Goodbye Ridley Place

The Flat Caps Coffee logo, taken from a bag of coffee roasted to mark Flat Caps' successful Kickstarter.Today’s Saturday Supplement is a little out of the ordinary. I avoid “Top 10…” lists like the plague. I detest rankings. I can’t abide arbitrary scoring systems. I write about coffee shops I like and put them on the Coffee Spot so you can find them. However, I can’t help but develop favourites, and, if there was a list of my favourite coffee shops, the original Flat Caps in Newcastle’s Ridley Place would be one of the first I’d pencil in.

That is, if I was writing the list today. If I wrote it tomorrow, Ridley Place wouldn’t be there. Because today’s its last day. Tonight, Joe closes up for the last time. Not that it’s the end of Flat Caps. Come Monday, you’ll find Joe at Flat Caps Carliol Square or maybe next door at Flat Caps Campus North. Flat Caps goes on, but the place where it all started, Ridley Place, will be no more.

Joe’s written about why he’s closing Ridley Place, a lovely piece which I urge you to read. Today’s Saturday Supplement isn’t about the whys and wherefores of the closing, but rather my own reflections on one of my favourite places to have coffee.

[Note: Yes, I realise that I’ve posted this on April 1st. I do hope this isn’t an elaborate April Fool’s joke that Joe’s playing on us…]

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Flat Caps Campus North

The Flat Caps Coffee logo, taken from a bag of coffee roasted to mark Flat Caps' successful Kickstarter.In the summer of 2016, Joe of Newcastle’s Flat Caps Coffee, launched a Kickstarter to fund a second coffee shop alongside the legendary basement on Ridley Place. Five months (and one successful Kickstarter) later and Flat Caps found that it had not one, but two new coffee shops. Funny how these things work out…

Initially, Flat Caps took over the old Bunker Coffee & Kitchen which became, after a complete makeover, the second Flat Caps, Flat Caps Carliol Square. Not long after that, Joe was approached by Campus North, the co-working space next door, to see if he would run a coffee operation in Campus North’s public space. Thus the third Flat Caps, Flat Caps Campus North, was born.

Campus North is a very different beast from both the original Flat Caps (Ridley Place) and the new Carliol Square. The coffee offering has been cut right back, with just a single option offered on espresso (no filter here). Added to that is a small selection of cake, while there’s a limited food offering, based on the menu next door. Taking advantage of the kitchen in Carliol Square, the food is prepared there and bought over.

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Laneway & Co

A V60 of a Costa Rican coffee from Caravan which I had at Laneway & Co, Newcastle.Laneway & Co is part of the recent surge of speciality coffee shops in Newcastle. Opening in July last year, I missed it by just a couple of months, having been up in May to check out the likes of Hatch Coffee. Instead I had to settle for catching up with it on my return on a dark, December day, at which point it had been open for five months.

Laneway & Co is, perhaps, the most London-like of all Newcastle’s speciality coffee shops, with a somewhat austere, tiled interior that is reminiscent of many a coffee shop in the likes of, say, Fitzrovia. This London connection is reinforced by the coffee, with the Allpress Redchurch blend on espresso, while the guests, while I was there at least, were from Caravan and, before that, Square Mile.

Although there is a small selection of cake and a couple of sandwiches, the focus is firmly on the coffee. As well as Allpress on espresso, the two or three guest beans are available as filter, each matched to a specific method, either Aeropress or V60. If you’re looking for alternatives, there’s tea from Brew Tea Co and single-origin hot chocolate from Kokoa Collection.

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Flat Caps Carliol Square (Bunker Coffee Update)

The Flat Caps Coffee logo, taken from a bag of coffee roasted to mark Flat Caps' successful Kickstarter.Back in the summer of 2016, Joe of Newcastle’s Flat Caps Coffee, decided to launch a Kickstarter to fund a second coffee shop alongside the legendary basement on Ridley Place. Five months (and one successful Kickstarter) later and Flat Caps has not one, but two new coffee shops. Funny how these things work out… Flat Caps Carliol Square is the first of these, while the second, Flat Caps Campus North, is next door.

Eagle-eyed readers will spot something familiar about Flat Caps Carliol Square. Not long after the Kickstarter was successfully funded, the opportunity to take over Bunker Coffee & Kitchen presented itself. However, this isn’t just a re-badging of an existing operation: other than the physical space itself, Flat Caps has pretty much changed everything, creating a new coffee shop just as thoroughly as if a new build had been fitted out…

Those who know Flat Caps Ridley Place will at least find the coffee offering familiar: three coffees, each available as espresso or filter, changing on a regular basis from a limited cast of roasters. Added to that is a much-expanded food offering, taking advantage of the large kitchen space at Carliol Square, plus extended opening hours.

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Bunker Coffee & Kitchen

The word BUNKER written in white, in the centre of a large black circle, with the smaller words "COFFEE & KITCHEN" written below/When it comes to Bunker Coffee & Kitchen, the first thing that most people I talked to in Newcastle said is that it does excellent food. Having had a fantastic lunch there, I can attest to this first hand. However, this seems to overlook the other part of Bunker’s title, namely the coffee. Like, for example, Jesmond’s Café 1901, Bunker’s built its reputation on food, while it seems that its excellent coffee has passed by almost unnoticed. This, I feel, is a shame, since the coffee I had was pretty damn good too.

Bunker occupies an almost-basement in a large, curved building at the top of Newcastle’s Carliol Square. It’s a large, uncluttered space, with plenty of seating, the sort of place you could hold a business meeting in or sit with your laptop for an afternoon. The food’s all freshly-prepared on site and the lunch menu, with soup, curry, salad box and a choice of three wraps, changes daily. The coffee, which, in contrast, only changes every couple of weeks, is from local roaster, Colour Coffee. There are single-origins on espresso, filter (V60, Aeropress or Chemex for two) or, if you’re in a hurry, batch-brew from the ever-reliable Moccamaster.

November 2016: Bunker Coffee is no more, but rather than closing completely, the space was taken over by Joe of Flat Caps fame, reopening as Flat Caps Carliol Square.

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Hatch Coffee

The word "Hatch", written in cursive script in white on black, over the word "COFFEE", separated by a horiztonal white line.Hatch Coffee is the latest addition to Newcastle Upon Tyne’s steadily-growing speciality coffee scene and had been open all of ten days when I visited one sunny Monday afternoon. Situated in an old hut which used to belong to the car park attendant at the top of Ellison Place (the car park’s still going strong, but is now pay-and-display, so the attendant and accompanying hut are surplus to requirements).

Given its size, Hatch’s set-up is truly impressive. With less space than you’ll find behind the typical coffee-shop counter, the owner and head (sole for now) barista, Mark, has installed a fully-functioning speciality coffee shop. The espresso’s from local roasters, Colour Coffee, plus decaf from Bath’s Round Hill Roastery on a second grinder. There’s tea from Canton Tea Co, hot chocolate from Kokoa Collection and a range of soft drinks, plus locally-baked cakes and other goodies. All that’s missing is pour-over!

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Harvest Canteen

The Ouseburn Coffee Co. logo: the letters OCC in white against a black background with the words Ouseburn Coffee Co. beneath a white line.A couple of minutes’ walk apart on Newcastle’s St George’s Terrace, Harvest Canteen and Monday’s Coffee Spot, Café 1901, couldn’t be further apart in look and feel. Both, however, are outstanding. Both do great food: breakfast, lunch and a wide range of cake. Both also do great locally-roasted coffee. If pushed, I’d say Harvest does great coffee with food, 1901 doing great food with coffee. It’s more emphasis than any difference in substance though, Harvest projecting as a very modern coffee shop, 1901 as a cosy café.

Harvest Canteen is the coffee-shop offshoot of Newcastle roaster Ouseburn Coffee Co. (OCC), which roasts all the coffee. On espresso is the Foundry No 1 blend, with a single-origin (changing every two months) available as both espresso and filter (V60 or Aeropress).

However, as the “Canteen” element of the name suggests, from the day it opened in June 2014 it’s been about more than just coffee. Given the ridiculously small food preparation area (in reality a work surface behind the counter), the all-day breakfast/brunch menu is impressive. Based around poached eggs with various toppings, there are also pancakes, pastries, toast and granola. At lunchtime, these are joined by salads, soup, tortilla and wraps.

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Café 1901

A drawing on the wall of Cafe 1901Café 1901 is a wonderful spot inside Newcastle’s Jesmond Methodist Church. It’s a strange space, in that, just as you think you’ve discovered all there is to it, you realise that there’s more! Starting with the tables outside on the pavement, and finishing with the seating at the back by the counter, there are four distinct parts to Café 1901, each with its own specific charm.

However, Café 1901 is more than a lovely space. It serves excellent food, with full breakfast and lunch menus, plus a decent selection of cake. What’s more, the coffee is excellent too. With beans from the nearby Colour Coffee Company (the roasting offshoot of Pink Lane Coffee), there’s a concise espresso-based menu plus hand-poured filter through either V60 or Chemex.

However, where many would be satisfied with a single espresso blend throughout the year, Café 1901 regularly rotates its espresso, running a different single-origin or blend every couple of weeks. Another single-origin is available for the filter coffee, while there’s also decaf from Bristol’s Extract Coffee Roasters and tea from the local  Ringtons. Ever adventurous, Café 1901 was also serving a cold-brew (hot) chocolate from Kokoa Collection.

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Flat Caps Coffee Update

An espresso in a classic white cup, plus a glass of water, on an oval wooden platter, separated by a tea spoon.Flat Caps Coffee, brainchild of the lovely Joe Meagher, is not only one of my favourite coffee shops in Newcastle, but it’s one of my favourites in the whole country. The only problem is that I don’t get to Newcastle very often… However, whenever I’m in town, I make a point of popping in to say hello.

I first wrote about Joe and Flat Caps in April 2013, writing a longer piece after I visited in October that year for Caffeine Magazine. So, what’s changed since then? Well, honestly, not a lot. Joe’s still Joe, Flat Caps is still Flat Caps and the coffee’s still excellent.

However, since I published my Coffee Spot on Flat Caps, Joe has, in the way that coffee shop owners do, redecorated and also started using single-serve Kalita Wave pour-over filters. And every time he sees me, he nags me that the photos on the Coffee Spot are out-of-date…

March 2017: I’ve just learnt that Ridley Place is closing at the end of the month. Sad news, but I understand Joe’s reasons for taking this step. If you’re interested, this is what I wrote about the closing of Ridley Place. The good news is that Flat Caps will continue at Flat Caps Carliol Square and Flat Caps Campus North.

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BLK Coffee

A carafe of Ethiopian Kayamo coffee roasted by Workshop, served by BLK Coffee, Heaton.Normally, when visiting a Coffee Spot, I do so unannounced, sneaking quietly in, ordering my coffee and sitting by myself, getting a feel for the place. I do this for a number of reasons, one of which is so that I can sneak quietly out again if I don’t like it (rare, but it occasionally happens). My main reason, however, is so my experience is as much as possible that of the average customer who’d just walked in off the street.

With BLK Coffee in Heaton, Newcastle, I knew that this wasn’t going to happen. I’ve known Alison, BLK’s owner/head-barista/chief bottle-washer (delete as appropriate), for a couple of years. What’s more, she’d invited me to BLK’s launch party, which was on the evening of my visit. What that in mind, read on…

BLK is a multi-roaster, with a host of regularly-rotating guests, including, in the opening weeks, London’s Workshop, Bath’s Round Hill Roastery and Berlin’s Five Elephant Coffee. There are two options on espresso and on filter a choice of three single-origin beans through any of four preparation methods: Chemex, V60, Kalita Wave and Aeropress. Finally, there’s tea from Waterloo Tea, Kokoa Collection hot chocolate and plenty of cake.

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