Alchemy Café

Details of the Nicaraguan La Venus Filter Coffee, complete with tasting notes, available from the Alchemy Cafe.After finally managed to visit Durham’s Flat White after many years of trying, I found myself in the City of London last week, walking past another stalwart of Britain’s speciality coffee scene, Alchemy. A roastery (based in Wimbledon) with a single coffee shop in the narrow lanes south and west of St Paul’s Cathedral, Alchemy just pre-dates the Coffee Spot. It’s another of those places that I’ve been aware of for as long as I’ve been doing the Coffee Spot, having wandered past on several occasions, thinking that I must go in. Sadly, the timing has never been right. So when I wandered past last Thursday, in I went.

The Alchemy Café occupies a bright, square space on the corner of Ludgate Broadway and Carter Lane. It’s an area that is now well-served by speciality coffee shops, but Alchemy’s one of the stalwarts, having first opened its doors in 2013. As nice as the space is, the real draw is the coffee, with two options on espresso, plus a single-origin on pour-over and another on batch-brew. There’s also cold brew, various teas plus a selection of cake and savouries, while Alchemy’s complete range of beans is available in retail bags.

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Flat White Café

A bicycle on the lane leading to Flat White Cafe in Durham, confirming that you're on the right track.In the booming world of speciality coffee, where shops open faster than I can visit/write about them, it’s nice to come across one that’s older than the Coffee Spot itself. Durham’s Flat White Café, which opened in 2010, now boasts two, soon to be three, locations in the city. That I’ve not visited before now is entirely my loss, Durham being somewhere that I’ve often gone through on the train, admiring its steep hills and stunning views from the station, but never actually bothering to get off and explore. Again, entirely my loss.

The original Flat White Café is a pretty small spot, a long, low rectangular space with as much seating outside as in, with the outside seating perched on whatever flat surfaces can be found. Yes, Durham really is that hilly. Given the size, there’s a surprisingly large breakfast/lunch menu, an impressive array of cakes and an espresso-based menu with options from Newcastle’s Ouseburn Coffee Co and London’s Workshop. Perpetually busy, and with tables at a premium, if you need more space, the second branch, Flat White Kitchen, is just around the corner (although up a steep hill), with more space, a bigger menu and even longer queues!

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Camber Coffee

The Camber Coffee logo from the wall behind the counter.To celebrate its first birthday, I present today’s Coffee Spot, Newcastle’s Camber Coffee (which turns one tomorrow, having opened on 6th July 2017). Located on the first floor of a combined cycle and fitness store, Start, it’s right in the heart of Newcastle city centre, but, paradoxically, easy to walk past. I spotted its window-display as I wandered along, but I’d already been tipped off by Joe of Flat Caps Coffee that it was one to visit, so I popped in for breakfast.

It’s a large space, particularly for a speciality coffee shop, although it probably only occupies about one third of the actual floor-space, the rest of the first floor being given over to bicycles, continuing the strong association between speciality coffee and cycling. The coffee comes from Pilgrims Coffee, a café/roastery on Holy Island, just off the Northumbria coast. There’s a house-blend on espresso, with batch-brew filter if you’re in a hurry, or a single-origin option on pour-over through the V60.

This is all backed up with concise breakfast and lunch menus, plus cake and sandwiches. Originally vegan when it came to the food, Camber is under new management and is now adding vegetarian items to the menus.

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Surrey Hills Coffee, Jeffries Passage

Details from the A-board outside the new home of Surrey Hills Coffee on Jeffries Passage in Guildford.For a long time, my home town of Guildford had been crying out for an independent, speciality coffee shop. Then, two years ago, along came Surrey Hills Coffee, a local roaster which opened its own coffee shop on Chapel Street, taking over the lease from TurnFit Deli. These days, Surrey Hills has some good company, with Canopy Coffee opening last year and Krema Coffee coming along this year.

However, the shop on Chapel Street was never ideal, effectively being someone else’s space, with a small, cramped layout. The owners, Monika and Chris, who roast all the coffee in a roastery in Forest Green in (you guessed it) the Surrey Hills, had been looking for a new, bigger home. Now they’ve found it, Surrey Hills moving just a few streets away to Jeffries Passage at the top of the High Street.

The new shop is bright and spacious, with an upstairs as well, although that’s currently work-in-progress. Right now, Surrey Hills is up and running, with a basic coffee-and-cake offering (espresso, batch-brew filter and pour-over), along with the full retail range of coffee, although as things settle down, the plan is to serve breakfasts and light lunches too. Watch this space!

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CanDo Coffee, Merchant Square

A lovely espresso made using Electric Coffee Company's Rocket 88 blend at Can Do Coffee on Merchant Square, served in my Kaffeeform cup made from recycled coffee grounds.CanDo Coffee was one of many speciality coffee places to spring up around my old stomping grounds of Sheldon Square/the back of Paddington Station once I’d stopped working there at the end of 2015. In the case of CanDo Coffee, it first made a brief appearance in a canal boat in 2014, before reappearing in 2016 with a permanent pitch by the canal outside the back entrance to the station. There was a second CanDo Coffee pitch just over the canal at the western end of Paddington Basin. This slowly migrated eastwards over the next two years, reaching Merchant Square and the Floating Pocket Park at the eastern end of Paddington Basin by the time I returned to the area for a week at the start of June.

Serving espresso-based drinks using the Rocket 88 blend from Ealing’s Electric Coffee Company, it was just outside my hotel, making a perfect early morning coffee stop on my daily walk to the office. CanDo Coffee serves principally takeaway customers and only has takeaway cups, so don’t forget to bring your own. However, if you do want to linger, there are several tables scattered around on the grass of the park.

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Sarah’s Caring Coffee & The Coffee Bean

The Sarah's Caring Coffee logo.I first came across Sarah’s Caring Coffee towards the end of 2017. What piqued my interest more than anything was that it’s based in Holywell, the North Wales town where I was born and brought up, where my father still lives and where I am a very frequent visitor. On further investigation, it turned out that Sarah’s Caring Coffee had been set up to generate income, by selling coffee on-line and at various local markets, for The Cariad Project, a charity which helps disabled people in Africa.

I met the eponymous Sarah, who is behind both Sarah’s Caring Coffee and The Cariad Project, at the start of this year, and was given a bag of her Ethiopian Sidamo to take with me on my travels around North America. It graced my Aeropress from Providence to Phoenix, via cities such as New Orleans, and was a lovely coffee.

I was therefore delighted when I heard in May that Sarah had opened The Coffee Bean in Holywell, providing a permanent retail outlet for Sarah’s Caring Coffee, as well as a community hub and flexible meeting space. Naturally I took the first opportunity I could to pay Sarah and The Coffee Bean a visit.

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Melbourne in Lichfield, Bolt Court

My espresso from Melbourne in Lichfield, Bolt Court: Genesis, a single-origin Costa Rican, roasted by Union.I’ve already written about my ignorance regarding Lichfield when I visited the Melbourne in Lichfield coffee shop on Bird Street. However, this is where it all began in April last year, when the original Melbourne in Lichfield opened, a small kiosk on a narrow alley called Bolt Court in the heart of the city. There’s not much to Melbourne in Lichfield, but the output’s impressive, reminding me in ambition of Reading’s Tamp Culture, albeit with slightly more shelter.

It consists of a kiosk with a small, covered seating area to the left and with three bar stools at the counter, semi-exposed to the elements. The coffee is from Union Hand-roasted with a house espresso, Maraba, a single-origin from Rwandan, plus a guest espresso from either Union or a guest-roaster as well as decaf (Union again). There are retail bags from Union and various guests, plus a decent selection of cake.

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Birmingham Coffee Festival 2018, Part I

The Birmingahm Coffee Festival logoThe list of the UK’s coffee festivals is growing. First there was London, still the biggest of the lot, followed by the likes of Manchester and Glasgow. Then, last year, slipping quietly in, was the inaugural Birmingham Coffee Festival, which I completely missed. It has such a low social media profile that I almost missed it this time around as well, but I was saved from that ignoble fate by my friends at Cakesmiths, who clued me in.

As luck would have it, I was actually in the country for the event (the usual reason I miss coffee festivals is because I’m abroad: it’s why, for example, I’ve never been to the Edinburgh Coffee Festival), so I decided to attend. It was held last weekend in the Custard Factory in Digbeth, from Friday (industry day) through Saturday and Sunday (consumer days). I was working on Friday, but headed up to Birmingham for the Saturday. Not sure what to expect, I’d only booked for the one day, but I found more than enough to keep me occupied, so returned on the Sunday, although I suspect that the average consumer will only need a single day (or part day) to see everything.

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Darcie & May Green

Some lovely latte art in a flat white to go, served in my Therma Cup at May Green in Paddington.Like my waistline when I eat their cakes, the Daisy Green/Beany Green chain is rapidly expanding. From its roots as a brunch spot at the original Daisy Green, through its various Beany Green coffee shops, the chain now encompasses everything from cocktails and craft beer to sit-down restaurants, all of which are combined in the (relatively) new Darcie & May Green. Opening late last year, they are a pair of canal boats, moored stern-to-stern on Regent’s Canal , in the heart of my old stomping ground around Sheldon Square. You’ll find them outside the back entrance to Paddington Station (this is the one down the right-hand side of the station by the Hammersmith & City/Circle Line).

May Green is a coffee shop by day and craft beer/cocktail bar by night, while Darcie Green is a restaurant offering breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are joined by a continuous rooftop deck that runs the length of both boats. The coffee, as ever, is by fellow-Aussies, The Roasting Party, with a traditional espresso-based menu available in both May & Darcie Green, while May Green has a takeout window if you need a quick pick-me-up on the way from the station to the office.

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The Meal Ticket

The flowchart drinks ordering menu at The Meal Ticket on Sheldon Square.When I first started working in Sheldon Square, behind Paddington Station, in the summer of 2013, there was nothing in the way of good coffee. Then came Beany Green in 2014, followed over the next couple of years by the likes of KuPP and Kioskafé. I stopped working there at the end of the 2015, at which point my office decided to upgrade its in-house café, bringing in Baxter Storey to run the operation, with coffee from Modern Standard. Not that I’m still bitter about that…

I didn’t quite escape Sheldon Square though, since my new job, which sees me travelling all over the world, also means I visit Sheldon Square about once a year, allowing me to keep tabs on the growing coffee scene, including the likes of Can Do Coffee and (the recently closed) Store Street Espresso. I was back there last week, when I found another crop of new places vying for my attention, including Darcie & May Green, twin barges tied up on the canal-side, another Can Do Coffee pitch and the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, The Meal Ticket, which was then into its third week of operation, serving Caravan on espresso and batch-brew…

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