Sextant Coffee Roasters is a relatively new name in the San Francisco speciality coffee scene, but fits perfectly into the model established by the likes of Four Barrel Coffee and Sightglass Coffee. Like them, it’s a coffee shop/roaster, roasting on the premises on a vintage cast-iron roaster and occupying an old, warehouse-like building with high ceilings, skylights, exposed rafters and bare brick walls. It’s also roughly halfway between the two, sitting on Folsom Street between the Mission (Four Barrel) and SOMA (Sightglass), just a block from the Wrecking Ball roastery.
When it comes to coffee, Sextant specialises in Ethiopian coffees, the owner, Kinani Ahmed, hailing from Ethiopian. However, it also occasionally roasts some Central and South American coffees, aiming to roast light and extract the maximum sweetness from the coffee. The house-blend, Maiden Voyage, is always on espresso, while there are two single-origins on pour-over, using the Kalita Wave filter, and another on bulk-brew, all changing on a weekly-basis. If you fancy tea, then there’s a selection of loose-leaf teas brewed using the Silverton drippers (which I’ve only seen at La Colombe, where they were being used for coffee). If you’re hungry, there’s the usual range of pastries and cookies.
I first wrote about Small St Espresso at the start of 2013, at which point it was at the centre of Bristol’s growing speciality coffee scene, which included (the now closed) Wild at Heart and (the yet to be opened) Full Court Press over on Broad Street. These days, the centre has expanded to include the likes of Playground Coffee and the newly-opened Tincan Coffee Co.
This is actually my second update on Small St Espresso, which featured as the first Coffee Spot Update, published in June 2013. One of many excellent things about Small St Espresso is that it’s on Small Street (other street-named coffee shops take note!). It’s just as well that it wasn’t so named because it’s small, since, after the latest changes which prompted the latest update, I might have to start referring to it as not-so-Small Street espresso…
Yes, that’s right, Small St Espresso has had an extension. Although this hasn’t increased the physical space that much, it’s almost doubled the (admittedly limited) seating, but fortunately without changing the essential character of the place which makes Small Street so special. Talking of expansion, Small St has also opened a second branch, the lovely Little Victories.
Tincan Coffee Co started life with an old Citroën HY van. This turned into a fleet of vintage vans, serving coffee at events and festivals up and down the country. Then, almost a year ago to the day, Tincan went into bricks and mortar, opening this branch on Bristol’s North Street, confusingly on the south side of the city in Southville. Now there is a second branch in the city centre and rumours of more to come.
Tincan Coffee Co occupies a bright, south-facing spot, with seating outside on busy street and plenty more inside. There’s a window bar, booths and a neat alcove at the back. Coffee is from the local Clifton Coffee Roasters, with a bespoke seasonal house-blend and rotating single-origins on guest espresso and bulk-brew filter. Meanwhile there’s tea from Manchester’s Brew Tea Co and hot chocolate from old friends, Kokoa Collection.
If you’re hungry, Tincan has made the most of being indoors with a proper kitchen, serving an excellent brunch menu from eight in the morning (nine on Sunday) until three in the afternoon. This is backed up by a range of toasties and an impressive selection of cake which is available throughout the day.
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…]
Workshop Coffee is one of London’s better-known (and original) roaster/café chains. Starting from its flagship branch in Clerkenwell, where, until recently, all the roasting was done, it’s slowly expanded, now with a total of four London coffee shops. I first really came across it (other than as a roaster) when it opened its Fitzrovia coffee bar in 2014, but I’ve taken my sweet time in popping into the other branches, finally making to the Marylebone branch last week. At some point I’ll have to drag myself over to Holborn and Clerkenwell, which has seen a few changes since the roaster moved out.
The Marylebone branch is on St Christopher’s Place, just a stone’s throw from the busy Oxford Street. Tucked away in the eastern arm (St Christopher’s Place is cross-shaped), it’s an oasis of calm, which is also open until seven in the evening. Simple in layout, there’s a bench along the wall providing most of the seating. The coffee offering is excellent, with two single-origins and decaf on espresso, plus two or three single-origins available through the Aeropress, with one of them on bulk-brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a wide selection of cake and a limited range of sandwiches.
Having finally paid a visit to Flat Cap Victoria in last week’s Saturday Short, I thought it was high-time that the Coffee Spot got around to the other Flat Cap, which is tucked away south of the river in London’s Borough Market. Once part of a small fleet of Notes Barrows, Flat Cap Borough is now a standalone operation and, despite the similarities, Flat Cap Borough is independent of Flat Cap Victoria.
There are, however, still close ties to Notes, with all the coffee coming from the Notes Roastery. There are a range of single-origin beans that you can buy, with one of them in the hopper. During my visit, this was a Brazilian Cachoeirinha, a naturally-processed coffee. All the usual espresso-based drinks are there, but otherwise that’s it. If you’re after something to eat with your coffee, never fear. You’re in Borough Market and spoilt for choice!
In Hong Kong’s relatively new speciality coffee scene, Barista Jam is one of its longer-standing members. It’s also, in a market dominated by small, independent chains, something of an oddity in that it’s a one-off. In a market that also spreads from the fairly basic (18 grams’ Causeway Bay branch, for example) to the fairly sumptuous (The Cupping Room and Coffee Academics chains), it’s definitely down at the basic end of the market.
It’s a bit ramshackle in both layout and approach, but it works, with a no-nonsense approach where the coffee speaks for itself. A combination of retail (downstairs), equipment sales room (upstairs), café (both levels) and roastery (off-site), it feels as if it’s just been thrown together, although I suspect that a lot more thought than that has gone into it.
Talking of coffee, there’s a house-blend on espresso, three different single-origins on ice-drip and no fewer than 10 single-origins available as filter (most of which are available to purchase). Although it’s a small space, there’s a fully-equipped kitchen tucked away under the stairs behind the counter. This produces an impressive array of western-style food, including all-day breakfast options, various pasta dishes, sandwiches and salads.
Soon after starting the Coffee Spot, my faithful Gaggia espresso machine gave up the ghost and I was on the market for the replacement. The Rancilio Silvia, by overwhelming consensus, was by far the best single-boiler home espresso machine for under £400, so four years ago, I became a proud Silvia owner.
Fast-forward a year and Sage launched its dual boiler home espresso machine, instantly becoming a market-leader. However, it was well beyond my price-range (£1,200) and, well, I had my Silvia. A year later, Sage extended the range, introducing two single-boiler machines, the entry-level Duo-Temp Pro (£380), and the Barista Express (£600), with a built-in grinder.
Again, I was impressed. I only managed to play with them at various coffee festivals, but even I managed to pull decent shots on them. I also heard nothing but good things from friends who owned them, so I began recommending Sage if people asked about home espresso machines. Despite this, I didn’t actually own one, largely because Silvia still had plenty of life left in her and represented a significant investment. Then, shortly before Christmas, Sage asked if I’d like a Barista Express. Well, I wasn’t going to say no, was I?
Normally, I’m reluctant to feature a pop-up on the Coffee Spot. However, when that pop-up is by renowned roasters, Has Bean, and it’s the first Has Bean coffee shop in 14 years, I’ll make an exception. I also wouldn’t normally visit a shop two days after it had opened, but when it’s only open for 72 days, time is of the essence.
So it was that on Monday, I popped down to Oxford Street to visit Made by Hand Coffee ([H]AND for short). Located on the third floor of the UniQlo clothing store, [H]AND is tucked away at the back, but easy enough to find. There’s a simple coffee bar, grinders at either end, a row of four Kalita Wave filters between them. Personally, in that sort of setting, I prefer standing up at the bar to drink my coffee, but if you want to sit down, there’s a cluster of four sumptuous armchairs around a coffee table (with USB power sockets).
However, the coffee’s the star, with a choice of four single-origin pour-overs. You can pick one or have a tasting flight of three. Similarly there are four teas, with the same offer on the table. And that’s it.
At the northern end of Strutton Ground Market, not far from Victoria Station, is Flat Cap Victoria, a veteran of London’s speciality coffee scene. For the last eight years, from Monday to Friday, it has been turning out top quality espresso-based drinks in all weathers from a lovely barrow, its only protection from the elements, a black, open-sided gazebo.
Flat Cap was set up by co-owners Fabio (of Notes fame), Rob and Charlie, although Fabio and Rob no longer work on the barrow. Despite being co-owned by Fabio, Flat Cap is independent of Notes (for example, there are no links, other than the name, with Flat Cap Borough in Borough Market), although there are close ties, with Flat Caps using Notes Coffee. There’s a single-origin espresso which changes every few weeks, largely depending on what the roastery sends through. If you’re hungry (and there early enough!), there’s a small range of pastries.