Brian’s Travel Spot: Vietnam

My Vietnamese Airlines Boeing 787-9 waiting at the gate at Heathrow's Terminal 4 to take me to Ho Chi Minh City.Welcome to another instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, featuring Vietnam, a new destination for the Coffee Spot and for me personally. Having previously hardly set foot outside Western Europe and North America, the last 12 months have seen me visit China, Japan and now Vietnam for the first time. As it was with the two previous trips, this is for work, with time for some Coffee Spot duties tacked on at the start/end.

In another first for me, I flew out (and will be returning) on Vietnam Airlines. Again, this last year has seen me flying on a variety of airlines, having previously tried to travel only on British Airways or Virgin for long-haul flights. Other than the annoyance at having my airmiles spread around all over the place, my (long haul) experience has been very positive. Hopefully Vietnam Airlines will continue the trend.

The trip itself will take in a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, followed by a week there for business, then a week-long trip all the way up the coast by train to Hanoi, with stops at Hoi An and Hué along the way. I then fly back from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh and, from there, home.

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Ground Control

A shot of the Ethiopian Coffee Company's seasonal blend in a beautiful blue cup at its Islington cafe, Ground Control.I first became aware of the Ethiopian Coffee Company not long after starting the Coffee Spot, when I discovered its stall at the Southbank Centre Food Market (which I’ve still not written up, despite visiting the market last weekend!). Back then the Ethiopian Coffee Company had a coffee shop which, if memory serves, was in Bow, but was in the process of moving to new premises in Islington. Since then I’ve enjoyed the Ethiopian Coffee Company’s coffee in Liverpool, for example, at Coffee & Fandisha, but I’ve never made it to the “new” coffee shop.

Four years on, and the new coffee shop, which goes by the name Ground Control, is not so new anymore, but I’ve finally managed to pay a belated visit. As the name suggests, the Ethiopian Coffee Company only roasts coffee from Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. There’s a monthly blend on espresso, a single-origin on pour-over, plus a wide selection of tea from Cardiff’s Waterloo Tea. If you’re hungry there are toasties and cake, all served in a delightful, compact spot with almost as many seats outside as in. It’s so lovely, in fact, that you’d be justified in asking what took me so long…

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For the Good of the People Coffee (Bean About Town South Bank Update)

A shot of espresso from For the Good of the People at the Southbank Centre Food Market in my Kaffeeform cupA long time ago (at least, it feels that way) when I regularly visited London, I’d often wander past the Southbank Centre Food Market. Conveniently on the route from Waterloo Station to Hungerford Bridge (as I stubbornly still call the Golden Jubilee Bridges) it was made even better by the presence, at the foot of the stairs, of the Bean About Town coffee van, a lovely, old Citroen, run by the equally lovely, but not so old, Claire (who shares, by the way, her nationality with the van, both being French). It was one of the first places I wrote about on the Coffee Spot.

However, things change, I ceased to be such a regular visitor, and I didn’t notice when the van disappeared from the bottom of the stairs. Then, last Sunday, with an hour to spare, I decided to wander out of Waterloo and have a nose around the market, whereupon I stumbled upon a big sign saying “Coffee” at the far end of the market.

That’s new, I thought to myself. Only it wasn’t. It was the old Citroen van, with Claire still there, pulling shots. “What’s going on?” you might well ask. What’s going on indeed!

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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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London Coffee Festival 2017: Coffee Experiences

Four different coffees, four different flavour groups. Just match them in the Union Coffee Flavour Challenge at the 2017 London Coffee Festival. How difficult can that be?Welcome to the third of my detailed London Coffee Festival write-ups, covering individual aspects of the festival, ranging around subjects such as sustainability, kit & cups, and the coffee itself. If you want to know what I made of the festival as a whole, you need my festival round-up. Today it’s the turn of my coffee experiences, always a highlight of my London Coffee Festival.

But what do I mean by “coffee experiences”? These are the things that go around the coffee itself, things like coffee cuppings, roasting demos and coffee/food pairings. As I mentioned in my festival preview, the festival really went to town on coffee experiences this year. There were eight in all, ranging from practical, skills-based events such as Latte Art Live and Home Barista Workshops to pairing events, such as the Tasting Room, where you could pair coffee with chocolate, for example. There was also a Coffee & Food Pairing, consisting of a full three-course meal hosted by Grind!

Unfortunately, most of these events were pre-ticketed, and, by the time I got around to organising my festival, most of them had sold out. Fortunately, there were still some free events, including Union Hand-roasted’s ever-popular roasting demonstrations.

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Westmoreland Speciality Coffee

The front door of Westmoreland Coffee on the corner of Westmoreland Road in Harrogate.Harrogate is a town with a compact centre, which is where you’ll find the likes of Bean & Bud, Baltzersens and Hoxton North, all within a five-minute walk of each other. The exception to this rule is Westmoreland Speciality Coffee, which is out in the sticks, on the very edge of Harrogate, a whole 10 minutes’ walk from the railway station and maybe 15 minutes from the far flung reaches of Hoxton North on the other side of town.

Set up in the summer of 2014 by the very lovely Jamie, it is an equally lovely place. It also wins Coffee Spot brownie points for being located on Westmoreland Road, on the corner with Mowbray Square. This isn’t its original location, by the way. Westmoreland was originally at No 8, a tiny spot just a few doors down Westmoreland Road, where it spent the first year of its life.

Serving an ever-changing choice of blends/single-origins (plus decaf) on espresso and pour-over from North Star, it’s very much a neighbourhood coffee shop, with a cast of loyal regulars. There’s loose-leaf tea or hot chocolate for the non-coffee drinkers. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there is a selection of sandwiches, cakes and pastries.

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Chinatown Coffee Co

The front of Chinatown Coffee Co on H Street in Washington DCIt’s a sign of how much I’m travelling and how many great coffee shops there are around the world that today’s bonus Coffee Spot is from one of last year’s trips, when I spent a day dashing around Washington DC in the rain. Chinatown Coffee Co is one of the capital’s stalwarts, having first opened its doors in 2009. Long and thin, it’s a cross between a corridor and a basement, a little reminiscent of the Dupont Circle branch of Filter Coffeehouse, which was my first ever speciality coffee experience in DC.

Chinatown’s stock-in-trade is the Black Cat espresso blend from Chicago-based, Intelligentsia. This is joined by a decaf espresso and four single-origins, available as V60, cafetiere or syphon, with two of them on the obligatory bulk-brew. Here Intelligentsia is joined by Portland’s Heart Coffee Roasters, with a new coffee appearing on the menu every two weeks. You can also buy a range of the beans to take home with you. Finally, there’s a selection of organic tea if you don’t fancy coffee.

If you’re hungry, there’s a range of pastries and cakes, plus a small selection of chocolate. On the savory side, there are sandwiches from Broodje & Bier.

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Caravan Exmouth Market

The Caravan logo from the sign outside the original Exmouth Market branch.Caravan is a rather successful chain of three coffee shop/restaurants, with a significant in-house roastery, supplying coffee shops all around the country with a variety of blends and single-origins. However, this is where it all started back in 2010 on the corner of London’s Exmouth Market. This is the original Caravan, which is still going strong, coffee shop by day, restaurant by night, serving excellent coffee and food throughout the day. Unlike others of its ilk, such as Notes and Grind, both of which now roast their own coffee, Caravan was a roaster from the start and, indeed, the original roaster is still down in the basement at Exmouth Market.

Caravan sits on a sunny, south-facing corner, windows on two sides, outside seating spilling out on Exmouth Market itself. Inside, coffee excellence is taken as standard, with a blend and single-origin on espresso, two more on pour-over and a third on batch-brew. However, Caravan is also about food, with table service to match. There’s an excellent, extensive breakfast menu until 11.30, with an all-day menu of small/large plates from noon. At weekends, brunch takes over from 10 until four. There’s also beer, cider, cocktails, spirits and a massive wine list.

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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. Or possibly four, the way things are going, but hopefully not!

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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Barefoot Coffee Campbell

A bag of washed Camiseta coffee from Panana, roasted by Barefoot Coffee Roasters and on sale in its Campbell coffee shop.When I was staying with my friends in San Jose in California earlier this year, there was good coffee to be found, but you had to know where to look. Other than a couple of options in downtown San Jose itself, everything else is spread out in the surrounding suburbs and not that easy to get to without a car. An exception to this is Barefoot Coffee in Campbell, four miles to the southwest of downtown San Jose and conveniently located a 10-minute walk from the Hamilton stop on the excellent light rail system.

Barefoot Coffee Roasters is based in nearby Santa Clara and this is, so far, its only coffee shop. It’s a small, plain, modern building serving anything but plain coffee. There’s one option on espresso, plus decaf, with a choice of three beans on pour-over through the Kalita Wave, one of which is available as bulk-brew (but only in the morning). The choices change every couple of days: whenever what’s on runs out, the baristas switch over to the something else.

If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s a small selection of tea, while if you’re hungry, there’s a range of pastries and other sweet snacks.

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