Coffee Island, St Martin’s Lane

An information card for a micro-lot from the Cerro de Jesus farm in Nicaragua, supplied by Coffee Island in St Martin's Lane.Coffee Island is, unusually for the Coffee Spot, a chain and an international one at that, which started on a Greek island in 1999 and now has over 300 shops throughout Greece, Cyprus and south-east Europe. However, its branch on St Martin’s Lane is (so far) the only UK one. Opening earlier this year with a considerable media push, I was away at the time and so missed all the fuss. I popped in later in the year and I liked what I saw…

A modest exterior hides a surprisingly-large coffee shop with plenty of seating and a mezzanine level at the back. I’d describe Coffee Island as coffee geeks meet the mainstream, so while there’s a house-blend, decaf and five single-origins, there’s also flavoured coffee, which is not something you normally associate with the speciality end of the market. There’s also a large retail section (beans and equipment), tea and food, the latter in the shape of salads, sandwiches and cake.

There’s an excellent range of options for the coffee including espresso, Greek coffee (Ibrik), bulk-brew or pour-over using the V60, Aeropress or Chemex (for one or two). If you want to compare coffee or methods side-by-side, it’s awesome!

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Eden Café

"Welcome Home" says the sign on the wall of Eden Cafe in Witney, next to a stylised map of New Zealand.Witney, it turns out, has an excellent and well-developed coffee scene for what is a relatively small town in western Oxfordshire. This can partly be explained by the presence of Ue Coffee, which has its long-established roastery just west of the town on the Windrush Industrial Park, and has also opened two coffee shops in the town itself.

However, there’s more to Witney than Ue Coffee, as witnessed by a small slice of New Zealand which you can find tucked away off the High Street on the pedestrianised Wesley Walk. This piece of Kiwi-land goes by the name Eden Café and makes no bones about its antipodean heritage. Serving, appropriately enough, coffee from fellow Kiwi imports, Allpress, with the ubiquitous Redchurch blend gracing the espresso machine, you can be sure of a solid cup of coffee, plus a range of vegetarian cakes and food. There’s a heavy emphasis on vegan offerings, which isn’t something you see that often.

All this is squeezed into what I shall call an “interesting” space, essentially a triangle, with windows running along the front. There’s also plenty of seating outside on the quiet Wesley Walk, partially under the shelter of the eaves of the café.

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Stage Espresso and Brew Bar

The minimalist sign for Stage Espresso and Brewbar, hanging outside on Oxford Row.A new arrival in Leeds’ growing speciality coffee scene is Stage Espresso and Brew Bar (Stage, for short), which opened at the start of 2017, tucked away behind the Town Hall and opposite the Leeds General Infirmary. Although it hadn’t been open long when I visited in August, it had already garnered high praise, being the one place everyone in Leeds consistently mentioned when I asked about new coffee shops to visit.

It’s a lovely spot, on a north-facing corner, with windows along two sides, plus a cosy downstairs seating area at the back that’s probably slightly bigger than the already spacious upstairs. However, perhaps the best feature is Copper, a young Beagle (who is the same age as Stage, give or take a month). You can find him most days, curled up in his basket by the retail shelves at the back.

When it comes to coffee, Stage uses Union Hand-roasted, although there are plans to have occasional guests in as and when there’s something that catches the eye. There’s a house-espresso, plus a guest, along with multiple options on filter. One of these is available as a daily bulk-brew, while the rest are made using the Kalita Wave.

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Ue Coffee Roasters True Artisan Café & Store

An Ethiopian Aramo, made through the Chemex, served in one of Ue Coffee Roasters' excellent cups.Today’s Coffee Spot, Ue Coffee Roasters True Artisan Café & Store, in Witney, has the longest name of any coffee shop I’ve visited. Ue is, to my knowledge, the UK’s only wood-fired roaster, a rare breed which includes Speckled Ax in Portland (Maine). I first came across Ue back in 2014, when I visited Oxford for a feature in Caffeine Magazine. Based in nearby Witney, I came out to see the roastery, but back then there wasn’t much of a coffee scene in the town itself.

Fast forward 3+ years and how things have changed. Witney boasts several places worthy of a visit, including Eden Café and Coffeesmith, which were joined, in December 2016, by Ue’s True Artisan Café & Store. Unsurprisingly, the café serves as a showcase for Ue’s considerable output, with a house-blend and guest on espresso, and multiple single-origins (eight while I was there) on filter, through Aeropress, Chemex or V60. There’s also a range of loose-leaf tea from sister company Jeeves & Jericho, with a selection of sausage rolls and cake if you’re hungry. All of the coffee and tea, plus loads of gear, is available to buy, which covers the “store” part of the name.

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Society Café, Bristol

The main entrance to Society Cafe in Bristol, a pair of glass double-doors opening out onto Farr's Lane, with the counter directly ahead.I first came across Society in its home city of Bath, where I managed to visit the two branches in the order that they opened, a rarity for the Coffee Spot, starting with Kingsmead Square before moving onto The Corridor. However, I’ve safely broken that trend by skipping the third Society Café, in Oxford, instead visiting the fourth and most recent branch which opened this summer in Bristol.

You’ll find Society Café down by the harbour, on the corner of Narrow Quay and Farr’s Lane, right next to the youth hostel. It’s a lovely setting, with lots of outdoor seating on the quayside as well as down Farr’s Lane, while there is even more seating inside, spread over two large, spacious areas, one either side of a central counter.

The coffee is always of the highest order, with the house-espresso, which changes monthly, coming from Origin. This is joined by a guest single-origin which changes every couple of weeks. Meanwhile there’s bulk-brew filter and another option on Aeropress, both of which change every week or so. If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s a wide selection of tea, plus a dedicated smoothie-bar, as well as sandwiches and cake if you’re hungry.

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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.

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District, Ormeau Road

A single-origin Colombian espresso from Ballies in Belfast, served as the house-espresso in District, looking resplendent in its classic blue cup.Just up the road from Root & Branch, and a little further down from General Merchants, District is another addition to Belfast’s growing speciality coffee scene, adding to the small cluster of great places along Ormeau Road, each one offering something different. In the case of District, it’s excellent contemporary café food to go with locally-roasted coffee, all served in a bright spot set back a little from the road with plenty of seating both inside and out.

District is a new name to Belfast, opening at the end of 2016. The first of (so far) two, with the second opening on Stranmills Road a couple of months later, District uses local roaster, Bailies, with single-origins served on espresso and pour-over through the V60. The former is effectively the house espresso, while the latter changes regularly, occasional giving way to a guest roaster for variety. There’s also tea from local tea merchants, Suki Tea.

The other main draw is the excellent food, with lots of vegetarian and some vegan choices (something I occasionally found lacking in Belfast) on both the breakfast menu (served until 3 pm) and lunch menu (from noon). There are also sandwiches and an abundance of cake.

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Kapow Coffee, The Calls

Details from the sign in the window of Kapow! Coffee at 44 The Calls in Leeds.Kapow Coffee has been on my radar for a while. A small spot, it’s on The Calls in Leeds, a quiet street running parallel to the railway tracks and the river, half way between the station (and the likes of Laynes Espresso) and Leeds Dock (North Star). Spiritually, it’s the successor to the original La Bottega Milanese, which started life a few doors away before moving on to bigger and better things at The Light and Bond Court. However, other than using La Bottega’s espresso blend from Dark Woods, it’s very much its own place.

Kapow has a cut-down, espresso-based menu, supplemented by tea from the Canton Tea Co, a toast-based food menu and plenty of cake. There’s also an impressive selection of retail beans from a range of roasters. While there’s not much seating, what Kapow lacks in space, it makes up for in cosiness and a friendly atmosphere.

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Outpost Coffee & Vinyl

Details from a sign outside the Castle Emporium in Cardiff, home of Outpost Coffee & VinylOn a trip to Cardiff a few years ago, I visited the Castle Emporium, a hub of independent one-off shops and businesses, including art, fashion and a barbershop, all set in the halls of what was originally a 1920s cinema. I distinctly remember thinking at the time that what the place needed was a speciality coffee shop. Fast forward to the end of 2016, and my wish became true as Outpost Coffee & Vinyl moved into the ground floor.

Outpost occupies a counter to the right of the entrance, with some seating opposite. As the name suggests, Outpost Coffee & Vinyl sells both coffee and records, specialising in newly-released vinyl. When it comes to coffee, Outpost is just as specialised, a true multi-roaster, with rapidly rotating options on both espresso and batch-brew.

Bristol-based Clifton Coffee Roasters and Extract Coffee Roasters, along with Liverpool’s Neighbourhood Coffee, provide the espresso, which changes every week. Meanwhile various roasters appear on batch-brew, with a different one popping up each day. During the afternoon, if it’s quiet, you can ask nicely and staff will make you a pour-over on the Kalita Wave. Finally, if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cake from old friends Cakesmiths.

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Crosstown Doughnuts, Victoria

The Crosstown Doughnut logo from outside the coffee shop in Soho.Crosstown Doughnuts has been a staple of several London coffee shops, as well as being available direct from Crosstown at various London markets. Then, Crosstown opened its own coffee shop, in Soho. And then another. And another. And, earlier this year, the fourth opened, in the new Nova development north of Victoria Station.

If you know Crosstown Doughnuts, you know what to expect. If you don’t, you’re in for a treat. However, that’s not all. As well as doughnuts, there’s coffee, and not just any old coffee. Crosstown serves Caravan, the ubiquitous Market Blend in the main grinder with a seasonal guest, always a single-origin, and also from Caravan, in the second.

The Victoria branch is a pod, a rather space-age looking contraption with outdoor seating. Inside, there are two small corner bars, each with two stools. Not really designed for customers who linger, it’s actually a really neat spot.

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