The Philosophy of Coffee

A line drawing of a Moka Pot, taken from the cover of my book, "The Philosophy of Coffee".Something very exciting happened last Monday. I visited the British Library, where I met with Rob, from the Library’s publishing arm. In what turns out to have been a very well-kept secret (or a very poorly publicised one, depending on your point of view) I have written a book, The Philosophy of Coffee, which the British Library is publishing on 25th January next year.

To quote from the book itself, it’s a “short, entertaining and illuminating introduction to the history and culture of coffee, from the humble origins of the bean in northeast Africa over a millennium ago, to what it is today, a global phenomenon that is enjoyed around the world.”

It’s not a big book, just over 15,000 words, with 15 beautiful illustrations sourced from the British Library collection.  It’s also, according to the blurb, “the perfect gift for coffee lovers” so you should definitely buy a copy. Or two.

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TAP, Russell Square

A beautifully-presented filter coffee at TAP, Russell Square, served on a wooden tray with the coffee in a metal jug and a tulip cup on the side.TAP, or Tapped And Packed, as it used to be known in the early days, was one of the pioneers of London’s speciality coffee scene. From its original shop on Rathbone Place, it rapidly expanded to become a mini-chain of three, adding branches on Tottenham Court Road and Wardour Street, both of which I visited in the Coffee Spot’s first year, although I’ve still never been to the original! TAP was also a pioneer coffee shop/roaster, installing a roaster at the back of No 193 (the Wardour Street branch), which supplies all the shops.

However, after that initial rapid expansion, everything went quiet for five years, TAP happily going about its business, roasting and serving excellent coffee from the three stores. Until the end of the summer, that is, when, on the eastern edge of Russell Square, the fourth TAP appeared, extending the mini-chain beyond its Fitzrovia heartland and into Bloomsbury.

If you’ve been to the other three TAPs, then the new branch will hold no surprises. There’s a beautifully-concise espresso-based menu, plus three single-origins on pour-over through the V60. There’s also a selection of sandwiches and salads, plus a range of excellent cakes, all available until 4.30 each afternoon.

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House of Morocco

House of Morocco (HoM for short) with its slogan "HoM is where the heart is" is a new addition to London's coffee scene, occupying the site of what was Pattern Coffee.On Caledonian Road, around the corner from King’s Cross Station, stands a new name in a familiar spot. In the premises once occupied by Pattern Coffee, House of Morocco has been open for six weeks, offering excellent espresso-based coffee from Terrone & Co, Moroccan-themed lunches and a wide range of Moroccan merchandise, including pottery and textiles.

House of Morocco started life as a homeware store before taking over what was Patten Coffee, although it would be wrong to cast it as Pattern’s successor. The layout is similar, a long, thin bright space with high-ceilings and windows front and back. The counter is still on the right and the seating mostly down the left, but that’s about it as far as similarities with Pattern goes, House of Morocco very much being its own place.

Providing an interesting fusion of western, third-wave coffee shop and Moroccan culture, it’s a relaxing, friendly spot which can get busy, particularly during the lunchtime when I met up with fellow blogger, Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato. The seating, like the décor, can best be described as eclectic, with much of the Moroccan merchandise doubling up as decoration in a manner reminiscent of Oriberry Coffee in Hanoi.

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Manchester Coffee Festival 2017 Part II

Dale Harris, the UK Barista Champion, pulling me a shot of his competition coffee on a La Marzocco Modbar at the Manchester Coffee Festival the day before he flew to Seoul where he would go on to win the World Barista Championship.Welcome to Part II of my round up of this year’s Manchester Coffee Festival. In Part I, I took a look at the venue itself, and also reported on my favourite coffee competition, the UK Cup Tasters’ Championship, won for a second year running by Freda Yuan from Caravan. This time I’m focussing on the coffee, looking at the various roasters who were there in force this year. I’ll finish things off next week in Part III with a roundup of everything else!

In previous years, I’ve tried to get to visit roasters who are new to me, but this year, most of the names were familiar. However, there were still a few I’d not heard of, and, as is always the case, I still failed to get to see everyone. Quite a few roasters made guest appearances at various stands, including Neighbourhood Coffee, North Star and Ozone, none of whom I managed to get around to seeing!

Despite this, I did manage to visit many excellent roasters, tried lots of great coffee, both filter and espresso, which included the coffee that won the World Barista Championships this year, and, yes, I did make some new friends along the way.

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200 Degrees, Cardiff

A decaf flat white at the Cardiff branch of 200 Degrees. The latte art pattern in the milk is still visible when half the coffee has been drunk.Nottingham-based café/roaster, 200 Degrees, opened its first café just three years ago. Then, last year, came a second Nottingham outlet, plus 200 Degrees Birmingham, the first outside Nottingham. However, 200 Degrees was only getting started. In the space of just five months, starting in December 2016, 200 Degrees opened in Leeds, then Leicester, followed in April by the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Cardiff.

If you’re familiar with 200 Degrees, then the Cardiff branch holds few surprises. Occupying the Queen Street site of the short-lived Artigiano Espresso, 200 Degrees has followed its tried-and-trusted template to produce another lovely coffee shop. All the staples are here: a plush, well-appointed interior, plenty of wood and exposed brick, the usual neon fireplace, plus some amazing light-fittings. In addition, there’s a semi-sheltered seating area outside on the pavement. For those familiar with the old Artigiano, the mezzanine level has gone though.

The coffee holds no surprises either, with the house espresso blend, Brazilian Love Affair, joined by the interestingly-named Mellowship Slinky Decaf and a single-origin guest espresso, plus another single-origin on filter, all roasted in-house. There’s cold-brew on tap, plus the usual food options, including breakfast and lunch sandwiches, salads and bucket-loads of cake.

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Ezra To Go

The Ezra & Gill logo etched in wood from the wall of Ezra To Go on Tib Street.Ezra & Gil was one of several coffee shops which opened in Manchester’s Northern Quarter in 2015, although it was always a little different, occupying a large spot, its focus as much on food, plus a small area selling various provisions up by the counter. Now there’s a second, albeit smaller, member of the Ezra & Gil family, Ezra To Go on the eastern edge of the Northern Quarter, just down Tib Street from North Tea Power and across the road from Siop Shop.

Don’t let the name fool you though. Ezra To Go has plenty of seating, particularly in the adjacent space, a lifestyle shop called Ezra’s Utilities, so you are welcome to stay. However, the concept is that everything is either pre-prepared or, if it’s off the main menu, quick, which includes the coffee (no pour-over here or filter).

The menu’s necessarily cut down from Ezra & Gil, but nevertheless puts many coffee shops to shame. There’s porridge, plus various things on toast, including eggs and avocado. If you can’t wait that long, there are plenty of pre-prepared sandwiches, which can be toasted, plus soup of the day, salad and quiche, and, of course, a selection of cake.

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Manchester Coffee Festival 2017 Part I

The winners of this year's UK Cup Tasters Championship: Freda (centre), who successfully defended her title, Katelyn, who came second and Don, who finished third.Last weekend I made my annual visit to the  Manchester Coffee Festival (Cup North as was), returning for a fourth year and, for the third year running, gracing the halls of the Victoria Warehouse. This year, it occupied the same space as before, a minor bonus that meant I could find everything that little bit more easily. It also felt slightly bigger, but without sacrificing the relaxed, friendly nature which marks it out as one of my favourite events of the year. As a sign of my dedication, I flew back from Chicago especially to attend, arriving in Manchester at 7 am the day before the festival!

All the usual suspects were there, with roasters and equipment manufacturers leading the way. Milk was also important, with several non-dairy alternatives featuring strongly. There were various food-related stands and a small selection of street food stalls located outside. Making a triumphant return for the third year running was my favourite coffee competition, the UK Cup Tasters’ Championship, while there were plenty of talks and cuppings going on. As usual, over the two days, I saw almost everyone I wanted to, but there’s quite never enough time to get around all the stands!

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Another Heart To Feed

The A-board outside Another Heart To Find in Salford, Manchester. The slogan reads "A day without coffee is like... Just kidding, we have no idea".I rarely venture north of the River Irwell in Manchester. In fact, other than my occasional pilgrimages to the Grindsmith Pod, I think the last time was when I attended the original Cup North in 2014. So I am indebted to the Best Coffee App for drawing me to Chapel Street and the gem that is Another Heart To Feed, a Melbourne-inspired coffee shop and kitchen which opened in March this year, serving food from an all-day brunch menu and some excellent coffee from London’s Union.

There’s the usual espresso-based menu, with Union’s Bright Note as the house-blend, plus a single-origin on pour-over through the V60 and another available as bulk-brew filter. The options change every week or two for the bulk-brew and every two/three weeks for the V60. There’s also loose-leaf Bohea Teas, Kokoa Collection hot chocolate and cakes from local bakers, The Brownie Owl.

Drawing on its Melbourne heritage (the owners spent four years there), Another Heart To Feed offers full table service, a carafe of water and menu magically appearing on your table as you are invited to take a seat. Unusually, Another Heart To Feed closes at three during the week and at four at weekends.

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Micro Roastery

A sign on the wall at the front of the Micro Roastery in Canterbury, a hand-print with the words "Hand Roasted".Canterbury is blessed with several café/roasters, including roaster-turned-coffee-shop, Garage Coffee, and coffee-shop-turned-roaster, Lost Sheep Coffee. However, the original is the Micro Roastery, tucked away down a quiet side street in the heart of the historic city centre. Originally the roasting was done at the back of the shop, but in 2015, production moved to a dedicated facility, where the 5kg Probat roaster turns out an impressive array of blends and single-origins, all of which are available in the coffee shop.

The narrow storefront on St Margaret’s Street hides an impressively large space, occupying two of the three storeys of an old town house (a barbers sublets the top floor), complete with a sheltered outdoor seating area in the garden at the back. When it comes to coffee, there’s a seasonal espresso blend, with two roasts, one light, one dark, along with a decaf option. Numerous single-origins are available through the Aeropress or four/eight cup cafetieres, while the filter of the day is brewed each morning/afternoon on a Moccamaster. Meanwhile, the cold-brew is freshly made each night.

If you’re hungry, there’s a variety of savoury options, including sourdough focaccias and pastry puffs, plus veggie/meat sausage rolls, along with the usual cakes.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to Chicago, Part III

My American Airlines Boeing 757 at the gate at Manchester Airport, having safely returned me from Chicago O'Hare.Welcome to the third and final part of this instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, which chronicles my various flights to/from Chicago this year. 2017 has seen me flying over all the world, including three trips to Chicago in relatively quick succession. While all three flights to Chicago have started at Manchester, I’ve flown a different route each time and flown with different airlines. This Travel Spot is my attempt to compare and contrast my experiences.

My first trip was at the end of June, when I flew with United from Manchester to Chicago via Newark, returning direct to London. My second trip, in September, took me from Manchester to London with British Airways and then on to Chicago with American Airlines. Once again, I returned on a direct flight, this time flying to London in business class with British Airways, just the second time I’ve flown long-haul in business, having done it earlier this year when returning from Vietnam.

My final flight, at the end of October, was my most straight-forward, flying direct from Manchester to Chicago with American Airlines and returning overnight by the same route, arriving on Friday morning, just in time for the Manchester Coffee Festival.

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