There was a time when speciality coffee was hard to find in Chester. Then, suddenly there was a boom, with multiple places opening each year, a pace that shows no sign of slowing down. Bridge St Coffee, pleasingly on Chester’s Bridge Street, a few doors up from veteran Jaunty Goat joined the fray in 2018. In common with Jaunty Goat and other coffee shops under Chester’s famous Rows, such as Chalk Coffee and Panna Chester, Bridge St Coffee occupies a long, thin, basement-like space, with plenty of seating inside, plus a large outdoor seating area on the pavement of the pedestrianised street.
Although it proudly displays a Probat roaster in the window, that’s not yet in use, Bridge St Coffee using Manchester’s Heart & Graft for the time being, having a Colombian blend on its espresso-based menu. If you don’t fancy coffee, then there’s a selection of nine teas, nine juices/shakes plus hot chocolate. Bridge St Coffee is equally strong on its food offering, using local supplies to provide a comprehensive all-day breakfast menu, including various eggs-on-toast and avocado options, plus porridge, sandwiches, panini and soup of the day, which is backed up by a tasty selection of cakes.
The second Society Café in Bath, after the original on Kingsmead Square, I found that, in many ways, little had changed, although for the last two years, Society has been using Origin as its house-roaster, rather than Round Hill Roastery (Round Hill still makes regular appearances as a guest). The upstairs had also received something of a makeover, introducing some more seating a giving the décor a little more colour.
However, the main change came when the basement was opened last year, doubling the amount of seating available. Naturally, Amanda and I had to explore.
I was in luck during my time in Kanazawa, where I stayed for three days, part of the week I spent travelling around Japan at the end of August this year. I’d gone on the recommendation of my friend Christopher, but this was more with a view to being a tourist. The fact that I found so much great coffee, most of it within a few minutes of my hotel, was a bonus.
Blue Monday was the exception, since it’s not near my hotel. Instead, it’s close to Kanazawa station, making it a perfect introduction to the city (and a good last call before catching your train). Located in the Porte basement shopping complex under the Hotel Nikko, it offers espresso-based drinks, using a bespoke house-blend, plus herbal tea, hot dogs, toast, soft-serve ice cream and mini-doughnuts. If you want to stay, there’s no seating, but there are proper cups.
I first came across Tokyo’s Glitch Coffee & Roasters on my around the world trip in 2018. Then, I knew it as a small coffee shop/roaster, with a passion for light roasts and filter coffee. When I returned to Tokyo in September this year, I learnt that there was a second branch of Glitch, in Asakaka, closer to my hotel, so on my final day in Tokyo, I set out to explore.
Glitch Coffee Brewed is in the basement lobby of Nine Hours, a newly-opened capsule hotel, both hotel and coffee shop having opened in May this year. There’s not much seating, just nine stools at a U-shaped counter, with a bench inside and another outside. It doubles down on Glitch Coffee & Roasters’ filter obsession, only offering pour-over (via the V60), with a similar range of beans and tasting flights. If you can’t wait, there’s also batch-brew during the week.
Fitzrovia, that small slice of central London between Oxford Street and Euston Road, has more than its fair share of excellent coffee shops. For many years, one of my favourites was Curators Coffee Gallery on Margaret Street, and I was saddened to learn of its closure earlier this year. However, my sadness wasn’t too long-lasting, since wandering around in July, I spotted a welcome sign in the vacant window: Kiss the Hippo.
For those that don’t know, Kiss the Hippo is a coffee shop/roaster with an improbable name and eye-catching logo. It began in 2018 in Richmond, where you’ll find its flagship café, roastery and training centre, all rolled into one, with the Fitzrovia branch, which opened exactly one month ago, being its second location.
Spread over a spacious ground floor and a bright basement, anyone who visited Curators will instantly recognise the layout, although the décor is markedly different. The coffee, all roasted in-house in Richmond, is seasonal, with the George Street house-blend joined by a single-origin and decaf on espresso, with two more on pour-over, plus a batch-brew option. If you’re hungry, there’s brunch until 2 pm (3 pm at weekends), plus cake and toasties throughout the day.
HR Higgins in a well-established name in London Coffee circles, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It’s also somewhere that’s been on my radar for some time now, so apologies that it’s take me until this week to get around to visiting. In the heart of Mayfair, a few minutes’ walk from Bond Street station, HR Higgins has a lovely, old-fashioned coffee (and tea) merchants’ shop upstairs (which features in its own Meet the Roaster). There’s also a takeaway counter up here, which caters to the morning rush.
However, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot is the lovely basement coffee room, which offers a full coffee shop service. If it’s too busy downstairs, you are always welcome to order your coffee, then take a seat at the window bar upstairs. There’s also a small outside seating area. In some ways, HR Higgins reminded me of the coffee scene in Tokyo, catering to a more traditional market (think dark roasts and multiple blends) and adapting to change (multiple single-origins, working directly with farmers). There’s a single option on espresso with multiple choices on pour-over, while if you’re hungry, HR Higgins tempts you with a small selection of cakes.
I first came across Panna in Liverpool at the end of 2015, where owners Ivana and Peter, a friendly, welcoming Slovak couple, had turned a potentially unpromising basement in Silkhouse Court into a lovely, warm, welcoming café. There was some excellent food, along with coffee from Has Bean and local roasters Neighbourhood Coffee.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Silkhouse Court was sold and Ivana and Peter decided to relocate to Chester, opening five weeks ago on 15th August 2019, not long after my previous visit to Chester! In so doing, they’ve moved up in the world, quite literally in fact, swapping a basement for a ground floor space on Chester’s famous Rows on Watergate Street.
The good news is that they’ve brought the same warm, friendly atmosphere with them. For example, although it’s been four years since we last met, I was greeted like a long-lost friend! They’ve also brought the excellent food along in the shape of an all-day brunch menu with plenty of cakes and pastries. And then there’s the coffee, with two Has Bean blends on espresso and multiple guests on filter using a variety of brew methods, including Chemex, V60 and Aeropress.
It’s weird, given how few of Blue Bottle’s US outlets meet my “places where I like to have coffee” criteria, that I’ve adored all three Blue Bottle locations that I’ve visited in Tokyo. Today is the turn of Blue Bottle’s Nakameguro coffee shop, which I first visited during last summer’s trip. It occupies a tall, narrow building, all concrete and glass, that was purpose-built as a factory. The coffee shop is at the front on the ground floor, with additional seating in a basement-like space to the rear, above which is a training area/lab. The top two floors, meanwhile, are Blue Bottle’s offices.
The offering’s very similar to the other Tokyo Blue Bottles that I’ve visited, with reduced food options compared to the Aoyama coffee shop. The usual espresso-based menu has the current seasonal blend plus a single-origin, with options including macchiato, Gibraltar, cappuccino and latte, along with cold-brew and iced coffee. This is allied with a strong pour-over offering, with six Blue Bottle drippers lined up on the counter-front, each standing on in-built scales. There’s a choice of a dedicated pour-over blend, plus a daily single-origin (different from the espresso). If you’re hungry, there’s cake, waffles and a panini.
Yesterday I took the Shinkansen from Kyoto Station, on my way towards Tokyo, stopping en-route in Hamaya to visit Dark Arts and in Zushi (Breather Coffee). It therefore seems fitting that today’s Coffee Spot is the Kyoto Station branch of Ogawa Coffee. I had my first-ever Kyoto speciality coffee there on arriving from Tokyo in April 2017, and on my return, I had my final coffee (along with my breakfast) before leaving Kyoto yesterday morning. Not that 2017 was my first experience of Ogawa Coffee. Rather that came a year earlier in 2016, at Ogawa Coffee in Boston. Naturally, when visiting Kyoto, the home of Ogawa, I had to try at least one branch of Ogawa, and where better to start (and end), than at the station?
Despite being what could be described as a station takeaway café, Ogawa doesn’t compromise when it comes to coffee. There’s a concise espresso menu, offering espresso, cappuccino or latte, the latter being available hot or iced. There’s also filter, with a choice of the house-blend on batch-brew, and two single-origins as pour-over or Aeropress. You can either sit-in or have your coffee to go, which you can order from the separate retail counter.
Second Shot made its name as a coffee shop and social enterprise, tackling homelessness one espresso at a time. Plenty of coffee shops offer help with pay it forward schemes, but Second Shot’s founder, Julius Ibrahim, went one step further, employing people affected by homelessness, giving them jobs in the short-term and careers in the longer-term.
Second Shot opened its first branch in Bethnal Green in 2016, but I didn’t manage to visit until two months ago. Then, just over a month later, Second Shot opened its second location, this time in Marylebone, between the station and Edgeware road. This time I didn’t want to leave it as long, so when the England vs Ireland Test Match at the nearby Lords’ Cricket Ground finished early, I saw my opportunity and went along.
Like the original in Bethnal Green, Second Shot stands on its own two feet as a speciality, multi-roaster coffee shop, up there with some of the best in London. It offers a different roaster on espresso and filter, along with a small brunch menu and a selection of cake. While the shop’s quite small, it’s larger than the original, plus there’s a specious basement/training room.