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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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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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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Speciality Coffee at Lord’s

A lovely flat white from the Browns of Brockley coffee van, served in my Eco To Go cup at a test match at Lord's.For over 20 years, attending a day’s play of the Lord’s Test Match has been part of my summer ritual. Sadly, for almost as long, this has meant putting up with not particularly great coffee or going without. However, this changed in 2011 when London stalwarts, Kaffeine, were brought in to make coffee in the Harris Gardens behind the pavilion.

The Harris Gardens offers sit-down breakfast and lunch on match-days, with Kaffeine providing the coffee. However, before the start of play, takeaway customers are also welcome, making it an essential first stop when you get into the ground. Once play has started, though, you’re largely on your own, although I find that if you were really nice to the baristas when buying your morning coffee, you could dodge past the waiters at lunchtime for a cheeky flat white. Knowing Peter, Kaffeine’s owner, probably also helps.

This year I made my annual pilgrimage for the third day of the Pakistan test, but, delayed on my way to the ground, play was already underway when I reached the Harris Gardens. Disconsolate, I resigned myself to the vagaries of the coffee bars around the ground. However, my mood brightened when I saw some familiar faces behind the espresso machine…

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The Watch House, Bermondsey Street

A batch-brew of a beautiful Ethiopian Ardi naturally-processed coffee, served at The Watch House on Bermondsey Street, London.The Watch House, on London’s Bermondsey Street, south of the river, is one of those “new” coffee shops (like Lundenwic and The Black Penny) which I’m embarrassed to say has been open for several years. In the case of The Watch House, it will be four this September (and has also opened two further branches!). In my defence, while I come into London via Waterloo, I rarely spend any time south of the river, which, if it has more gems like this, is entirely my loss.

The Watch House is housed in a small, octagonal building dating from the 19th century, which was built to house the watchmen looking after the neighbouring church (hence the name, The Watch House). It’s a gorgeous physical space, if, like me, you like old buildings, reminding me a little of York’s Perky Peacock, another coffee shop housed in an old tower.

The coffee is as gorgeous as the surroundings, with the Empire blend from Ozone on espresso, where it’s joined by three single-origins on batch-brew, which change on a weekly basis. If you’re hungry, there’s breakfast, lunch and plenty of cake, with bread from two local bakeries, The Watch House supporting various local suppliers.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Caledonian Sleeper to Glasgow

Brian’s Travel Spot: Caledonian Sleeper to GlasgowWelcome to the latest instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot. Regular readers will know that I have something of a love affair with travelling by train, particularly sleeper trains, be it on trans-America trips, hopping between Beijing and Shanghai on China’s high-speed rail network, or taking the slow train in places like Vietnam or Thailand. However, my love affair with the sleeper train actually began in the UK with the Caledonian Sleeper, which runs between London Euston and variety of Scottish destinations.

Two weeks ago, I travelled up to Glasgow for the Glasgow Coffee Festival, a trip, which, for a variety of reasons, required me to leave on the Thursday evening before the festival and be back home by the Monday afterwards. In theory I could have done the trip on the regular train, but instead I turned to the Caledonian Sleeper, a far more romantic way to travel and, as it turned out, far more practical and just as cost effective.

So how does the UK’s premier sleeper service stack up against its American and South East Asian counterparts? Read on as I take the Caledonian Sleeper to Glasgow and back!

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The Black Penny

The front of The Black Penny on London's Great Queen Street, four small tables sheltering under the black awning.In my head, The Black Penny is one of a new crop of London coffee shops which I am slowly getting around to visiting. The reality is that it has been here for a while, having recently celebrated its third birthday. I guess the emphasis in the first sentence really should be on “slowly”. The Black Penny occupies the site of another London stalwart, Salt, which closed at the end of 2013, which might explain why I still think of it as new, long after it has become an established fixture in London’s coffee scene.

Perhaps as well known for its all-day brunch menu as its coffee, The Black Penny occupies a long, thin space, with a magnificent back room providing additional seating. There’s a bespoke house-blend on espresso, plus a single-origin on V60, both roasted for The Black Penny by The Roastery Department, the coffee-roasting arm of the Department of Coffee & Social Affairs.

During the week, there are salads at lunchtime, while there’s cake available through the day, seven days a week. For those that are so inclined, there’s a small selection of wine and beer, as well as an excellent range of soft drinks, plus tea.

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Lundenwic

The lovely latte art in my decaf flat white at Lundenwic, made with Square Mile's seasonal decaf espresso.Lundenwic is one of those places that I’ve been meaning to visit ever since it opened. Back in 2015… In my defence, I’ve been a couple of times, but each time it’s been so busy that it’s been impossible to photograph, so I quietly left, telling myself I’d be back another day. That day eventually came one rainy Saturday evening in May when all the sensible people had gone home…

Located in the heart of the London’s theatre-land, right on Aldwych, at the foot Drury Lane, Lundenwic brings speciality coffee to a very mainstream setting. The shop itself is narrow and weirdly-shaped, with not one, but two (sort of) basements, exactly the sort of place I revel in. I must admonish my previous self for not going back sooner.

When it comes to coffee, Lundenwic keeps things simple but classy. Assembly’s seasonal espresso (currently a washed Colombian) is joined by Square Mile’s seasonal decaf (currently a blend of 80% Colombian and 20% Kenyan), while Assembly and Square Mile take it in turns on the batch-brew filter, the coffee changing roughly every week. A similar approach is taken with the food, a concise all-day brunch menu joined by soup at lunchtime.

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London Coffee Festival 2018: Round-up

The London Coffee Festival LogoOne of the disadvantages of having to miss the last day of London Coffee Festival to fly off to Thailand for two weeks is that it seriously messes up my posting schedule. So, with apologies for the delay, here’s my round-up of 2018’s London Coffee Festival. As in previous years, this will be the first in a series of posts on this year’s festival, and is a general round-up, including what differed from last year, what I made of the festival, finishing up with the highs and lows. Each of the subsequent posts, to be published over the coming weeks, will cover different aspects of the festival.

This year was my sixth London Coffee Festival. In previous years, I’ve either attended all four days of the festival, or, as I did last year, the Friday (the industry day), and the two consumer days (Saturday and Sunday). Obviously, with having to fly to Bangkok on the Sunday, I couldn’t do that this year, so went on the two industry days (Thursday and Friday) and the first of the two consumer days (Saturday). This, as you will find out, had both its upsides and its downsides.

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