Brighton & Hove itself, including two carts (one at Brighton Station, the other at Hove Station), a new roastery in Portslade and the latest branch, just along the coast in Worthing. I’ve always been Small Batch fan, so it’s a bit odd that that I’ve only written up the Norfolk Square branch, and that was four years ago! So, on my return to Brighton at the end of last year, I made a Small Batch visit a priority and where better than where it all started, the original roastery/espresso bar at Goldstone Villas?
These days, of course, the roastery is no more, having moved out in September 2017. Instead, you effectively get two coffee shops in one, the old roastery having been converted into the Workspace, designed to attract remote workers, although anyone is welcome to use it. The offering is the same in both: a standard espresso menu using the Goldstone house-blend (or decaf if you prefer), plus a daily option on batch-brew. If you’re hungry, there are pre-prepared sandwiches and cake, with doughnuts on Saturday.