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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It All Started Here

A lovely Sweetshop espresso from Square Mile in a gorgeous Claire Henry Ceramics cup, served at Glasgow's It All Started Here.I first met Will, owner of It All Started Here, back in 2015 in Cardiff. We met up again at the Glasgow Coffee Festival later that year and have stayed in touch (on and off) ever since. Back then, Will combined a day job with running stalls markets/pop-ups over the weekends, serving coffee from Sheffield’s Foundry Coffee Roasters to the good people of Glasgow.

Last year he extended that principle when he opened his first coffee shop on Glasgow’s south side, It All Started Here opening on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Sadly, when I came up for last year’s Glasgow Coffee Festival, I came up on the weekend and left myself Monday for exploring, so missed out. Therefore, for this year’s festival, I made a point of going up on Thursday night on the Caledonian Sleeper and heading over to It All Started Here on Friday.

It All Started Here is a multi-roaster, with a different roaster from around the UK on espresso and batch-brew every week. There’s also a brunch menu and a lovely selection of cakes. Even better, starting this week, It All Started here is now open six days a week, Tuesday to Sunday.

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The Good Coffee Cartel

My espresso and batch-brew, both served in ceramic cups, handmade on-site at The Good Coffee Cartel, with a tin of the Costa Rican single-origin beans behind .Set up by Todd and Courtney, who worked together at the now defunct Avenue Coffee Roasting Co, I first learnt about The Good Coffee Cartel at last year’s Glasgow Coffee Festival 2017, when I ran into Todd, who told me about plans for a new roastery and coffee shop.  Naturally, on my return to Glasgow for this year’s festival, I made a beeline for the new space on Glasgow’s south side.

The Good Coffee Cartel is a curious mixture: quirky coffee shop, roastery, ceramics workshop: it’s all these and more. The roastery is very clearly the backbone of the business, the vintage 15kg Probat sitting in the corner at the back. However, it’s also a spacious coffee shop, with a soon to be added back garden, somewhere you can sit all day and enjoy whatever excellent coffee Todd and Courtney have on that day, with different options on espresso and batch-brew, all served in cups that have been handmade on site. Even better is the pricing structure: all the coffee is £2, all the cakes are £2 and if you really want to push the boat out, you can have an espresso, espresso with milk and batch brew for £5.

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Glasgow Coffee Festival 2018 Part I

The Glasgow Coffee Festival Logo for 2018Welcome to the first of my write-ups from the fourth Glasgow Coffee Festival, which took place last weekend in the Briggait, the festival’s home since its inception in 2014. Last year the festival moved from the cold, autumn months to the warmth of a Glasgow spring and was also expanded to two days. This year it retained this format, taking place over the weekend of 19th/20th May.

For the first time, I attended both days, although this is probably only recommended if you are a coffee blogger and/or serious coffee nut, since I suspect that an average (normal?) person can see everything they want in a single day. For me, however, it meant that I could take a more relaxed approach, visiting pretty much everything/everyone at the festival, although, as usual, I missed out on the competitions and all of the presentations, masterclasses and all but one of the cuppings.

Once again I’ve split things into three parts. While there’s no particular theme to Part II or Part III, Part I takes a quick tour of the venue, then looks at one of festival’s main themes, reusable cups, the Glasgow Coffee Festival being the first coffee festival to go disposable free.

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Short Long Black

The modest front of Short Long Black on Glasgow's Victoria Road, with a large, square window to the left and glass door to the right.Short Long Black is a new addition to Glasgow’s growing south-side coffee scene, having opened at the start of April this year. I first met the owner (and head barista and chief dishwasher) Darryl when he was awarded the 2017 Barista Bursary from Beyond The Bean. Back then he was working for Dear Green Coffee, but after taking a year out, he decided to open his own place, settling on a spot on Victoria Road, just north of Queen’s Park.

The shop itself is a relatively modest affair, but beautifully fitted-out, Darryl doing all the work himself in the two months before opening. There’s a small amount of seating at the front and more at the back, or you can grab one of the two stools outside on the pavement. Darryl sources the coffee himself, which is roasted on his behalf by local roasters, Thomson’s and served on espresso or batch-brew filter from a commendably-concise menu. This is joined by cakes and (from 11 o’clock) by toasted sandwiches, supplemented by a concise but tasty brunch menu at the weekends. Sadly I was there on a Friday and otherwise occupied at the weekend (at the Glasgow Coffee Festival).

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Glasgow Coffee Festival 2018 Preview

The Glasgow Coffee Festival Logo for 2018It’s that time of year again! No sooner has one festival finished, than another looms on the horizon. In this case, it’s the fourth Glasgow Coffee Festival, now firmly set in its new timeslot of May. For its first two years (2014 and 2015) it was a one-day even which took place in the chilly months of October/November. However, it skipped a year in 2016 to move warmer times in May, as well as expanding to occupy the whole weekend, putting it on a par with the likes of the Manchester Coffee Festival, which it closely resembles in scale and atmosphere (compared to, say, the London Coffee Festival). This year it takes place over the weekend of 19th/20th May.

Although called the Glasgow Coffee Festival (it’s held in Glasgow, after all), it’s more a celebration of Scotland’s excellent specialty coffee scene, with lots of contributors from further afield as well. Perhaps the biggest news this year is that the festival has done away with disposable cups, a subject close to my heart. Don’t worry, if you don’t bring your own cup, KeepCup will be on hand to lend festival-goers a cup for the weekend, in exchange for a £5 deposit.

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Kaf Coffee

A Kalita Wave pour-over brewing at The Kaf in Glasgow.Along with Primal Roast, Kaf Coffee was top of people’s recommendations to visit when I was in Glasgow in May for the Glasgow Coffee Festival. A very recent addition to Glasgow’s growing speciality coffee scene, it only opened in March, which tells you something about the impact it’s made given how many people recommended it to me.

Kaf Coffee nicely fills in a gap as Glasgow’s speciality coffee scene extends to the west. It’s just off the Dumbarton Road, not far from the likes of Siempre Bicycle Café, and provides a useful stop if you’re determined to wander the length of Dumbarton Road to visit the western outpost that is Meadow Road Coffee.

Kaf Coffee is a true multi-roaster café with a commendably-concise coffee menu and several options on espresso and pour-over. It’s always a pleasure to find somewhere serving James Gourmet Coffee, which is a mainstay on espresso, with a couple of single-origins from various roasters via the Kalita Wave filter. For somewhere so small (you’d be lucky to get 10 people inside), Kaf Coffee has impressive breakfast and lunch menus, all made in the kitchen at the back. If that wasn’t enough, there’s a decent selection of cake too.

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Glasgow Coffee Festival 2017 Part III

The Glasgow Coffee Festival LogoWelcome to the third and final part of my detailed write-ups from the third Glasgow Coffee Festival, which took place earlier this year. In Part I, I looked at the venue itself, the wonderful, soaring hall that is the Briggait, before continuing with a round-up of those exhibitors who had travelled from outside of Scotland to attend. I followed that in Part II with arguably the person who’d travelled the furthest to attend the festival: me! I’d just come back from Japan and brought loads of coffee with me. Using the coffee, we held a Japanese coffee cupping on the last day of the festival.

In Part III, I’m looking at everything else that I got up to at the festival. This includes a round-up of Scottish coffee shops and roasters at the festival, including plenty of old friends and several new ones. There’s also a look at various bits of kit, including tampers, grinders and a shiny espresso machine. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a coffee festival without lots of glorious food!

As usual, there was never enough time to see everyone and visit all the stands, so if I have missed anyone out, I apologise.

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Primal Roast

What looks to be a dinosaur's skull from the wall of Primal Roast in Glasgow, holding a Primal Roast takeaway cup between its open jaws.There’ve been a few openings in Glasgow since my last visit (for the previous Glasgow Coffee Festival, back in 2015), so when I returned for this year’s festival, I had lots of places to catch up on. Top of the list was Primal Roast, which opened in late 2015, and was the one place everyone said to visit. In the western part of the Glasgow’s compact city centre, it made the perfect kicking-off point for my one-day tour as I stopped by for breakfast.

Occupying a spacious basement on the north side of St Vincent Street, there’s a bright, sunny front section, with limited seating, and a large, cosy rear with multiple tables and sofas where you can curl up all day if you like.

The family-run Primal Roast is as much about food as it is coffee, with both reaching a similarly high standard. Local roasters, Dear Green Coffee, provide a bespoke house-blend on espresso, while there’s a continually-rotating cast of guests on filter through either V60 or Aeropress. If you’re hungry, there are full breakfast (until 11 on weekdays and all-day Saturday) and lunch menus, with extensive vegan options for both. There’s also a range of interesting cakes.

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Glasgow Coffee Festival 2017 Part II

The seven coffees which I brought back from Japan for a cupping at the Glasgow Coffee Festival.Welcome to the second of my detailed write-ups from the third Glasgow Coffee Festival, which took place earlier this month. My original intention was to split this into two parts, but events have overtaken me, so I’m going to split it into three instead, with Part III rounding-up the local coffee scene, new equipment launches & everything else.

In Part I, I looked at the venue itself, the wonderful, soaring hall that is the Briggait, before going on to look at those exhibitors who had travelled from outside of Scotland to attend. This week, I’m continuing the theme of those who had travelled a long way to get to the festival with someone who could argue that he’d come the furthest. Me.

Exactly one week before the festival, I’d been in Japan, sent on a mission by Lisa of festival organisers (I still refuse to call them curators), Dear Green Coffee. My task? To collect coffee from various Japanese roasters for a cupping at the festival. Well, there was also the small matter of a business meeting, plus a week spent travelling around Japan afterwards, which might have had something to do with my going out there. However, I prefer the first explanation…

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