Coffee shops are wonderful places, aren’t they? At about the same time as I was reading Chris Ward’s Out of Office, a book extolling the virtues of coffee shops as places to work and, perhaps more importantly, network, I found myself in the Attendant. Purely by chance, I ended up sitting at the same table as Maria Bracken, Deputy Editor of Lunch Business and, as you do, we got chatting…
[If you’re interested, you can read Maria’s piece about the Attendant in the on-line version of Lunch Business]
During the conversation, Maria told me all about the Lunch Business Awards. Although the Awards remit stretches much further than just the humble coffee shop, two categories fell very much within my remit: Best Tea Experience and Best Coffee Experience. Maria was keen to get some nominations and so I put my thinking cap on. In the next few weeks, I deluged the poor woman with a host of suggestions.
Fast forward a couple of months and I’m pleased to say that several Coffee Spots have made it to the shortlist stage, which I’m delighted about.
You can find out which ones after the gallery.
It might surprise regular readers, particularly those who follow me on Twitter, that despite my well-publicised dislike of (whisper it quietly) tea, I actually nominated quite a few places in the Best Tea Experience category. I’m delighted to say that North Tea Power has made it onto the shortlist of three, along with Harris & Hoole, the new “independent” coffee shop chain quickly spreading across London and the southeast, and Edinburgh’s Eteaket, which is on my radar, but which I’ve yet to visit.
However, I was even more delighted when I scanned the Best Coffee Experience and found that the shortlist was made up entirely of places featured on the Coffee Spot! It also pleased me that they’re all outside London. I know that London has many fabulous coffee places (after all, I written about a fair few of them and nominated some of them for the Awards), but it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there are also plenty of fantastic coffee spots all around the country which stand comparison with the best in the land.
Anyway, the three that made it to the shortlist are:
I was particularly interested to hear that the judges “found categories such as the Best Tea and Coffee Experience ‘tough’ to judge”. Given the shortlist for the Best Coffee Experience, I’m not surprised since I’d struggle to decide between those three! Each is wonderful and yet each offers a very different experience.
You can find the full shortlists for all the Lunch Business Awards here. The Awards themselves will be presented on Thursday, 26th September at the London Art House in Islington. This will take place in the evening during the Lunch! Show, takes place at the Business Design Centre.
I’ll finish with a summary of each of the Coffee Spots that made it to the shortlists (click on the name for the full Coffee Spot entry). All four are quite different places in their own way, but each offers outstanding coffee, tea and food and all have a real passion for what they do.
Check back at the end of September to find out who won what and what I made of the whole awards ceremony.
Since the summer of 2010, when it opened, many people have considered North Tea Power to be the place to have fine tea (and coffee) in Manchester and I can see why. It’s lovely and the owners, Wayne and Jane, have poured their passion and attention to detail into every aspect of the place. Come on, you have to admire that level of dedication: they even have rhyming names! This infectious love has rubbed off on everything, including the rest of the staff, making North Tea Power one of the nicest spots I’ve been to for a long while.
North Tea Power is true to its name with over 20 loose-leaf teas, but the coffee’s pretty decent too with a bespoke Has Bean espresso blend and a choice of three single-origin beans as a V60 or Aeropress. It doesn’t end there: North Tea Power stocks 15 different bottled beers, and I haven’t even started on the food (pastries, sandwiches and soup) and the large range of cakes and biscuits…
Something very special is happening down on the South Coast… Boasting the best coffee in Boscombe (of that there’s no doubt) Café Boscanova could easily lay claim to the best coffee in Dorset without too much controversy. It’s passionate about its coffee, with a regular, decaf and guest blends (which change on a regular basis), plus filter options.
Café Boscanova is also a great place to eat. Along with its regular menu, offering excellent breakfast and lunch choices, it does specials which change on a regular basis. Many of the menu items are suitable for vegetarians, vegans and coeliacs. To cap it all, you can either eat in or takeaway and Café Boscanova also offers an outside catering option.
Finally, it’s a really great space: wooden floors, brick walls, it’s a very busy, lively and above all fun place. The staff might be the happiest I’ve seen in a coffee shop and their enthusiasm is infectious.
Newcastle has a gem in Flat Caps Coffee. Run by the flat-cap wearing Joe Meagher, a Finalist in this year’s UK Barista Championships, Flat Caps serves amazing coffee in relaxing, laid-back surroundings. Although the emphasis is firmly on the coffee, Joe also does 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.
Joe gets his regular beans from Has Bean, although he’s 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.
As a place to drink coffee, 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.
Flying the flag for Edinburgh, Freemans gets about everything right: the coffee, the cake, the food, and the space in which to eat/drink it. The staff are real coffee geeks and passionate about their coffee, but they don’t come across as such. While some coffee places can be really intimidating to the uninitiated, Freemans is warm and welcoming. If you care about the minutiae of your coffee experience, Freeman will satisfy you; if you just want a good cup of coffee (and don’t want to know the precise code-words you have to say to get one in some places) Freemans will suit you too.
Freemans offers the usual espresso range, with decaf options, plus two guest coffees, one as a V60 filter and the other as a cafetiere. Freemans does what looks to be fabulous brunch and lunch menus (I never tried them, sadly). It also bakes its own flapjacks and scones on the premises, with cakes from Lovecrumbs, who I’ve heard excellent things about.
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