Story Coffee on St John’s Hill in South West London is one of the capital’s speciality coffee stalwarts, having first opened in 2014. I took my time in visiting, only calling in for the first time towards the end of the September last year, when I found, to my surprise, that Story Coffee had a second branch, a little sibling if you like, called Story Works, just down the hill at the back of Clapham Junction.
Much smaller than the original, Story Works has a cut-down offering while retaining many similarities with Story Coffee, including a gorgeous two-group Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine. Like Story Coffee, there’s a single option on espresso, but pour-over has given way to batch-brew. Similarly, while there is food, Story Coffee’s brunch menu has been replaced by avocado on toast, grab-and-go salads and superfood smoothies, although there’s still a good selection of cake.
Stan’s Bike Shack has been on my radar for almost all of its 4½ years of existence. Between the villages of Partridge Green and Bines Green in West Sussex, it’s on the Downs Link, a 37 mile cycle route from St Martha’s Hill, near my home in Guildford, to Shoreham-by-Sea on the south coast. Heading south, Stan’s Bike Shed is about ⅔ of the way along, slightly too far for me to walk in a day, which might explain why it’s taken me so long to visit.
Stan’s Bike Shack is one of those places where the name pretty much says it all. It’s a shack (and a very nice one at that) located just off the road linking the two villages, which welcomes cyclists and walkers. It serves Craft House Coffee on espresso and batch-brew, with all-day breakfasts, sandwiches and cake, all prepared in the open kitchen behind the counter.
Liar Liar, in the small town of Oswestry on the England-Wales border, has been on my list for some time now. I first visited right at the end of 2017, on my way back to Guildford from my Dad’s, but I couldn’t stay very long. I vowed that I would return the following year, but what will all the travelling I have been doing, 2018 came and almost went before I was able to call in again, exactly one year to the day later, while (you guessed it) on my way back to Guildford from my Dad’s.
Liar Liar is a real gem, located in the (semi-pedestrianised) heart of the town, spread over three floors (only the first two are open to customers) of a lovely old shop right on the corner, giving it windows on two sides, plus plenty of outside seating. A multi-roaster, Liar Liar uses some of the best roasters in the country, including the nearby Hundred House Coffee & Manchester’s Ancoats Coffee Co., changing up the options (always single-origins) on espresso and filter (V60, Aeropress, batch-brew) roughly every monthly. There are interesting breakfast, lunch and panini menus from in-house caterers, Hayes Kitchen, plus plenty of cake.
When you’ve been away from Edinburgh for as long as I have (an embarrassing three years!), everything is new, even places that have been open for ages, like Lowdown Coffee. However, today’s Coffee Spot, Detour Espresso, is genuinely new, having only opened in August this year. Located on the south side of the Meadows, an area bereft of speciality coffee since the closure, long ago, of Freemans Coffee, it’s a welcome addition.
There’s not a lot to Detour Espresso, but it’s well worth making a detour to visit. Essentially a large, open cube (bless those high Edinburgh ceilings) you’ll find Birmingham’s Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters on espresso with its Dark Horse blend, along with a guest single-origin, plus a further single-origin on pour-over/batch-brew from a different guest roaster. These guest roasters change every month or so, depending on how quickly Detour goes through the stock.
If you’re hungry, there’s a simple all-day food menu with breakfast and lunch options. This includes my favourite option of toast, plus a range of toasted sandwiches and soup of the day, while, for a change, you can have a warm savoury tart with side salad. There’s also plenty of cakes from old friends Cakesmiths.
Toro Coffee burst onto Glasgow’s speciality coffee scene (specifically the Southside) in September, becoming an instant hit, partly thanks to the efforts of cheerleader-in-chief, my friend Charlotte. Indeed, when I popped over to Glasgow last week, Charlotte’s plan for the morning was “we’re going to Toro”. Not, “would you like to go to Toro?”. No, we were going. On the other hand, Charlotte has excellent taste in coffee shops, so I wasn’t about to disagree.
Other than the coffee, the main draw is the wonderful, friendly and welcoming owners, Ross and Gill. Although a new name, Toro has good pedigree: Ross’ big brother, Iain, owns Primal Roast, one of my favourite Glasgow breakfast spots (and also home to some excellent coffee).
Although there’s a wide selection of cakes, plus toast for breakfast (as if I needed any further encouragement) Toro’s main focus is the coffee. It’s a multi-roaster, offering separate options on espresso and filter, the later available as batch-brew through the ever-reliable Moccamaster, and as pour-over, using hand-thrown ceramic Kalita-wave style filters. The espresso changes every week, while the filter is swapped every day or two, with roasters drawn from just down the road to half way across Europe.
With all the travelling I’ve been doing recently, it’s been increasingly hard for me to get around the UK like I once did. Even so, I was rather embarrassed to discover that it’s been three years since I last visited Edinburgh. Unsurprisingly, rather a lot has changed since my last visit, including plenty of new faces and a few changes at some well-known old faces.
Where to start? Well, let’s try Lowdown Coffee on George Street, right in the heart of Edinburgh, which opened in February 2016, just across the way from old favourite and Edinburgh stalwart, Wellington Coffee. Like Wellington, Lowdown Coffee follows the tried-and-tested Edinburgh tradition of locating your coffee shop in a basement, which gets a thumbs up from me.
However, that’s where the similarities end. Lowdown Coffee is on a mission to do things differently. For starters, there’s table service, a refreshing change from queuing at the counter. The coffee, which changes weekly, is drawn from some of the best roasters across Europe, with one option on espresso and two on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. How about the daily food menu? Or the water, with different formulations for different beans? And that’s just for starters…
Regular readers will know that I’ve been following the rise of London-based/Aussie-inspired mini-chain Daisy Green ever since it opened a branch next to my office in Sheldon Square, Paddington. Since then, Daisy Green has grown rapid, first through its Beany Green coffee shops, and then through restaurants, such as Timmy Green in Victoria and Darcie & May Green, the narrow boats tied up outside Paddington Station.
Scarlett Green is the latest addition to the family, which now numbers nine coffee shops and restaurants. It follows in the footsteps of Timmy Green, offering full table service for food (breakfast, lunch and dinner), plus wine and cocktails, while still remaining true to its coffee roots, serving a house-blend from long-time partners, The Roasting Party.
Scarlett Green is the biggest yet, occupying the ground floor and basement of a tall, narrow building on Noel Street, in the heart of Soho. Open from 07:00 to midnight, it’s there for your morning coffee and a late-night cocktail, plus everything in between. The décor, as ever, is by the talented Shuby Art, another long-time partner and collaborator. As well as the usual bananas, you can also find a large, pink teddy bear enjoying Bondi Beach.
Cheltenham’s come a long way, coffee-wise, since I first visited in 2013. On Monday, I wrote about The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, which has, along with Studio Coffee Roasters, been leading the way since 2014, although today’s Coffee Spot, The Coffee Dispensary, is not far behind, having opened just over three years ago in October 2015. Like The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, it’s right in the centre of town, on Regent Street, by the Regent Arcade.
There’s an impressive selection of coffee. Bristol’s Extract Coffee Roasters is the mainstay, supplying the house espresso (which changes every few months), while the weekly-changing guests provide multiple single-origins on both espresso and filter. The Coffee Dispensary wants nothing less than the best coffee from the best roasters: during my visit this included Bath’s Colonna Coffee and Round Hill Roastery plus Birmingham’s Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters. Filter coffee is usually available through V60, but the staff will also do Chemex, Aeropress or Kalita Wave, plus there’s batch-brew. All the coffee is available to buy in retail bags.
Alternatively, there are ten teas, six hot chocolates and five chai lattes. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of sandwiches, plus cakes for those with a sweet tooth.
It’s been a very long time since I was in Cheltenham, with a visit well overdue, so when I got the chance to call in, I seized it with both hands. A lot has changed (and is still changing) in Cheltenham’s coffee scene, with today’s Coffee Spot, The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, leading the way. The Pod started life in September 2014, when it was, literally, just a cube, complete with espresso machine and roaster, around the corner from the current location.
The Scandinavian Coffee Pod moved into the Studios, a long, low single-storey building on Cheltenham’s Royal Well Place, 2½ years ago in 2016, the pod coming too. The original cube is now embedded into the front wall, which makes for an interesting architectural feature. Although bigger than it was, there’s still not that much space, the resulting coffee shop being best described as cosy, with a handful of tables and a pair of armchairs. That doesn’t stop The Scandinavian Coffee Pod from offering a house espresso from neighbours Studio Coffee Roasters, plus a choice of two pour-overs via the V60 (one from Studio, the other a guest). There are also small but tempting breakfast/lunch menus, plus plenty of cake.
Bean & Wheat is one of several London-based ventures by chef/restaurateur Adam Handling, who made his name by trying to eliminate waste in his establishments. Bean & Wheat started life in 2017 in Spitalfields Market, when it was a coffee shop and delicatessen, but moved to its current location on Old Street (literally backing onto The Frog Hoxton, one of Adam Handling’s restaurants) earlier this year, at the end of July. Originally the concept was coffee (bean) and bread (wheat), but it’s recently expanded its offering to include craft beer (also wheat, sort of).
The intersection of speciality coffee and craft beer is slowly growing, but with the exception of Bristol’s Coffee + Beer, I can’t think of another speciality coffee shop doing what Bean & Wheat is doing. Plus Bean & Wheat has gone one better, allowing you to drink the aforementioned beer on-site (Coffee + Beer only has an off-licence).
As well as the coffee and alcohol, Bean & Wheat also sells bread, plus there are breakfast and lunch menus, plus a selection of cakes. The coffee, by the way, is from Union Hand-roasted, with the old favourite, Bobolink, plus a guest as well as decaf on espresso.