We’re halfway through the 2016 Coffee Spot Awards with the shortlist for the “Best Espresso” Award, which was won in 2015 by Flat Caps, Ridley Place. When it comes down to it, I still tend to judge a Coffee Spot by the quality of its espresso. Of course, this is entirely subjective and down to taste. I would never knock a place that made a good espresso just because it wasn’t to my taste.
This award is for those Coffee Spots which served me the best and most memorable espressos of the year. I started the Coffee Spot as a confirmed Italian espresso drinker. While I still like something full-bodied and robust, my palette has definitely evolved and expanded over time. This year I had some truly sublime espresso, leading to this being one of the most hotly contested of this year’s Awards.
You can see the shortlist after the gallery.
There are 14 Coffee Spots on the shortlist this year, all listed in order of publication.
Tilt is Birmingham’s answer to the question “why aren’t there any speciality coffee shops with craft beer, loose leaf tea and pinball?”. The speciality coffee in question (during my visit) came from Sheffield’s Foundry Coffee Roasters, a Nicaraguan single-origin, which was surprisingly sweet and a little sharp, evolving with each sip to include some fruity notes. Tilt is also shortlisted for the Coffee Shop with the Best Lighting and Coffee Shop with the Best Basement Awards.
London’s Expresso Base is in the courtyard of St George’s Church in Bloomsbury, for which it’s on the shortlist for the Best Outdoor Seating Award. While I was there, I had an Ethiopian single-origin from Has Bean which, as espresso was very fruity, but also very smooth and well-balanced. In milk, as a piccolo, it was even better, milk and coffee in perfect harmony, the milk’s sweetness combining with the fruitiness of the coffee.
Liverpool‘s 92 Degrees roasts all its own coffee in the back of the shop. Unusually, it puts as much emphasis on its decaf as it does on the rest of its coffee and I can see why. Naturally I had to try the decaf, which I had as an espresso, a really punchy, surprisingly fruity, and very impressive drink, once again proving that you can roast interesting decaf beans.
Another coffee shop/roaster, Speckled Ax from Portland (Maine) stands out as one of a handful of roasters in the US using a wood-fired roaster. Like 92 Degrees, Speckled Ax roasts some awesome decaf. I had the decaf blend (Chickadee) as an espresso, which proved to be a sweet, smooth coffee, which developed (pleasing) hints of sourness after the second sip.
London’s Grind chain now roasts its own coffee, but back when I visited Shoreditch Grind, the beans were from Small Batch. I had a smooth, fruity and extremely well-balanced Rwandan single-origin espresso. Shoreditch Grind is also shortlisted for the Coffee Shop with the Best Lighting Award.
Portland (Oregon this time) is home to the renowned Heart Coffee Roasters where I had an Ethiopian Dabub Matebya single-origin espresso. This evolved hugely with each sip, becoming fruitier and developing a real punch. It was even better in milk as a traditional 5.5oz cappuccino. Heart is also shortlisted for the Best Roaster/Retailer Award.
Staying in Portland, I had another single-origin Ethiopian at Case Study Coffee Roasters, a washed Sidamo. Smooth, complex and well-balanced as an espresso, it challenged my preconceptions of what espresso can be. In milk, as a cortado, it was even better, the milk’s sweetness adding an extra something to the mix. Case Study is also shortlisted for the Coffee Shop with the Best Lighting Award.
Located under a staircase (literally) next to the Pizza Pilgrims in Soho’s Kingly Court, Sottoscala by Terrone is an amazing little spot. I had a Rwandan single-origin which was amazing as an espresso, so fruity and well-balanced. If you want to try Sottoscala’s espresso, make sure you ask for one of the secret stash of china espresso cups (otherwise it will be served in a takeaway cup).
Tucked away on London’s Lower Marsh, Coleman Coffee Roasters serves its espresso blend two ways, “third wave” or “old fashioned”, same coffee, just extracted differently. The result is phenomenal and it’s hard to believe it’s the same coffee! Coleman Coffee is also shortlisted for the Best Coffee Shop near a Railway Station, Best Outdoor Seating and Most Passionate About Coffee Awards.
Boston‘s Gracenote is the first coffee shop of one of my favourite New England roasters. It has a fabulous Modbar installation which was put to good use while I was there to serve me an Ethiopian Konga single-origin espresso. This mellowed after an extremely bright first sip, rewarding me with a complex, fruity flavour. Gracenote is also shortlisted for the Best Coffee Shop near a Railway Station Award.
A new arrival this year, Store Street’s Paddington branch served me an excellent, really well-balanced and fruity shot of Square Mile‘s Red Brick blend (if you know me well, you’ll know how rare this is!). Store Street is also shortlisted for the Best Coffee Shop near a Railway Station and Happiest Staff Awards.
I usually get served at least one outstanding espresso when I visit the Manchester Coffee Festival. This one was from local roaster, Ancoats Coffee, and was a naturally-processed Ethiopian. Really fruity as an espresso, it absolutely transformed by milk, dialling down the brightness and bringing out chocolate notes. The Manchester Coffee Festival is also shortlisted for the Best Saturday Supplement Award.
I had a lovely shot of the Parallel espresso blend from Maude Coffee at Wainwright’s Speciality Coffee in Bristol. Well-balanced, with a complex, rich flavour it was beautifully pulled. Wainwright’s is also shortlisted for the Coffee Shop with the Best Lighting Award.
Cambridge’s Hot Numbers roasts all its own coffee in its other branch on Trumpington Street. Gwydir Street is the original location, where I had a Guatemalan single-origin, which started off quite bright, but then calmed down after the second mouthful. By the third, it was a fruity, rounded espresso which coated the inside of my mouth in a particularly delightful way.
Don’t forget to check out the other 19 Coffee Spot Awards for 2016.
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