I first came across Antwerp’s Caffènation as a roaster when I visited Loustic in Paris in 2014 and again the following year at Kofra in Norwich. Ever since I’ve been a big fan of Caffènation’s coffee so when I had the opportunity to visit Caffènation in Amsterdam, I jumped at the chance. Note that despite the name, this is independent from the roastery/coffee shops in Antwerp, set up (with Caffènation’s blessing) by an ex-employee in 2014.
On the western side of Amsterdam, south of Rembrandtpark and west of Vondelpark, Caffènation sits on a corner, the shop spread over several levels upstairs, with a wonderful basement below. If that doesn’t appeal, you can sit outside on one of several folding chairs on the broad pavement.
Other than the building, the focus is all on the coffee, which comes from the Antwerp roastery. There’s a seasonal blend on espresso, used for milk-based drinks, with a weekly single-origin used for black drinks. Alternatively, Caffènation always has a Kenyan single-origin on batch-brew, which is joined by another weekly single-origin.
Fitzrovia, in London’s West End, has, despite recent closures such as the much-loved Curators Coffee Gallery, a booming speciality coffee scene which comes in all shapes and sizes, including such oddities as Attendant (in an old public lavatory). However, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot is easily the smallest of them all, a title vacant since 2016 when Goodge St Espresso closed.
Alex Coffee is as small as they come, just a door and a window opening onto a simple interior, counter at the back and enough room for two small stools. Indeed, there’s more seating outside at the four-person table in front of the window. The coffee, from the Lake District’s Red Bank, is similarly simple: a concise espresso-based menu, plus batch brew and a cafetiere for two. If you don’t like it hot, there are almost as many iced options, plus hot chocolate and a selection of tea.
I feel that today’s Coffee Spot should be marked by fireworks or something. The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs has a long, distinguished history, opening its first branch on London’s Leather Lane in 2010. Since then it’s gone on to start roasting its own coffee and now has multiple branches in London (14 and counting), Manchester and Bristol, plus several in Chicago. It’s also acquired other operators such as TAP and Tradewind Espresso.
But here’s the thing. While I’ve always loved the coffee, I’ve never loved any of the actual coffee shops (and, believe me, I’ve tried many of them!). Until last week that is, when I walked into the new branch on Kingdom Street in Paddington Central. Quite why this one clicked with me when so many haven’t, I can’t say, but I knew as soon as I walked in the door. It helped that it was across the road from the office I was working in all last week, making me a daily visitor, but it’s that good, I’d go out of my way to visit.
There’s a blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, with two single-origins on batch brew, plus a wide range of cakes and savouries.
The Pilgrm is a small, boutique hotel almost directly opposite the front of Paddington station which just happens to have a speciality coffee counter in the lobby downstairs, run by Workshop. If that’s all there was to it, it would be pretty awesome, but there’s more. The Pilgrm also has an upstairs lounge and terrace, which, while catering primarily to hotel guests, is also open to the public, serving breakfast, lunch and, in the afternoon/evening, a range of small plates and drinks. And then there’s the coffee…
While the coffee counter works as a standalone operation, you can take your coffee and sit upstairs, or, alternative, sit upstairs, where there’s full table service, and order your coffee there, the barista bringing it up to you. Having spent most of my week in the Paddington area popping into Workshop for either an espresso or a flat white, usually on my way to the office, I decided I had to try the lounge, popping by on Friday afternoon for coffee and returning on Saturday morning for breakfast.
Willa Jean, in New Orleans’ Central Business District, is many things to many people. It was recommended to me as a brunch place, although I ended up going there for dinner, where there’s a choice of full table service, or, if you’re dining solo, a spot at the counter or window-bar, where you can order anything from snacks to full meals. It’s also a lunch spot and a bakery with a fantastic range of cakes. And some awesome pies, all baked in-house.
Oh, and then there’s the coffee, which I discovered on my first visit. Willa Jean uses Chicago’s very own Intelligentsia, with options on espresso and batch-brew, plus a pair of single-origin pour-overs through the V60. Good restaurants, even those with more of a café style such as Willa Jean, rarely have really good coffee, so I felt obliged to pop back two days later to try it out.
The Pilgrm is a small, boutique hotel in an old townhouse on London Street, almost directly opposite the front of Paddington station. In itself, it makes for quite an attractive hotel, but the icing on the cake is that in August last year, Workshop took over the coffee operation, installing itself behind the counter in the simple, well-appointed lobby, which is effectively a small (and beautiful) coffee shop. The coffee offering is equally simple, well-appointed and beautiful, with a concise espresso menu (with decaf getting equal billing with a single-origin option) backed up with another single-origin on batch-brew, both changing roughly once a week.
If coffee’s not your thing, there’s a small selection of tea and Pump Street hot chocolate, while if you’re hungry, Workshop has a small selection of cake, but nothing else. That said, The Pilgrm has a first-floor public lounge and terrace which serves a full brunch menu until 3pm each day, with snacks served thereafter. You can take your coffee up upstairs if you like, although it’s not very clear if you just wander in off the street. Alternatively, just take a seat upstairs and order your coffee there, which is just what I did at the weekend.
Toki, which opened in August 2015, is just a 10-minute walk northwest of Amsterdam’s Central Station. Despite being close to the centre, it felt to me more like a residential area and definitely not a tourist destination. A large, bright, open coffee shop, Toki’s made up of several smaller, interconnected rooms, the layout reminding me of Edinburgh’s Brew Lab (subject of yesterday’s Coffee Spot Update).
The coffee’s from Bonanza in Berlin, with a seasonal blend and single-origin on espresso and, typically, three single-origins on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. These change every month or so, depending on what Bonanza sends through (during my visit the choices were from Kenya, Indonesia and Ethiopia). The single-origin espresso changes more frequently, typically once a week, sometimes twice.
If coffee doesn’t take your fancy, there’s a wide range of loose-leaf teas, plus cold drinks and a fridge full of beer. Meanwhile, if you are hungry, there’s cake every day, while the kitchen, serving brunch, is open from 08:00 – 16:00, Wednesday to Friday, and from 09:00 – 16:00 at the weekends. Note that Toki is cashless, so don’t forget to bring a card!
Back to Black is a chain of precisely two Amsterdam coffee shops which, since 2015, has been roasting its own coffee from a small roastery/bakery which, sadly, is not open to the public. This branch is on Weteringstraat, south of the centre, near the Rijksmuseum and Heineken Experience, making it a good stop if you are out for a bit of sightseeing, and has a lovely, canalside location. The other branch, in contrast, is on Van Hallstraat, about a 30-minute walk west of the main station.
Back to Black is primarily a coffee shop, serving a range of cakes and savoury snacks, all baked in-house. The coffee, similarly, is all roasted in-house, with Back to Black only roasting single-origins. There’s a choice of two espressos, one that has a more conventional taste profile and the other which is a bit different. There’s also a choice of filter coffee, where you can have anything that’s on the shelves in retail bags through V60, Aeropress or Cafetiere, or, if you want to share Chemex or Syphon. The espresso changes on a regular basis, Back to Black moving to something new once the current one runs out, while the filter options are seasonal.
The Pavilion Café, a fixture at the western end of Victoria Park in Bethnal Green, has been going strong for over 10 years, serving excellent coffee and locally sourced all-day breakfasts for over 10 years. These days, the Pavilion Café has been joined by pair of bakery cafes in London (Broadway Market and Colombia Road) and an outpost in Newquay, Cornwall, which opened earlier this year.
The Pavilion Café occupies a circular, glass-domed pavilion (hence the name) on the eastern side of the park’s West Lake. During the winter, there is seating inside, but in the summer, it spreads out the lakeside which provides some of the best views in London. These days the coffee is from Cornwall’s Origin, with a single-origin on espresso. Although the default seems to be to serve all the drinks in takeaway cups, there are proper cups available. You just need to ask when ordering.
Kavárna Místo is one of three Prague coffee shops of renowned Czech roasters, Doubleshot. Although off the beaten (tourist) track in a residential area north of the castle, it came highly recommended by Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato. A lovely, L-shaped spot, there’s a range of seating, the space cleverly divided into multiple smaller spaces by walls with large openings. You can also sit outside at one of a handful of tables down the left-hand side.
Amanda and I visited twice, first for dinner (which is the subject of its own Saturday Supplement) then returning for coffee the following morning. As I’ve come to discover in Prague, service is of the highest standard, Místo offering full table service. There’s an innovative all-day dining menu (served until 10pm) with dishes suitable for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all backed up with a range of excellent cakes and desserts.
The real draw, though, is the coffee. There’s a seasonal espresso plus a single-origin, all the shots pulled on a lovely Kees van der Westen Spirit, along with a choice of three single-origins available through the V60, one of which is also on daily batch-brew. Finally, if you really can’t decide, the coffee tasting flight offers 150ml samples of all three.