Flat Caps Coffee

Perhaps the nicest cup of filter coffee I've ever had from Flat Caps Coffee in Newcastle, served with the filter in place.Flat Caps Coffee is arguably the hardest-to-find place in my Coffee Spot career. On the other hand, since everyone I asked said that I had to go there, clearly it couldn’t be that hard to find… So, undaunted, I set out with nothing more than my nose for coffee and Google Maps to guide me. This proved to be one of those rare occasions when Google Maps won out…

Flat Caps is downstairs under a gift shop, with the smallest sign in the world providing the only external indication of its existence. It’s a fair bet that Flat Caps doesn’t pick up much passing trade, so its popularity must be down to word of mouth and reputation, which tells me that it must be pretty good. Now I’ve been there, I can tell you that it’s excellent.

Run by Joe, a Finalist in this year’s UK Barista Championships, Flat Caps serves amazing coffee in relaxing, laid-back surroundings. Big tables are mixed with intimate niches, while the blue & white tiled floor, low ceiling, green walls and exposed brickwork go surprisingly well together (although it’s since been redecorated). As a space in which to drink coffee, it’s every bit as good as the coffee itself.

April 2017: Flat Caps Ridley Place is now closed, but you can still find Joe at  Flat Caps Carliol Square and Flat Caps Campus North. For more about the closure, check out my tribute to Ridley Place.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • The only external indication of Flat Caps Coffee is this very small & well-hidden sign...
  • Flat Caps is actually inside a gift shop at the bottom of this spiral staircase...
  • Another view of the spiral staircase.
  • There's lots of seating options, mostly padded benches. My table's the one on the left...
  • ... although the decor has changed a lot since my first visit in 2013. Now it looks like this.
  • There's a couple of intimate niches on the other side of the room.
  • More of the seating.
  • The light-fitting deserves a second look.
  • However, that's all gone now and it all looks very different with the new colour scheme.
  • Another of the small round tables. All of the tables have names, which is a nice touch...
  • So, to business. Joe's counter is tucked away off the main square of the basement.
  • The cakes are worth a second (or third) look: I like the use of the rolling pins...
  • Flat Caps also does a surprisingly wide range of food.
  • However, I came for the coffee. This is the old coffee menu...
  • ... which now looks like this. Joe favours descriptions for his coffee rather than names.
  • The espresso machine with a pleasing array of cups and a multitude of grinders.
  • However, all the little grinders have been replaced with this EK-43, giving Joe more flexibility.
  • Having been on espresso all day, I went for the filter option. You get a choice of bean and preparation method (this is the old menu, pre- EK-43).
  • You get a choice of Aeropress, pour-over or Chemex (if you're sharing).
  • I went for the Finca Loma La Gloria as a V60 which was served at my table (Sophia) with the filter in place, another nice touch. However, black on black is hard to photograph well!
  • The resulting cup of coffee was one of the nicest I've ever had.
  • A poor picture, but look how clean that cup is!
  • My square of fudge might look small, but it packed a lot in!
  • I also had this lovely muffin :-)
  • Joe would like me to point out that he's since replaced the V60 with these Kalita Wave filters.
  • If anyone asks what's the difference between a Kalita Wave and a standard cone, it's this.
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Regular readers may know about my love of coffee shops in basements, so imagine my delight when I finally tracked down Flat Caps Coffee, tucked away below a gift shop on Ridley Place. It took some finding mind you; I actually walked right past it and had to go around the block again before I found it, largely due to the instance of Google Maps. When I mentioned this to Joe, who does indeed wear a flat cap, he smiled ruefully and said that everyone told him he needed a bigger sign.

Mind you, perhaps Joe doesn’t need it, such is his reputation. Even more than Pink Lane Coffee, everyone told me that I had to come to Flat Caps Coffee. And I mean everyone. It’s easy to see why: the emphasis here is firmly on the coffee, although Joe does also a small range of cake, as well as Panini, sandwiches, nachos and pies. However, the draw is the coffee, and, dare I say it, Joe himself.

Apart from me, all the customers who were there were regulars who knew Joe by name and also knew that he was competing at the UK Barista Championships, where he made it all the way to the finals. I was there the weekend before the Championships and, as Newcastle’s only representative who made it to the final stages in London, Joe was a source of great pride for all the baristas I spoke to in the other coffees shops in Newcastle. It’s a sign of how supportive the coffee industry is that they were all rooting for him.

The contrast between Flat Caps and 9Bar Coffee, where I’d just come from, couldn’t have been greater. Where 9Bar was a pumping, high energy buzz, Flat Caps was slow and relaxed. It’s the ideal place to escape the bustle of Newcastle and chill for an hour or two. I can imagine falling asleep here, it’s that relaxing, aided by very laid-back instrumental music which, while quite loud, was never intrusive.

The focus, however, is the coffee, with beans from Has Bean, although Joe is trying to get some European roasters involved as well. Flat Caps offers the usual espresso-based range, with pour-over, Aeropress and siphon options as well cold-brew. Since I’d been drinking espresso all day I had a V60 pour-over (although Joe’s since switched to Kalita Wave single-serve filters), the El Salvador Finca Loma La Gloria. It was one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had, a lovely, smooth cup, full-bodied with no bitterness or fruity overtones. It was also a very clean cup, both on the palette and literally. I’ve never known a coffee leave so little residue in the cup. I had it black: there was never any danger of my putting milk in this one.

Joe described it as tasting of malteasers. I couldn’t taste the malteasers, but that might have had something to do with the (small) slice of orange and chocolate fudge I had with it which was absolutely delightful. It had a very strong orange flavour and was rich, but not overly sweet (which sometimes can be a problem with fudge). I also had a blueberry muffin. While not quite the standard of fellow basement-dwellers Foxcroft & Ginger, it was distinctly above the average muffin, with a liquid blueberry centre.

See what was different when I returned to Flat Caps Coffee in August 2015.

www.flatcapscoffee.com +44 (0) 191 232 7836
Monday 10:00 – 17:30 Roaster Has Bean + Guests (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 10:00 – 17:30 Seating Tables, Padded Benches
Wednesday 10:00 – 17:30 Food Cake, Sandwiches, Lunch
Thursday 10:00 – 17:30 Service Order at Counter
Friday 10:00 – 17:30 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 10:00 – 17:30 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday CLOSED Power No
Chain No Visits Original: 20th April 2013
Update: 22nd August 2015

If you liked this Coffee Spot, check out the rest of Newcastle’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Newcastle & Gateshead.

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