Normally, when visiting a Coffee Spot, I do so unannounced, sneaking quietly in, ordering my coffee and sitting by myself, getting a feel for the place. I do this for a number of reasons, one of which is so that I can sneak quietly out again if I don’t like it (rare, but it occasionally happens). My main reason, however, is so my experience is as much as possible that of the average customer who’d just walked in off the street.
With BLK Coffee in Heaton, Newcastle, I knew that this wasn’t going to happen. I’ve known Alison, BLK’s owner/head-barista/chief bottle-washer (delete as appropriate), for a couple of years. What’s more, she’d invited me to BLK’s launch party, which was on the evening of my visit. What that in mind, read on…
BLK is a multi-roaster, with a host of regularly-rotating guests, including, in the opening weeks, London’s Workshop, Bath’s Round Hill Roastery and Berlin’s Five Elephant Coffee. There are two options on espresso and on filter a choice of three single-origin beans through any of four preparation methods: Chemex, V60, Kalita Wave and Aeropress. Finally, there’s tea from Waterloo Tea, Kokoa Collection hot chocolate and plenty of cake.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
BLK Coffee had been open for all of two weeks when I visited. The brainchild of barista and writer, Alison Bell (of Black Coffee and Other Stories fame), it’s a lovely spot, with a stripped-back, minimalist look. Bright and cheery, it’s aided by its location on the corner of Chillingham Road and Simonside Terrace, which means that two of its sides are pretty much windows. The décor’s in keeping with the overall minimalist feel, with a wooden floor and the counter/walls painted a fetching shade of grey.
Small, but beautifully formed, BLK comfortably seats twelve. Square in shape, the door’s in the corner, at 45 degrees to both walls. Stepping in, there’s a three-person window-bar to your left, looking onto the busy Chillingham Road. To your right, three more seats, no more than permanent cushions, occupy the window-ledge, meaning you sit with your back to the window. On plus side, you are right next to the counter (located at the back on the right-hand side) so you can chat with Alison, a definite bonus, and distract her while she’s making coffee (less beneficial). The rest of the seating is against the left-hand wall, two small, projecting tables, each with a pair of bar stools and a more substantial wooden-backed swivel-chair.
The counter’s a lovely, tiled affair, which serves as front-of-shop for Alison. There’s cake on the left-hand side in a glass display-case, till in the centre, and filter-rack on the right. The espresso machine and its four grinders are on an extension to the counter, running parallel to the back window on the right, which means that you can watch Alison working her magic if you fancy. Although like chalk and cheese in terms of feel and décor, the counter’s layout is eerily reminiscent of Flat Caps Coffee.
When it comes to coffee, Alison’s passion shines through. Since Pink Lane Coffee switched to Colour Coffee, Newcastle’s lacked a genuine multi-roaster coffee shop (although one could argue that, given Has Bean’s impressive range, Flat Caps fulfils a similar role). During the opening weeks, Workshop‘s seasonal Cult of Done was the mainstay on espresso, joined by another roaster on espresso, in this case, Round Hill with its Ethiopian Deri Kocha.
As the name suggests (BLK being a contraction of “Black”), BLK really comes into its own with filter coffee. There’s always one Workshop single-origin on filter, plus two others, which change on a regular basis, the coffee matched to a particular preparation method. As a special and valued guest, I was served Workshop’s Ethiopian Kayamo, which wasn’t even on the menu. Either that or Five Elephant’s Kenyan Kamwangi AA had just finished and Alison hadn’t had time to write up the new coffee yet. One or the other…
This was prepared by V60 and was a lovely, sweet cup, which was very drinkable. I should, obviously, gush about the various flavour notes, but if I’m honest, I was too busy chatting with Alison and my friend Shannon (of stripy-sock fame; it’s a twitter thing, don’t ask) that I completely forgot take notes. It was a very fine cup of coffee, however, I do remember that much, presented, as it should be, in a carafe with a separate cup.
December 2015: BLK was a runner-up for the Coffee Spot’s Most Passionate About Coffee Award for 2015.
February 2017: You can now read Alison’s fascinating series into how she went about setting up BLK, including her original motivation.
|214 CHILLINGHAM ROAD • NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE • NE6 5LJ|
|Monday||07:00 – 18:00||Roaster||Guests (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||07:00 – 18:00||Seating||Tables, Window-Bar|
|Wednesday||07:00 – 18:00||Food||Cake|
|Thursday||07:00 – 18:00||Service||Order at Counter|
|Friday||07:00 – 18:00||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||08:00 – 17:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Sunday||09:00 – 16:00||Power||No|
|Chain||No||Visits||22nd August 2015, 22nd May 2016|
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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