In many ways, COVID-19 was a blessing in disguise for Chris and Monika, the Swedish couple behind Surrey Hills Coffee. Temporarily released from the day-to-day grind of running the coffee shop, they were able to focus on the roastery, realising that this was their true passion. When the COVID-19 restrictions were eased in England, allowing the coffee shop to reopen, Chris and Monika had a decision to make. They didn’t want to close the coffee shop, but they also didn’t want to go back to the day-to-day management.
Fortunately, the solution presented itself in the shape of Koja, which opened on Thursday, 13th August, initially for takeaway only, but with plans for sit-in service in due course.
Bean & Cole is another of Chester’s growing band of speciality coffee shops that has successfully reopened during the COVID-19 pandemic, initially just for takeaway, before including the seating area, albeit with fewer tables. The obvious changes aside (along with fewer tables, there are Perspex screens on the counter and stickers on the floor showing where to queue), Bean & Cole looks (and feels) much as it did before the COVID-19 pandemic, something I found in all of the coffee shops I visited in Chester.
The opening hours have been slightly reduced, as has the food menu, while Bean & Cole wasn’t serving filter coffee when I visited. That said, by the time you read this, it may well be back on the menu, with Round Hill lined up as the first of a rotating cast of guest roasters. Talking of coffee, the only other change pre-dates COVID-19, with Bean & Cole switching from Has Bean to Assembly on espresso, where it’s joined by a guest roaster, which was Ozone when I was there last week.
For those that don’t know, there are a number of Gourmet Coffee Bars dotted around the country, principally (but not exclusively) at stations in the Midlands and North West England. Crewe is the one I’m most familiar with, although in fairness, that should be “ones” since there are two kiosks, a smaller one on Platform 6 and the one I usually end up at, on Platform 5. Both have a similar offering, with a standard espresso-based menu from Clifton Coffee Roasters and a range of sandwiches, crisps, cakes and pastries if you’re hungry.
Chester’s The Flower Cup, tucked away on the upper level of the city’s famous Rows on Watergate Street, had already been open for three years by the time I belatedly visited at the very end of 2019. Serving some excellent breakfasts, brunches and lunches, backed up by Neighbourhood Coffee on espresso and pour-over, I was immediately impressed. Keen to make up for lost time, I returned in February and then along came COVID-19 to temporarily put an end to things. So, when I heard that The Flower Cup had reopened following the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions, it was top of my list when I returned to Chester on Friday.
Everywhere I’ve visited since the start of July has done a good job in retaining something of the pre COVID-19 atmosphere, but none has managed it quite as well as The Flower Cup. Despite the obvious changes (the sign at the door, the one-way system and the staff wearing masks for example), it really felt like The Flower Cup of old, a tribute to owner, Milli, manager, Laura, and all the staff. What’s more, The Flower Cup has retained its full menu, serving everything on proper plates, the drinks in proper cups.
Although I don’t visit Chester that often, Moss Coffee, conveniently located between the bus and railway stations, has become a handy calling point when I’m in the city and in need of coffee before I catch my train. Like everyone else, Moss closed in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, before reopening to provide a takeaway-only service, a decision largely dictated by the size/shape of the shop. Naturally, when I visited Chester on Friday, Moss Coffee was high on my list, and I was delighted to be able to call in, catching up with the owner, Daniel, over a flat white.
Other than Daniel wearing a mask, the only obvious change is the absence of seating. The stools are no longer at either the counter or the bar at the back, while the table in the window is similarly gone. Other than that, Moss looks (and is) remarkably similar, with Dark Woods still gracing the espresso machine, although since my last visit, Daniel has added batch brew to the menu, using the Sage Precision automated brewer. More good news, while Daniel only serves takeaway, Moss Coffee is one of the few places that is currently accepting customers’ own reusable cups.
The very first coffee shop I visited following the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions in England was Notes, Trafalgar Square. I doubt I could have chosen better, to be honest, with Notes’ customary quality shining through. My coffee, a cortado, was served in a glass, while my food came on a proper plate with real cutlery. So, when I was looking for somewhere to have coffee and some food before catching my train on Monday, I immediately thought of Notes at Pancras Square, sandwiched between King’s Cross and St Pancras stations. The fact that my train was leaving from Euston, a 15-minute walk away, was entirely secondary in the decision-making process.
King’s Cross was one of three Notes locations that reopened in July and is probably the best suited of all, with a large outdoor seating area. There are changes, obviously, to account for COVID-19, but these are minimal. Online ordering at your table is encouraged, while the upstairs seating area is understandably closed, but otherwise, this is very much like the Notes of old. And, even better, with the area still really, really quiet, sitting out in Pancras Square meant blissful silence. Make the most of it while it lasts!
The container is back! Yes, that’s right, Beany Green, that little container of sunshine at the foot of the Hungerford Bridge on the South Bank, is back! It had actually reopened a few weeks ago, but when I went up to London in mid-July, I discovered that it was closed again due to essential bridge repairs. However, I was not to be denied and, when I went through London on Monday, I made of a point of calling in to find that it was open again!
For those that don’t know, this is one of the original Beany Green coffee shops, which opened in June 2014. These days it’s more a bar serving good coffee, although during the day it still has a coffee shop vibe. Essentially an outdoor operation, it hasn’t been too badly affected by COVID-19, although it (and the surrounding area) is much quieter than it used to be.
Today’s Coffee Spot marks something of a first for me. Up until now, I’ve been revisiting existing Coffee Spots as they reopen following England’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions. In contrast, The Gardens of Caversham, the latest venture from Reading’s Workhouse Coffee, is somewhere I’ve never been before, although I’ve been aware of it since it opened early last year. So, when I was in Reading last week, I headed across the Thames to say hello.
The Gardens of Caversham is on the right-hand side as you go north over Caversham Bridge, directly opposite the junction with the A4074. Initially it reopened for takeaway service in June, reopening the indoor seating just two weeks ago, although the staff said that the current seating provision is considerably reduced compared to pre-COVID times. The coffee offering, however, is as extensive as ever, with a healthy selection of beans for sale as well, all roasted in-house.
When it comes to food, there’s a wide range of cakes and pre-prepared savouries, all baked in the kitchen at the back, although the more extensive breakfast and lunch menus are on hold for now. Also, keep an eye on opening times, which are under constant review.
Tuesday seems to have become my “get on a train and visit some coffee shops” day. For the first two weeks I went to/in the direction of London, but this Tuesday I headed for Reading, where I found the town’s speciality coffee scene was already bouncing back. My first stop was Coffee Under Pressure, then it was around the other side of the Minster to pay a visit to Tamp Culture.
The last time I was there, in 2014, Tamp was operating from a Piaggio Ape trike (housing the espresso machine) with a counter that was painstakingly assembled each morning and then broken down again at the end of the day. Fortunately, by the time Bean There At visited in 2018, this had been upgraded to a very nifty kiosk with fold-up windows, which is what I found on my return.
I first visited Reading’s Coffee Under Pressure just over four years ago. Back then, it had only been open for a year, enjoying its status as the new kid on the block. It’s since gone on to open a second location on nearby Blagrave Street, while a third Coffee Under Pressure opened just last month on Park Street in Bristol, a brave move if ever there was one.
The original Coffee Under Pressure, St Mary’s Butts, looks much as I remember it, tucked away in a lovely spot behind the Reading Minster, its sun-drenched, south-facing aspect providing a sheltered spot for its outdoor seating, while you’ll still get a warm welcome inside, the interior seating have recently been reopened following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions.
As well as the warm welcome, you’ll find close to Coffee Under Pressure’s full menu with two blends on espresso, plus decaf, as well as several single-origins available as through the V60, all from Winchester’s The Roasting Party. There’s also a wide selection of sweet and savoury items provided from the small kitchen to the left of the counter. The main concession to COVID-19 is that everything’s served to go, even if you’re sitting in.